My Last Hunt?
One of the things I love about hunting is the excuse to go sit in the woods before dawn. Deer and other big game are most active at dawn and dusk, so that is the best time to be in the woods. In fact, the early bird gets in place well before sunrise.
It was with this intent in mind that my friend and I boarded the earliest ferry to Guemes Island that we could. It’s always a beautiful experience watching the transition of the sky from black to grey to a lighter grey and finally to blue. It’s fun to listen to the forest turn from silence to a regular stream of chirps, dashes, and the flutter of a wing. Finally, as the coldness of the morning seeps through your clothes, you watch with eager anticipation at the sunlight slowly creeping down the length the trees until you get a great blast of warmth and benevolence when the sun finally hits you.
The morning hunt was beautiful, but uneventful. No deer sightings. Early on in the hunt we identified a major game trail and agreed on routes and directions animals entering the property were headed. We also found an area with several droppings, and clearly matted grass suggesting a frequent bedding site. On the evening hunt we parked the truck right where we thought the deer would come by. We figured since we hadn’t seen anything that morning, it must be an evening trail.
About a half hour before dusk, a doe wandered right down the path. Instead of waiting patiently for her to approach us at point blank range, we got excited and shot early. Despite each of us taking two shots, neither one of use hit the deer. Worried we’d have to chase a wounded animal while combating a setting sun, I quickly grabbed a head lamp and searched for tracks. I easily identified the fresh tracks in the wet ground, all the way to the edge of the property. Not a single drop of blood. My relief at not having to chase a wounded animal in the dark was palpable.While I have great respect for the hunt, I *HATE* the killing. I derive no pleasure from shooting a deer, or killing a fish for that matter. I have such a high appreciation for the complex machinery of a semi-conscious lifeform that killing it for food seems like a huge anti-climax. I like meat though, and meat means killing animals. I think it’s important for meat eaters to kill a little of their own food, so they have a very carnal understanding of the moral repercussions of their diet.
I’ve been on botched hunts before, and the prospect of chasing a wounded animal through the woods ever again is enough to convince me that I should leave the killing of animals to the professionals. However, this hunt was very rewarding as a reflection of my other woodsman-ly skills. I was able to set up the ambush perfectly, by clearly reading the location of game trails, beds, and other tracks. I was also able to clearly track the deer we shot at, and therefore identify the lack of any blood trail. I think I will continue to join in and help hunting parties, but I think I’m done with the shooting; at least until I become a much better shot.
I love hunting as an extension to my love of nature, my passion for self sufficiency, and my desire to develop an intimate relationship with this local ecosystem. I believe that hunting is natural for people and is inherently a good thing. This is how we evolved. And being a competent hunter is a prerequisite for anyone who could desire to call themselves a woodsman or have any notion of self sufficiency in the woods. Finally, in regards to the ecosystem, virtually all natural predators to the deer have been wiped out of the islands as a result of human settlement. As would be expected, most of the islands are heavily overpopulated with deer and they represent the greatest pestilence to island farmers.
All this reflection has really made me appreciate ethical farms, like Three Sisters Beef on Whidbey Island, that raise their animals on free-range farms, and feed them with food grown on-site. I’ve bought my meat from them for years and will continue to do so.