The final kill

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New Year’s Eve is one of those holidays, where you’re supposed to be at a party or watching a football game. I’m not so big into parties, and I cannot tell you the first thing about football, other than it’s about as exciting as watching the grass grow.

West Virginia’s DNR has blessed the oddballs with a little respite. In parts of the state where the deer population is quite high, part of the split doe season is reopened for the last three days of the year.

I still had a doe tag to fill, so I went to the deer blind. The morning hunt wasn’t so good, but I had my evening planned. At 3 PM, I’d already showered again in my scent-killing wash.

I see more deer in the evening. I think it’s because when I go out in the morning, I’m going out to already active deer, but when I go out in the evening, I’m out there before the deer start to move. West Virginia doesn’t allow hunting at night, so I think it would be pretty hard for me to be in the right spot in the morning and still follow the law.

I settled in. The evening sun began to sink beyond the gray canopy of trees.  No deer yet. It started to get cold. It would be snowing in two days, but right now, it was just enough to be a nuisance.

I knew the deer would come. I knew that there was a doe and fawn pair that always came down the game trail in front of the blind just as the sun began to sink.

So I waited. And I waited. I remained still. Not a bird stirred. Not a squirrel.

In twilight, a doe fawn suddenly materialized. The winter rays of the sun cast a silvery glow to her mousy gray coat.

I didn’t want to take her. She was young, and if winter conditions were good, she’d have a fawn of her own next May or June.

I waited. Not 30 seconds after the fawn materialized. Her mother appeared behind her. A big doe. Maybe 3 or 4 years old.

I’m sure she was the same doe who had blown my cover in the archery season, and now she was quite fat for winter.

I decided to take her. The experts tell us that we should take the mature does to avoid taking button bucks, and taking these larger does also stops her from having twins next year. Thus, taking her is the best way to protect the future antlered deer and to reduce the deer population the next year.

I moved the .243 off safety, and let the two deer move into position. I had put out some corn scented attractant right in front of my blind, where I knew they would stop.

The fawn stopped. Then her mother.

I gently raised the rifle. I had her in my scope sight. I followed the folds on the inside of her elbow until I was dead-centered on her heart.

I took a deep breath and gently squeezed the trigger.

I didn’t hear the gunfire. I heard the bullet slam into the big doe. She spun once and collapsed dead. A clean, humane kill.

If you ever wonder what a gun can do to a man, just look at what one can do to a deer. Nothing will make you respect them more than use one for hunting. They are not toys. They are not absolute evil. But they must be respected.

The gun in question was my grandpa’s old turkey sniper. It is a Remington 788 model, which had painted camouflage.

Turkey hunting with rifles has always been illegal in West Virginia.

So is hunting them with bait.

Gramps followed neither law.

My dad used it to bag a big buck a few years ago.  It’s dead accurate at 75 yards.

But it’s always in the safe. And it’s never brought into the house loaded.

We’re talking a lot about guns this week.

Today, I received an e-mail from the DCCC from a woman whose mother was wounded at the Virginia Tech shooting. I have a cousin who graduated from Virginia Tech, and her father forwarded the same e-mail to me. Guns can ruin lives.

On the other side of the country, a bunch of self-styled militiamen have commandeered a bird sanctuary in Oregon. One of the yahoos appeared on MSNBC covered in a blue tarp demanding that the feds take him there so he could get a better shot at them.

Is this what gun culture has become?

For me, guns are tools of wildlife management, as well as heirlooms passed down from father to son.

To some, they are the very epitome of what it means to be a sovereign American citizen.

To others, they are the sign that America is a barbarous land where the guns crack and the blood spills at all hours of the night.

The truth is I’m not with either of those camps at this moment.

I am reconnected with the old ways, when man hunted the wild beasts for survival.

I’m on a ridgetop in West Virginia, and I’ve sacrificed a white-tail doe to Artemis.

I feel both pride and remorse. I feel pride in that I was able to take the deer humanely, but I feel remorse in that I took a life.

When my grandfather was dying of cancer, he told me that he felt sorry for every squirrel that he wounded but was unable to recover.

And this man was a hunter. A serious one. He loved his guns and hunting dogs.

But he was a predator, not a monster.

When the hunter stops feeling the remorse at the kill, it’s probably time that he or she gave it up.

That remorse comes from valuing life, and it’s the thing that should be at the forefront of one’s mind when you’re holding something as destructive as a gun.

But it’s a fine line between the predator and the monster.

It’s one that I find troubling, but I’m glad that I find it troubling.

I am a person who loves the deer. I am glad our forests are full of them, but I am aware that if they aren’t managed they will eat down all their browse and soon starve to death.

Better to die of a carefully placed bullet than of an empty stomach.

But even that intellectual justification cannot take away the remorse at having killed.

And yet there is still satisfaction.

I am connected to the old ways. I follow in the generations of my species who have thrown spears at quarry, then shot arrows, then musket balls, then these carefully-designed rounds, which can take out a deer so surgically.

I am both awed at the process and humbled by it.

I will continue to hunt the deer. I accept myself as a predator.

But I will not become a monster.

I will always feel that remorse at having killed.

 


Natural History

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