Ramona's picture

    Run, Bambi, Run! Man Is In The Woods

    Today marks the opening of hunting season here in Michigan’s north woods.  The schools are closed in most upper state communities, including ours.

    Opening Day is an annual holiday for the kids, even though only a small percentage of them will be out in the woods with guns. For many of them, today will be their initiation in deer camp, and it’s a day they’ve been waiting for all year.   I don’t quite know when it started but I do know that up here it’s one of those holidays that is so sacrosanct nobody questions it.




    I chose to live where I live, knowing I would be the odd woman out when it came to hunting and killing animals.  I’ve lived here for enough years now to have grown used to the fact that almost everybody I know here either hunts or looks forward to the benefits of the hunt.




    I haven’t become complacent about it, but I do know it’s more complicated than a simple wish to make it stop.  Up here, where unemployment measures in double digits and people are noticeably poor, I’ve come to recognize that a deer kill means  food for a struggling family.

    And who am I, a meat-eater myself, to turn up my nose? As long as we’re into eating meat, animals must die in order to keep our freezers full.  I try not to think about that, hypocritical as that may be, but it’s a fact, isn’t it?

    But hunting for sport is different.


    deer in yard small


    With hunting as sport, meat in the freezer is a byproduct of the main event, which is killing for the sheer thrill of killing.  No matter how the industry tries to mainstream it, they can’t get away from the fact that there’s nothing sporting about much of what we call “hunting.”

    Hunting no longer means tracking your prey.  It means sitting and waiting, often in a comfortable covered deer blind or tree stand.  The folks up here stake out their territory and begin building bait piles weeks ahead of opening day, in order to make the deer feel comfortable enough so that they’ll stick around until the day the shooting begins.




    Around this time every store and gas station takes to selling 30 to 50 pound bags of corn, carrots, and sugar beets.  Deer feed.  Big white blocks of salt lick are stacked alongside the feed.  Artificial musk and urine scent can be sprayed on the bushes and trees surrounding the covered, camouflaged stand from which the hunter “hunts”.   There are deer calls and deer decoys. There are sprays to kill human scent.  Camouflage clothing is not just big business, it’s an up north fashion trend.

    Motion sensor trail cameras catch deer on the move, even at night.


    trail cam deer 11 2012


    Hunting rifles have become high-tech, with state-of-the-art scopes that see at night and at long distances.  (I wouldn’t be surprised if they can see around trees, too.)

    The most shameful thing that can happen to a hunter during hunting season these days is to come home empty-handed.  If the hunter doesn’t come home with at least one carcass they need only look in the mirror to find the one to blame.  Every aid known to man is at their disposal.    The deer will come.  What it takes after that is simply to aim and shoot  Aim.  And shoot.

    By the way, when we go for our walk today (and every day through hunting season), this is what I’ll be wearing:




    Note:  All photos in this piece belong to me.  If you want to reprint please ask permission first.  Thanks.



    While some of the aspects of the "sport" of deer hunting may seem cruel it is a necessary tool to control deer populations in our unnatural forests. A hundred years ago when deer were managed for tourist viewing and hunting was restricted there were population irruptions that resulted in tens of thousands of deer starving and forests being decimated. Aldo Leopold was the first to use scientific data to direct management policy on National Forest lands here in NM and later in Wisconsin and Michigan. It's interesting that the same attitudes about wildlife are evident today that were hotly contested so long ago.

    I have to assume you didn't read my entire post.  You can't possibly have read Aldo Leopold's writings, including A Sand County Almanac, and think he would have approved of what passes for hunting ethics today?  Not a chance.

    But I do want to thank you.  As I was leafing through my Sand County Almanac I found a perfect passage about hunting wolf.  I'm writing a post right now about Michigan's new wolf hunt and it'll fit in their nicely.  I'll be back. . .

    Speaking of wolves.

