Deer, 4: Kevin and Tamar, 0

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I ask forbearance from those of you who are tired of, put off by, or simply uninterested in deer hunting. The season ends this coming Saturday, and then I promise I’ll be back to chickens, shellfish, vegetables, and variety. In the meantime, though, it’s all deer all the time.

When I signed up for my hunter education class, about a year ago, it was because I felt like hunting was something I needed to do if I was really going to try to eat as much first-hand food as possible. A lifetime of rooting for the gazelles on Wild Kingdom because I couldn’t bear to watch lions rip out their throats convinced me that I was not, at heart, the hunting kind.

When I thought about looking at a deer, up close, and then taking careful aim and shooting it through its vitals, it seemed a grim prospect. I wasn’t looking forward to it.

But now I am.

Many of the hunters and farmers I know say that killing the animals you eat gives you a respect for life. If your porkchops are just porkchop-shaped pink things, wrapped in plastic, you’re too far removed to care about Elmer, the pig who died so you could grill. If you raise Elmer from a piglet, and feed him kitchen scraps and acorns, you have a profound appreciation for what it means to be carnivorous.

Something different has happened to me. I don’t think I have more respect for life. I don’t have less, either. It’s just that I’ve been hardened. I haven’t turned into a stone killer; no need to lock up your children. I’ve simply become less sentimental about the death of animals.

To some degree, our desires and preferences are shaped by custom and proximity. Whether something – eating dog, practicing polygamy, hunting deer – repels or attracts us may have more to do with whether we grew up doing it than anything inherent in us. Unless there’s a moral objection – no widow burning! – what keeps us from the unfamiliar is simply its unfamiliarity.

I didn’t grow up hunting, and until this year I never met a live animal that was to be my dinner. But by a slow course of thinking, talking, and writing about killing things, coupled with spending time reading about and talking with smart, interesting people who kill things, I have turned myself into someone who actively wants to shoot a deer.

I do find this a little unnerving. While I don’t really believe this is the first step down the path to a callous disregard to life, that’s what all stone killers said. I will continue to monitor my progress.

Today, I’m resting easy because, in order to be a stone killer, you have to actually kill something. It will probably not surprise you to learn that I didn’t do that on this, my fourth day hunting deer.

We decided that Cape Cod was not an optimal place to find deer. “Come on,” Kevin said. “How many of them do you suppose swim over from the mainland?”

The impenetrable deer habitat of Standish forest

We went over the bridge to the Myles Standish State Forest, a 15,000-acre park in Plymouth. The nice guy at the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife had given us a map and pointed us in a direction he thought might be fruitful, and dawn found us loading the guns and hiking into the woods.

Even to my untrained eye, this was clearly deer habitat. The woods were laced with trails, and the trails were dotted with poop. There were bare spots where they’d scraped the dirt, and bare trees where they’d rubbed antlers.

We were hunting a rectangular piece of land, about a mile by half a mile, bounded on all four sides by dirt roads. Kevin and I split up, walked parallel tracks, and met on the opposite road.

On my second pass, walking on a deer trail through scrub oak, I heard a noise. I froze, and listened. It was the distinct rustle rustle rustle of something big in the bushes. I thought it might be another hunter, but no hunter emerged. No deer emerged either.

For the first time in my thus far inauspicious deer hunting career, I took the safety off my shotgun. And I will admit that my heart was racing. Buck fever, they call it.

I walked toward the bushes to investigate, but there was no other noise. I didn’t see anything at all. Whatever it was (and I’m convinced it was a deer), it had run away.

I went on my way, and met Kevin on the other side. “I heard one!” I told him, and related the circumstances. He told me, to my great dismay, that a deer will sometimes stay very still, in the hopes that you think it has run away and continue on to tell your husband how you didn’t manage to figure out that there was a deer right there.

Yes, it’s possible that there was a deer right there. That this was my best chance to date of actually getting a deer. And I blew it. I didn’t go far enough into the bushes. I fell for the ruse.

One of the things you can do in a deer blind while you wait for deer

In my defense, I will point out that all the stupid, slow, or friendly deer got weeded out the first week of deer season, leaving only the canny, streetwise deer. Besides, the fact that this process has been going on for many years means that virtually none of the stupid, slow, friendly deer live to procreate, whereas the canny, streetwise deer survive into their deery dotage, reproducing and volunteering their time to teach Hunter Evasion to the young generation.

It was encouraging to know that there were deer in them thar hills, and we set up our blind near the spot I’d heard the rustling. A couple of hours yielded no sightings, and we gave it up about 1:00, some six hours after we arrived.

We left the blind in the spot, though, and we’ll go back again tomorrow morning. It’s unnerving, but I actively want to kill a deer.

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Comments

  1. Well, based on an experience I had just this morning, perhaps you should try shifting your venue to the Merritt Parkway. I must have spotted at least half a dozen driving back to Simsbury from Stamford.

  2. There are more deer per square mile on the Cape than anywhere in the state (except for ACK).

    Towards the end of the shotgun season, the deer will be in the thickest, smallest, thorniest, wettest, most impenetrable pieces you can find. If you want I can send along a few local spots (lat/long Google map links) that hold late season deer. Hit me up on Twitter DM if you want. Hell, I might even go with you.

  3. Maybe you do have a few readers who couldn’t give two hoots about hunting. I, however, am happy to read anything you have to say on the subject. So keep it coming as long as deer season lasts.

  4. I love that photo depicting ‘what one can do in a deer blind’. I imagine that most times when one wants a deer to walk by, they can smell the hunters intent and stay just far enough away to make one sleepy!

