This is a story about deer hunting. Any of you that stumble on this site and don’t want to read such things, go no further.
To my friends who are vegetarian or can’t abide the taking of animal life, I hope you won’t think me a monster. I used to hunt, but no longer do, for reasons that I’ll keep to myself. I am, as you know by now, what I am.
It was late October and the morning was just beginning to warm up. The frost was melting, dripping off the branches and leaves, pattering like rain on the leaves that had already fallen.
I was drifting along through the edge of the woods when I saw the scrape, that spot where a buck paws away at the ground to make his presence known to all the does in the area. Anybody who has seen a buck go through this ritual has seen a vivid exhibition of the raw power of nature. This isn’t Bambi.
The buck’s neck is swollen from all the hormones raging through his system. He drags his feet through the leaves and makes noises deep in his throat that almost sound like he’s grinding his teeth. He stops at a place that appeals to him and starts pawing at the ground. Pawing isn’t really the word. Dirt and leaves and ground moss fly for ten feet or more behind him. When he’s done scraping and grunting and pawing, he pisses on himself and the urine dribbles down his back legs onto the bare earth. He’s making sure everybody knows that this is his place.
Anyway, I saw this scrape and knelt down to take a look. It was fresh… looked and smelled to me like it had been made that very morning. I took a look around.
The only movement I could pick up was a fox squirrel gathering acorns. Except for the pattering of the melting frost, the morning was quiet, but a bluejay flew in and started jabbering away, giving me a ration of shit for being there. I moved on about ten yards.
A bunch of crashing and thrashing started off to my left and I took a knee. Here he came, jumping up over some spots in the brush, crashing right through other places, making a hell of a racket. He was big and aggressive and moving fast. I knocked an arrow and watched him come.
When he got to the scrape, he picked up my smell and stopped. I had a clear shot, so I drew, and he turned his head toward me at the sound. He was close, real close, and his looking at me just about did me in, but I picked a spot on his ribcage and released.
The bow hummed, the arrow thunked against his side and went straight through him. He tore off, crashing and thrashing away into the woods so I wouldn’t have to watch him die. I gave him time, then followed the pink, foamy trail of his life’s blood to where he lay on his side dead.
He was no longer beautiful and graceful and proud and powerful, no longer tossing his head and crashing and thrashing through the brush and looking to pass his genes on. He was still. His eyes were glazing and his tongue was hanging out of the side of his mouth, making him look almost stupid.
He was meat now.
But a few days later, when I skinned him and cut him up and put him in the freezer, I didn’t forget everything that went into the meat that would feed my family.
His bloody birth at the edge of the woods, the way he stood on shaky legs and reached for his mother’s milk for the first time. As he grew, the way he found the tender shoots and acorns, then strayed to nearby fields for corn and sorghum, wandered to the stream for water.
His playful romping with others as a youngster, and later his fights with rivals as he sought dominance, his undying quest to pass on his genes to another generation. You can see in the picture that he had one antler broken off in just such a contest, one he’d been bested in.
Now his life was over. We would take his life, chew it up, and absorb its power and beauty. He would become a part of us, as nature intended.
I didn’t know any haunting American Indian songs of thanks, but in my own clumsy white-man’s way I gave a quiet “thank-you” to that buck for feeding us.
He is part of us now. The wheel turns. The circle goes on.