You may have seen the deer and crucifix on a bottle of Jägermeister, and wondered what on earth those symbols had to with German liquor.
The story involves the patron saint of hunting, Saint Hubert, and his vision while stalking a stag, as well as the impact he left on hunting that lasts to this day.
There’s a patron saint for beer, fireworks, and even the Internet, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that Catholics also have a divine representative for hunting. And while it’s near impossible to know all the saints, the story of Saint Hubert, also known as Hubertus, is one that all hunters should know, even those who are non-religious.
Born into a French noble family around 656, Hubert was sent to court in Paris, where he first became enamored with hunting for sport. He later relocated to Belgium and married, but when his wife died giving birth, he retreated in grief to the forest to dedicate his life entirely to hunting.
According to legend, while Hubert was pursuing a stag one day, the animal turned and Hubert saw a crucifix appear between its antlers. He then heard the voice of God, commanding him to lead a holy life.
It’s this depiction of Saint Hubert’s vision, or perhaps a similar vision by Saint Eustace, that made its way to the label of the Jägermeister. The popular liquor has hunting roots, being invented by a sportsman. The German name Jagermeister also translates to “Master of Hunters.”
It’s believed during his vision Hubert was also told to hold animals in higher regard. He was told to only shoot when a humane and clean kill was guaranteed, and to only kill old stags past their breeding years, targeting sick or injured animals if possible. He was also to spare deer with young, ensuring fawns could make it to adulthood.
It’s this ethical approach to hunting that makes Hubert so relevant today. After his vision, Hubert would go on to renounce his noble origins and rise to the position of bishop, being known for his eloquent sermons and habit of distributing his wealth among the poor. He also grew to apply the same charity to his old habit of pursuing game, values that have come to be synonymous with modern-day hunting.
Those ethics are even printed on the Jägermeister label underneat Hubert’s vision. A poem by Oskar von Riesenthal, when translated and adjusted for rhyme and meter, reads:
This is the hunter’s badge of glory
That he protect and tend his quarry
Hunt with honour as is due
And through the best to God is true.
Hubert’s hunting legacy has been immortalized in countless ways. Hubert’s name is still mentioned in German and Austrian hunter education courses, and he is the the namesake of many German hunter’s sons. The bloodhound, an infamous hunting dog, was once known as the Saint Hubert hound. And there are several statues, paintings, and churches dedicated to the saint and his love of hunting.
There is even a special Saint Hubert’s Mass on his feast day, during which the traditional organ is replaced with hunting horns, and hunters and their horses and hounds can attend to receive a custom blessing. On this day, revelers will often eat a special bread named for Hubert, then go off on a hunt, celebrating with a meal afterwards that includes their quarry. Hubert may also be the saint of opticians, mathematicians, and metalworkers, but it’s clear that hunters love him most.
And of course there’s Jägermeister, arguably the most famous yet misunderstood symbol of Hubert’s respect for nature and his contribution to ethical hunting. So the next time you’re in a Catholic church, or just poking around a liquor store, know you can see a reminder for all hunters to honor nature, courtesy of a saint who lived more than a thousand years ago.