The hunting of whitetail deer is considered a less than admirable pursuit by many people nowadays. And for various reasons. Some feel it’s just a bit gauche if not atavistic, while others more hostile to both man and his sport, claim to believe that the only real hunting that can be justified is the kind of hunting that makes man the hunter as likely to wind up prey, as the ostensible game.
And too, some arguments used by hunters to “defend” their activities are as emotional and ill thought out as the critcisms. Anyone who has actually spent days stalking deer only to wind up with a mere 70 lbs of dressed meat to be shared out amongst family and friends, has probably also had the thought cross his mind that insofar as producing a supply of meat goes, it would be much more efficient to just raise such things in a pen and …
And just about then you drive past a farm field with a herd of grazing beef cattle.
Oh yeah, someone has already thought of that.
Funny how that works though. Mankind spends thousands of years of energy in domesticating and breeding, say swine, and the beneficiaries of this effort can’t wait to release the product into the wild so they can then face the uncertain prospect of obtaining in the woods and swamps what could easily have been had from the pen.
And what, to get back on track, about overpopulation? From the point of view of logic, killing to reduce an animal population through unsportsmanlike culling practices is just as reasonable as culling through fair chase, IF your only “real” aim is to control the population and benefit from the product.
That said then, my own reasons are perhaps not too much better grounded, or bullet proof, so to speak. But they are my reasons, and I’ll try to lay them out.
Although the “deer camp” social experience has often appeared in outdoors writers’ works as a significant part of the hunting event, it ranks with me in importance somewhat above a run of the mill game of poker with friends, but well below a family holiday at home. The only thing that makes the collective aspect of it enjoyable on balance rather than annoying, is the outdoors context, and the companionship of people – in my case mostly relatives – whose company one already appreciates.
Now as far as primitive goes, we certainly don’t tent it. But on the other hand, the cabin has no running water, and no electricity, and the nearest paved road is miles away. So being there, for some days, with no radio, TV, or electricity, does constitute a different experience. One that given sufficient time, resets your internal clock, and reengages your mind with certain physical realities, from which we as adults have become distanced. For someone in good health, this re-acquaintance with the simple life can be a very satisfying experience. For someone physically weak, or fearful, I will grant you it’s not so much of an attraction.
This though, constitutes the outdoors experience available to most of us, whether or not we hunt.
What hunting really adds to it all, is this: It will, in a more concentrated way than any simple outdoorsy experience can, tell we “everyman” types some important things about ourselves. If, we are willing to listen.
And if we listen, and heed, then we may be able to make some of the corrections that it suggests to us.
To really learn the message however, it takes more than a few days afield, or a couple of lucky morning outings during the course of a lifetime. For what one is reminded of and forced to confront as a result of a sufficient period of time spent in the field, are the local and direct costs of petty sloth and indifferent ignorance, of lack of seriousness of purpose, of lack of focus, and lack of sustained, sustained, and well-directed effort. These are natural mini-lessons presented with just enough intensity and immediacy of feedback and effect to make a broader life point.
Thus, in chasing game, you learn in a very immediate and analogically applicable way the cost of pointless minor indulgences: the cost of a negligent shrug, twitch, kick or yawn; that of a slothful retreat into a reverie, when outward attention is due; that of the impatient step, or of yielding to an impulsive urge to lean up against, or to take an easier yet the noisier path.
The body and it’s habits and urges, which are felt as our psychological dispositions, can in everyday life be more or less allowed to sweep us along without harm – seemingly. In hunting however, no judgement is put off. Thus, welling impulses must be mindfully at first, and then habitually, controlled, in order for one to have an expectation of more than fitful or random success.
Hunting, still hunting, is not easy. It’s not even easy, I hear, to sit patiently in a blind for hours. But hours of alert, purposeful, and controlled passage across a forest floor covered at almost every step with fallen and entraping limbs, grabbing branches, crackling twigs, all while being buffetted by cold and and gusting winds can be psychologically as well as physically exhausting, no matter how unhurried the effort.
The meaning of the wood signs are not obvious to the beginner either, and remain uncertain for years for most of us who have only a limited amount of time to spend in the woods or fields. They take effort to learn. To take an almost comic example, no one who has never before seen a deer or read about one, would have any reason to know which way a set of deer tracks are pointing in the snow. There is no analogy with common household pets, and a young and untutored novice would just as likely imagine that the foot of a deer is streamlined so that the narrow part of the track pointed to the rear, as to correctly imagine the opposite. Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do.
Now that you are older and hopefully wiser, have you been paying attention to when that snow squall started and stopped while you sat there at the base of the tree resting? Or were you more than likely ( don’t ask me how I know this either) hunkered down in your parka, drowsily daydreaming about a hottub stuffed with girls in bikinis? Alertness to the cold world “out there” will tell you whether those tracks you eventually discover 20 yards on further, were laid down in the last 30 minutes, or date back hours.
And are you ready for the opportunity? It’s tiring to walk with your rifle at a semi-port or “patrol” arms for hours, even with the sling wrapped around your left wrist as you grip the fore-end of the stock. So, whew … what the hey, take a break; stop, adjust that burden and sling it over your shoulder.
Which proves just enough to undo that near hour of careful traversing, and to send that deer you hadn’t yet seen, but which you had moved to within 30 yards of, bounding away – before you could recover enough from the startle to unshoulder your rifle, disengage the safety, sight the target, and fire with control.
Aren’t you glad you yielded to that impulse to drop the pretense of stalking, step out of the hunter act, and unguardedly relieve the strain at just that moment? After all, you had been a good little woodsman for more than 45 minutes. Enough deliberation and deliberateness. Nature owed you this break; and a bite of that crackly wrapped candy bar in your pocket too. And since we are not taking this all that seriously – you know as a matter of life and death or something – why should our targets respond as if they are?
Well, I guess I don’t know why others hunt, when it comes right down to it. Nor maybe, did I even know when I began. But I do now, and I think that it provides a refresher course once a year in lessons, the objects of which, I need to keep in mind for the rest.