I try to write eulogies for every deer I take. The last few have been pretty somber, this deer is going to be different.
First off: Why hunt? I find the animals beautiful, and I love deep ecology. When I’m not hunting I’m usually off in the woods foraging, or tending to my fruit trees, or building food plots. We’re planting a bunch of pepper seeds this year because those seemed popular among the animals and when we go to the supermarket, it seems like a real waste to just send them down the drain.
“OK phergoph, couldn’t you just leave the animals alone?”
I’ve never found that to be a very wholistic view. We spent a billion, million years in the presence of the Gods of Nature, being formed into their will, to eat meat. Animals eat one another. And frankly, the fruititarians are the only ones who have half a moral leg to stand on since every other species of plant dies after it produces offspring. Quite simply living and dying is part of nature and it is against nature to live forever. Certainly I wouldn’t to. I believe a head of lettuce would be just as rotten next spring as a deer taken by a bobcat. But if we are going to experience nature and interact with it, let our experiences be pure joy. Find beauty in it. Revel in it’s glory and be glad of the moment of participation given unto you. Take the time to care for the animal, make it’s passing as gentle as possible, and make a real good meal out of it to provide for everyone. As the experience provides spiritual sustenance, let the animal provide material sustenance to me and my family. Its a simple prayer, really. I’ve even talked to other hunters about their own practices, even if they enjoy the woods but not the meat, it can go on to provide for others too. I know this animal is going to satisfy my family’s food needs, but donations fill other peoples food needs too. Don’t let this go to waste.
Bucks are fun. No bones about it, they are the archetype of male essence. While the does tend to herd up, and care for the young, the bucks are out there in the woods thrashing about in the trees, sparring, jumping, and playing. They remind me a lot of my own son, who is a constant, bright sun of swirling energy. Ah to be young again.
Today was a typical hunting day. The gear comes out and gets locked up in the truck. I have taken the time to make sure I can shoot well and produced five rounds very specific to the task at hand. I have invested that time to make sure I do my part well in nature. I set my alarm clock for very early, and bathed, and prayed. Rather then pray to the enochian spirits or angels, I pray to Skadi. I pray to Ullr. I want to experience the glory of nature. I want to invest the effort. I want to feed my family.
I get into the truck and drive out to the woods. While I could hunt the back yard, that always feels like cheapening the experience to me. The Holy Places are the places where people are not. Sometimes I hike a mile into the woods over the rocks and trees, but this time I went to the farm of my ancestors who taught me these things. I try to say a word to my grandfather, if he’s still listening, for providence. We didn’t always see eye to eye on a lot of things, but he was always a good friend in the woods.
The woods are happy today. It’s warm. While the dark time of the year is here it feels more like spring, and it’s hard to imagine Yule being right around the corner. I pull the truck down the long, unkempt path to the old farm. Frost is on the ground, but doing courtesy to the sun, recedes except for the most shadowy areas. As I walk down the path I am shadowed by a fox. He too is out hunting. We are one and the same. We are connected in this moment. We understand one another completely. He hopes I kicked up rabbits, I hope he goes into the pines where the deer lounge.
The knob in the woods provides a good lookout, the pines thankfully have provided me with a quiet bed with which to move across. I actually don’t like to clear shooting lanes, I like to hike. I like to experience it. There is groundfog ahead from the creek, I move through it to where I like to hide. Weirdly, a groundhog has given me an extra six inches of height today with his efforts to clear the shale out of the soil and make himself a home for his family. I see where he’s eaten at the small trees and brush to feed himself and his kin.
At the top of the next hill I catch a flash of white. I know the next hill is about 125 yards away, more pines, and oak. The deer knows I’m here, but he doesn’t startle. Instead he seems more intent on rubbing up along the low pine saplings. I know what’s on his mind. A quick glassing shows that he’s a pretty mature deer. Strong tines, good neck, wonderful coat. He’s bred before and he knows what brings in the ladies. The white flash came when he was rubbing his scent on the brush. I guess he’s about three years old, which in deer terms is firmly middle aged. How wonderful that these animals grow so quickly.
He frolics in the shade, stopping to catch some of the sun which is burning off the fog in the lowland. His coat is red, luxurious, and his antlers are glorious. Truly a crown for a king! I move slightly to get next to a tree to rest my arm on for a stable position. He sees me and moves around the hill.
I’ve blown it! Ullr, Skadi, whats this? A moment of doubt. Are my prayers insufficient? Do we really need this deer? Is there someone else who needs it more than us? My thoughts hang in the air for a good 20 minutes while I slowly lose hope and fill with doubt. But, then I see a movement from the left side of the hill. Joy! The deer is not gone, he merely moved a bit. He is curious. I do my best to look like an inviting doe. I don’t think he buys it.
But I hold still. He runs back up the hill, kicking and pushing over plants and eating the berries which grow on the ivy there. I can’t eat the berries, the fallopia japonica is too tough and woody. But the deer can eat the berries, and doesn’t mind them so much, and this is how nature provides us with nutrition. The deer eat them and grow strong, and the vines provides for the deer to make more deer. Actually the deer looks like he quite likes them and stops to browse on quite a few. After his wonderful meal he beds down for a bit (a bit like Thanksgiving, actually, at my house) and then stands up. Once again he’s scenting everything, and like a flash takes off and crosses the ravine.
He emerges on the closer hill, this hill is about 100 yards away, and I believe he’s scented a doe. His nose is to the ground, and he’s very obviously looking for some love. There are no does here, but there may have been earlier. I know the paths well and don’t worry too much when I can’t see him. Eventually, however, the search for a doe to breed consumes him and he wanders into a small clearing of brush at the midpoint of the hill.
It is then I took the shot. A single, loud report from the rifle. A bit of sadness since I have spent such wonderful, rare time with this animal, but knowing that my children really love the steak puts good faith in my heart that this is the right thing to do in the eyes of the One Thing. He jumps, he stumbles once, and passes.
I say a prayer of thanks, and let my breath out.
I let my wife pick the cuts this time, she always says I get too much hot sausage. The deer already has a place on my wall which my son can look at and ask, “Dad, tell me about that time you went hunting.” The cycle continues and warms my heart.