My first experience with hunting was as a four-year old when my father went hunting for the first time since he’d been married. As a boy and young man, he and his father hunted often. But WWII and a Navy command left no time for hunting until the war was over and he was married and settled down.
After a long weekend spent in the woods with other hunters, my father arrived home triumphantly with a deer carcass proudly displayed on the fender of his car. He was so happy and excited and couldn’t wait to show his young family the fruits of his efforts.
My mother, sister and I took one look at the bloody remains and promptly broke into tears, which continued for the rest of the day. We were all traumatized and refused to eat the meat. If my father ever shot another deer, none of us ever knew about it.
Thirty-five years later, my husband and I moved from urban Dallas to a farm in rural Wisconsin. Since our farm was prize hunting land, our neighbors, all avid hunters, assumed we would hunt too.
Because our hopes for finding jobs immediately hadn’t panned out, extra food sounded good. After all, we had two small children and no current income. The prospect of venison was enticing, and my father had given me his twenty-gauge shotgun when we moved.
The idea of actually shooting a deer was not so enticing. In fact, it was very upsetting. My thoughts immediately flashed to the bloody carcass on my father’s car. But I was not inclined to be a vegetarian and therefore reasoned that if I were going to eat meat, I should take responsibility for procuring it.
I also liked the idea that deer are able to run wild and command their own lives rather than live in highly contained areas always controlled by the whims of humans. Being shot dead with one shot out in the woods seemed highly preferable to being carted to a slaughterhouse, confined with thousands of other frightened animals, and then killed in whatever way was most convenient and economical for humans.
I decided to try it.
The first couple of years brought me nothing. My aim was not the best because I didn’t like the loud noise of the gun so refused to go out and practice. Most years the weather was cold and my feet and hands froze after just an hour or so. However, I did enjoy the peace and tranquility of the forest in the early morning and the feeling of being connected with the natural world.
It was in that deeply connected meditative state that it occurred to me to talk to the deer. I had seen an article by an animal communicator that claimed prey animals were not as freaked out by the predator-prey relationship as we humans are. She said that animals understand that much of the reason for their existence on earth is to be food for other animals, humans included.
I knew as well, that the deer herd, if left unchecked, would leave many animals to starve over the winter, as well as invade gardens and urban areas in order to try to stay alive. I was sure that on some level, deer were aware that overpopulation was not good for them either.
So, the next year, as soon as I settled into my deer stand, I went into meditation and asked to connect with a representative of the deer species. Then I imagined a magnificent stag in front of me.
I told the deer that I needed meat to feed my family, and if any of their species wanted to serve in that way, he or she should come and wait directly under my stand where I could easily kill with one shot. I explained that I was not a very good markswoman, and didn’t want to cause undue pain by wounding a deer that was too far away or moving too fast.
I also spelled out specific time limits. If deer wanted to cooperate with me, they had to appear between 6:30 and 8:00am on opening day, because my feet froze after 8, and my tolerance for hunting lasted only a short while.
Exactly half an hour after finishing my meditation, a deer walked right up to my stand and stood quietly while I took aim and fired only once. I was amazed, but also very grateful. After checking to make sure the first shot was all that was needed, I blessed the life that was departing and offered my gratitude.
And every hunting season for the rest of the years I hunted, the same thing happened.
Every year I would connect with the deer the first thing in the morning and offer my willingness to work with them, and every year they would respond. Sometime between 6:45 and 8:15am on opening day, one or more would present themselves to me in exactly the same way as the first time.
When I tell this story, I always get skeptical looks and catch men winking at each other behind my back. Then my husband corroborates my story by telling how every opening Saturday, I always appear under his stand between 7 and 8:30 when I come get him to help dress out and remove my deer from the woods.
I know what you’re thinking. Where is the sport if you hunt that way? For me, I prefer killing, even for food, not be a sport. If I have to do it, I want the collaboration of those whose meat will one day nurture my body. It then becomes a true blessing for both of us.
According to the DNR, hunting is on the decline, and so a recruiting program has been initiated. In areas where over-population is a problem, hunting is not only beneficial for all concerned, but absolutely necessary. Perhaps a more humane and heartfelt approach would be of more interest to a new generation and a growing cohort devoted to sustainability and a deeper connection with the Earth and the natural world. I count myself among the later, and share my story in hopes of creating a greater understanding of what is for many, an uncomfortable subject.
How can we justify being turned off to hunting when we eat caged chicken and/or confined and corn fed beef? Instead of castigating hunting and those who do it, perhaps we could think about enhancing the lives of our domesticated meat sources as well as encouraging and exemplifying more ethical and humane approaches to hunting.
I think the deer would like that.