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?”
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.
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.