     To me, talking about hunting is way more interesting than a hunt itself and I think a fairly high percentage of hunters would agree even though they wouldn't admit it. And like you, Ramona, I have little respect for hunting that becomes a simple matter of aiming and pulling the trigger except when it really is worthwhile meat hunting. Bow hunters push an attitude along that line by bragging about the skill it actually does take to stalk their prey and get close enough for a kill with a bow compared to with a rifle. The most callous and indefensible game shooting I have seen was from a boat going down the Amazon. There were a few Bazilians on the boat who would shoot at any undomesticated animal on the banks as we passed by. Just to see if they could hit it. Sadly, there are situations in the world where people get like that towards other people. I will note that I rant about that and the situations leading to it on a regular basis, in case anyone hasn't noticed.
     I like to shoot but not enough to pursue chances to do it and I won't shoot again with a gun big enough that the kick hurts my shoulder. I went dove hunting once. Had a great day. And, bragging a bit, I will say that I used to have a pretty good eye. I have picked off a fair number of varmints, some at a good distance with a buddy's high end target pistol, but that was a long tome ago.  
     I killed a deer years ago in Wyoming with my car. Which reminds me ...
     Two friends and I used to sometimes take our dirt bikes out to open semi-dessert land dotted pretty thickly with mesquite trees and it was great fun, and a huge adrenalin rush a couple times to jump a jackrabbit and chase it. The first of the few times it happened we, being pack animals at some level like all human beings are, instantly became like a pack of dogs, or wolves, or hyenas I guess, without ever having consciously thought how it might go down or having worked out a tactic. Someone would end up in the lead and the other two would be a few lengths behind, one a bit to the right and one to the left as we raced after the rabbit. We were faster but it could make a 90 degree turn on a dime when we caught up. Then one of the trailing bikes could make a wider turn and stay with it while the previous leader would fall in behind. That is, if the whiley wabbit hadn't used a nasty sticker tree to set a pick. Which it always quickly did. Only one time did the chase last more than a few seconds, the rabbits had always given us the slip pretty quickly. That one time we had a bit more of a clear field and were able to stay with the rabbit longer. The rabbit had to gave up from exhaustion after a while and we all ended up stopped in a line, rabbit in the middle, and all of us breathing hard and all looking back and forth at each other, three of us grinning but the rabbit no doubt confused to not already be lunch. It caught its breath pretty quickly and took off while and we sat and watched it go and then rode back to the pickup for a cold beer.   
     When my son was fifteen he was invited on a deer hunt with some uncles and cousins whom I never did get to know well at all. Can't really speak to their attitudes about hunting. They weren't poor but neither were they prosperous. The hunt was an occasion for fun but the meat was at least a bit important. Each license allowed one kill but it was expected that if you got more than one shot you would take it and use someone else's tag to stay cool with the Game Warden. The idea was that it was more important to get the group total allowable than for each individual to get a trophy.
     My son had a clear shot and didn't take it. That night's campfire get together was the scene of a lot of good natured but embarrassing ribbing.  The next year he shot three dear, one which was on the run. He helped field dress all of them and later finish the job when the carcasses were hung to age. He has never had any interest in hunting again as far as I know. He taught his son at eight to safely handle and shoot a BB gun and then a 22 and then he put them away and guns and shooting are not an ongoing part of their life. He is a very good cook and ribs and chicken are a treat when he gets close to a grill. He wouldn't turn down venison if offered and it would probably become good jerky. I like the way it all went with him just fine.
     Hunting culture is complicated because humans are. I think it is good for a number of reasons to introduce children, whether they hunt or not, to the idea held by some hunter gatherers of giving a prayer of thanks to their dead prey but I cuss deer when I hurt my arm throwing rocks at them when they come into my yard and eat all my early flowers. Sometimes they look like they are starving. Sometimes I put one pump on my pellet gun [five pumps might make the pellet penetrate from close range] and pop them in the butt if I can get a shot. A deer with a definite antisocial attitude tried to killed me last Spring when I was on my motorcycle. Looked up and saw me coming and took an interception angle and sprinted like a cornerback right at me. I almost did a stopee [that is breaking so hard  that the bike stands up on its front wheel] and he missed by inches. A fucking Taliban deer, probably. Or, maybe it was a jackrabbit in a previous incarnation.  

