Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On the Hunt-- Or Not

Tomorrow is the first day of regular firearm deer hunting. It's a big deal in certain parts of Michigan, and with certain cohorts of workers. For example, most of the trades we work with are gone for the next week, up north hunting. I had students who asked to be excused from class for opening day. I also spent quite a few years begrudging hunting and being really quite judgmental about the whole thing.

Last night when we pulled into the driveway, there were quite a few deer sleeping under the rows of flowering crabs that border our lot. At least one buck stared back at us, so we quickly swept into the garage, hoping our car didn't disturb them or the clanking of the garage door as it came down and returned the outside back to darkness.

When I woke up to pee last night, I found myself wondering if the deer were still out there sleeping. It was a peaceful thought. I like the deer that frequent our backyard, and even that they come close enough to the house to eat plants off my terrace.

Last year around this time, cycle number one that we were so sure would just work, failed. Suddenly everything seemed a little more fearful to me and I started doubting if any of this baby making palaver would work at all. I think I was in a pretty dark place, and then I went to the shooting range with my friend J, an avid hunter and Native American. I had never even held a gun before the bright sunny day I met him at the targets. It was all men, and I remember feeling nervous when getting out of my car and hearing the shots echo around the hills. I stood mesmerized watching men shoot skeets out of the air; even as a total beginner I could recognize there was real skill involved in what they were doing.

Once at the target practice area, the ranger was enormously kind to me, escorting me to J's station and talking to me gently about gun and range safety. And J was an excellent teacher. Squeezing the trigger for the first time didn't feel quite as scary as I thought it would. After all, it was clear that we were using hunting rifles; the same as everyone else there. Most men were calibrating for the hunting season. And then I actually hit the target, again and again in the same place. It was exhilarating. I thought about buying my own gun and coming back every day. I concluded that target practice should be recommended for every women doing ART.

I haven't been back since though. I think we finally threw away my target from that day. I talked to J about going hunting with him since his particular method seemed gentle and respectful and he assured me that there would be no posing with dead animals, or taking any type of photograph, something that I am in particular horrified by. He even said that he would recommend I'd just come with him for the first few times when he went out, just to get used to it.

Get used to it. What's the undefined antecedent of "it" there? Hunting? No, I don't think so. Instead, "it" would be seeing a live animal shot down. And become a dead animal. It would be feeling the warmth go out of the body of an animal I admit loving to watch as it sleeps under the trees in my backyard. When I announced to some friends my hunting intentions, the suggestion was scoffed at. I think even my own family was shocked. (In fact, it spurred a discussion wherein my mother proceeded to tell me she was more liberal than I am. First of all: not possible, and second, don't get me started on why gun ownership/hunting should not demarcate a person as liberal or conservative. It's a pretty reductionist and simplistic argument, and on the whole, I'm inclined to dismiss out of hand arguments like that.)

We host Easter for our families at our house-- it's the only holiday I can wrangle away. For Easter, I like to get a whole leg of lamb and have the butcher leave the bone in. Then I come home and debone it and butterfly it. I proceed to stuff the lamb with whatever takes my fancy that year: sometimes it's a tapenade stuffing, sometimes simple rosemary, garlic, sea salt and pepper. I promise, it's amazing. I save the bone to boil up to make broth for a Scotch broth. And that too, I promise, is wonderful on a cold night with a fire in the hearth.

I tell you this so you can understand, we eat meat in this house. We like meat. I'm not squeamish about preparing meat, even making my own cuts up from larger pieces. And my friends who chastise me about not hunting, well, one of these very discussions took place over a large piece of prime rib. If I'm prepared to eat the meat, shouldn't I be prepared to look in the eye the very raw and true event of hunting (and perhaps even more humane than sending an animal to an abbatoir)?