    Here on the Ecovillage we eat (almost) exclusively the food we raise (and eventually hunt). We recently have had one of our residents get their hunting license and so we are working on figuring out how to secure guns so that hunting can occur safely. Its not an easy task, and being such a public oriented place, we have been weighing things carefully.

    I hope your next trip is more fruitful!

  5. See why I like duck hunting? Rare are the days that I don’t even see ducks.

    On another note, I too feared I would become callous toward animals when I started hunting. It was my biggest fear, though I never spoke of it. Turns out the opposite was true: I love animals more, and treat animals more tenderly, than I ever did in the preceding 41 years of my life. They are no longer “other” to me; they are family. And in this family, some of us kill and eat others of us. (I know that sounds silly, but I’m dead serious.)

  6. Tamar, I always used to think of this man’s poems when I was in the woods. It always calmed me. Maybe it will work for you too.

    The Peace of Wild Things

    by Wendell Berry
    Wendell Berry
    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

  7. Is it me, or does deer season seem ridiculously fast? How long doe it last anyway?

    I hope you get one!

  8. I don’t think the callous theory plays out either. A lot of long-time hunters I’ve met reach a point in their sporting career where they lose their hunger to shoot, and often switch from a gun to a camera. The more you observe your prey and enjoy their behaviours and lifecycle, the more you grow to respect them. Maybe it’s in-built in our psyche.

    Your hunting exploits, fruitful or not, are a pleasure to read. I love the idea of wily deer teaching hunter evasion.

  9. Kim Graves says:

    These posts are SO good!

  10. I have zero interest in shooting a deer myself, heck, I’m a vegetarian! That doesn’t mean I don’t find your process, reasoning and story interesting and compelling.

    I think that’s a huge part of what’s wrong with the world, thinking our personal story is the only reality or necessarily the right one. Here’s to learning to listen to all kinds of stuff that challenges us personally.

    Karen

  11. Very interesting, Tamar. When I started hunting, I wasn’t at all sure that I “actively wanted to kill a deer.” Sounds strange, I suppose.

    Here’s wishing you luck!

  12. For the record… I was NOT SLEEPING! I was merely resting my eyes.

    • Kevin, I can’t go pigeon shooting because the minute I sit down in the hide, I’m overcome by the need to “rest my eyes” too.

  13. SDQ — Deer know you can’t shoot ’em from the road. That’s why you see so many.

    Darren — I am absolutely taking you up on that. Absolutely.

    Kate — I suspect there’s a note of “There, but for the grace of God …” given that you just bought your first gun. But I’m OK with that.

    Ecovillage — I’ve read a bit about your experiment; it’s really interesting. Because you’re so public, you have an opportunity to be a kind of hunting ambassador. When John Q. Public thinks of a “hunter,” we’d like him to to think of a responsible, environment-conscious, life-respecting meat eater, not a shoot-em-up killer with a beer in one hand and a rifle in the other. If a community like yours sends the message that responsible hunting is part of living sustainably and constructively, that’s going to help. As for securing guns, I would hope that wouldn’t be an insurmountable problem. Safes and locks, with guns locked separately from ammunition, are pretty good at keeping guns out of unauthorized hands.

    NorCal — I know exactly what you mean. We’re the only species in the food chain that agonizes about eating meat. When you see yourself as part of the system, it seems to make killing for food eminently reasonable.

    Brooke — I always like it when someone invokes Wendell Berry. He’s the dean of what I think of as the agrarian contemplative school. I’m afraid, though, that I don’t share that sensibility. There are many people who get what he gets out of spending time in the great outdoors — a sense of peace, of belonging, of rightness (as I read him). While I think the great outdoors are very nice, nature doesn’t touch me in that way. Kevin says this is because I always have a running dialogue in my head, and my brain won’t shut down long enough to let nature speak to me, and he may very well be right.

    Paula — The season’s 2 weeks, and I think that’s an increase from 10 days. That’s for shotgun, though. There are separate seasons (about as long) for archery and black powder (muzzleloaders).

    Jen — I’m glad you second my theory, given that you’ve A) been hunting way longer than I have and B) have shot actual animals, including a fox, out your living room window, in your underwear (I mean it was you, not the fox, who was wearing your underwear). Because I’m doing this mainly for meat, it’s hard to imagine going out with a camera, but check back in a decade or so — it’s certainly possible that I’ll change my mind.

    Kim — Thanks! You can comment any time.

    Karen — I think it’s true. It’s a lot easier to be comfortable with something you’re familiar with. And the way to become familiar with it is to make sure you’re exposed to it. That’s not always so easy, of course. If I’d never left Manhattan, I suspect my feelings about hunting wouldn’t have changed (I never opposed it — I just didn’t want to do it). Kevin and I have found that one of the benefits of uprooting ourselves in middle age is that we’re finding ourselves changing at a time of life when a lot of people are pretty settled in. It’s a good thing.

    Tovar — I suspect you understand exactly what I’m going through. It’s one thing to change your mind about an issue, and it’s quite another to find that your feelings have changed — we don’t usually have much control over those.

    Husband Mine — Your eyes sure need a lot of rest.

    • Thank you for your response Tamar
      I will pass those words onto the hunting committee. Being first and foremost an educational demonstration site I completely concur. I’m sure then, the storage will work itself out!

  14. How come you use a shotgun for deer?
    I thought shotguns were for small game and petrol (gas) station robbery.

    • It’s the law, Kingsley, it’s the law. No rifles bigger than a 22 in Massachusetts. So we use slugs in shotguns instead. But I appreciate your mentioning the alternate use — if I go long enough without a deer, I might have to take desperate measures.

  15. Kim Graves says:

    Tamar – you have me checking in three times a day now to see if you got your deer!

  16. Fingers are crossed for you both!