     Mostly off topic, I watched a very interesting movie last night and although hunting was not a main theme at all, killing to live was a part of the situation that the only character, a woman, faced and thought deeply about. Worth a look if you find it available. 


    Lulu, "The Wall" sounds like my kind of movie.  I'll check it out. 

    As I said, I've come to terms with hunting since I was the one who chose to live among hunters (many of whom are good friends), but I grew up with "Bambi" on my mind and I've never really cottoned to it.  I don't eat wild game, either, as hypocritical as it seems.

    We had seven deer in our yard two days before Opening Day (four of them were fawns), but we haven't seen a sign of them since then.  Every year they seem to sense they're in danger during hunting season and they hightail it out of here (literally).  They'll stick around during bow season but those first shots in the early hours of Opening Day must trigger some primitive reflex because we won't see them again until the season is over and the hunters are gone. Maybe our compost pile with actually have a chance to compost.

    They will eat our flowers if they get the chance but we've finally learned to keep everything behind high wire fences.  I don't like the looks of them but if I want flowers for the whole season that's what it's going to take.

    Deer can get aggresssive, especially during rutting season or if there are newborn fawns.  Summer friends lost their dog to a doe a few years ago when the dog found a fawn in the leaves and started barking.  The doe charged and did so much damage the poor thing couldn't be saved.

    Actually, it'll fit in there nicely.  Jeez. 

    The children asked him if to kill was not a sin
    "Not when he looked so fierce", his mummy butted in
    "If looks could kill it would have been us instead of him"
    All the children sing

    While I have never hunted an animal, I know that it hasn't really been that long since hunting (or fishing) was a common part of a man's job description in almost any society. This vision of Darryl Hannah slinging a stone just flashed in my head, and after checking around, I read that women were adept hunters in some societies, too. Though we might have this image of Xi from The Gods Must Be Crazy apologizing to the goat he just killed, I suspect that most hunters take pleasure in their success and some pride in their prowess.

    Now when I think of sportsman, on the one hand I get this image of a plump, red-faced aristo in a deerstalker with a shotgun. (Obviously I watch too much BBC television.) His ghillie appreciates his wages and a share of the meat, I'll bet, but the Laird is mostly clinging to his heritage.

    I also recall a scene in North Dallas Forty where several football players go out hunting, which translates to drinking and shooting at anything that moved. Dick Cheney must have studied that part.

    Later in life some reality intruded when I worked at a place where 90% of the office was absent on Buck Day and Doe Day. Some used rifles, some used bows. There was a lot of good-natured ribbing over who got a deer and who didn't, and who got so drunk that they fell out of the blind. I liked most of them. I thought the Deerslayer game they installed on their cadstations was in poor taste, but I got a laugh out of the version where the deer shot back.

    Now when I think of sportsman, on the one hand I get this image of a plump, red-faced aristo in a deerstalker with a shotgun. (Obviously I watch too much BBC television.) His ghillie appreciates his wages and a share of the meat, I'll bet, but the Laird is mostly clinging to his heritage.

    There is a revival of this olde Anglo ethos in the recent popularity of Garden and Gun magazine in the South. It is a quite different thing from the hunting culture of the Midwest, which I grew up with and which Ramona describes. The latter is unabashedly and proudly working class. The former aspires, as your comment suggests, to certain aspects of old aristo life. Both might shop for accoutrements at Cabela's, but drinking of beer and use of interior and landscape designers might be a couple of dividing lines...

    Oh and then there's those strange people on the other side of the country who hunt things like javelina and prong-horned antelope, that's a different culture again...

    There's a movie by Jeff Daniels that might be a wee bit esoteric for the dag crowd cheeky but it might give an insight into the social fabric Ramona has weaved herself into. It can be seen on Hulu for free at this very minute.


    Holy Wa, Flowerchild, I forgot about that! 

    How about Da Yooper's "Second Week of Deer Camp"?

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