Yes, to me the answer is yes, but I still haven't been out there. I have pointedly ignored several calls from J as we neared hunting season this year (although I believe he can hunt anytime of the year). I honestly don't know if I could hunt, but I do know that really looking at the issue has forced a couple of home truths for me. I don't think hunting is wrong per se, but I abhor the idea that you might feed a deer for weeks, and then sit high up in a tree and wait for that deer to come back to get the food you've been setting out for it only to shoot it. I don't quite see where the sport is with that. I think these set ups where you fly a plane over some herd of animals to shoot from the air is wrong too. I think shooting multiple animals just to shoot them is wrong too. If you want to hunt, in the true sense of the word, and be a sportsperson about it, I don't actually have a problem with this. Eat what you shoot. Just hunting for the damn thrill of it-- well, what's the point other than killing? And that I can't stomach. Most of the men I know that hunt, shoot one deer and take it to the butcher and have it carved up for meat. Once in awhile, we'll get some venison sausage, jerky, or ground meat. I also can make a fine venison chili.

I'm not sure I can face hunting myself yet, but I've made sure I can at least stand in front of my own double standards and shoot them down. Even as I doubt I'll ever make my way into the forest during hunting season, I know at least I'm making cognizant choices. Frankly, I think that might be quite enough hunting for me. And although I know this, all of this, I'll still keep whispering to the deer in my backyard that they're safe. They're all safe. And they should just settle down for the next fifteen days in the high grass under my crab apple trees.


Blogger LilySea said...

I pretty much agree with you on most counts. Except I don't eat or prepare much meat around here.

I think ethical hunters are considerably more humane than people who blindly purchase feed-lot beef and chickens raised in those horrible dark barns full of filth.

I have relatives who hunt and hunting per se has never been a problem for me--it's all how it's done. But when it comes down to it personally, I just don't want to kill an animal myself. I just simply don't want to. I guess I could and would if it seemed like I should for some reason or a person close to me really wanted me to see what they loved about it (as you describe), but I wouldn't seek it out.

Another issue here for you too, it sounds like, is that you live in a place where the building is encroaching on the deer's habitat. Otherwise they wouldn't come so close to your house. And that can create overcrowding, leading to starvation and disease for the herds. In which case, natural predators like wolves, or human hunters using ethical standards are doing the herd a favor, if not the individual animals they take. Ecological balance and all that. I think sometimes knee-jerk animal sympathizers (who eat that feedlot beef and think little about the big picture) can get dewy-eyed about hunting without seeing how animals as a whole are more hurt by overdevelopment etc.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Patti said...

Excellent post!

I'm with you on all of this. I don't mind hunting if the person is going to eat the meat and, as you said, be sportsman like and humane about it. But hunting for the thrill of the kill? That's beyond me.

10:00 PM  
Blogger witchtrivets said...

Well said. I don't eat meat, but I have tremendous respect for hunters who kill and eat what they hunt. It takes skill and a certain backbone.

People, especially americans, are too far removed from what they eat or consume in other ways. Hence the proliferation of feed-lots that create meat that is put into food we don't even prepare -- at the fast food place, or frozen into "patties" at the grocery store. The closer you are to the original form of the food, the better it is for you and for the animal.

4:14 PM  
Blogger mermaidgrrrl said...

I always laugh my arse off when someone gets disgusted by my history of growing up on the farm shooting rabbits, helping to slaughter cattle and going fishing. At least I can kill and clean my own meat and don't think it magically appears on the supermarket fridge shelf wrapped neatly in plastic with a sanitary pad under it to catch any of that "yucky" blood!
So many meat eaters are hideously hypocritical in this regard. I think if you can't participate on some level in food preparation then you shouldn't be able to eat it. My girlfriend is a tad squeamish, but I gained a lot of respect for her when she helped to clean and butcher a kid(baby goat) before preparing it to eat.
I hate hunting as a way to just vent testosterone and killing for the sake of killing. Nothing pisses me off more than those people who go fishing for marlin just to take a photo and then dump the body and not eat it, or cut horns off things to stick on their wall and not eat the meat. What a waste of animal life and absolute disrespect.

6:38 PM  

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