Black Friday vs. hunting season

tree seat

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the mini riots that broke out at big-box stores all across the U.S. yesterday as desperate bargain-hunters, squeezed by a shrinking economy, fought over Christmas gifts. I’d like to think these incidents, played up by a conflict-addicted media, don’t represent the behavior or attitudes of Americans in general. In fact, for the small percentage of folks who still get up off the couch to go hunting for wild game, the opening day of regular-rifle deer season is a much bigger deal. And here in Pennsylvania, that falls on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

antler

Both Black Friday and the opening day of deer season involve competition for a limited supply of the most desirable trophies, and the successful competitors are almost invariably those who plot out their strategy well in advance and arrive at their location at least an hour before daylight. But I think the comparison ends there. On properties such as ours, posted for hunting by written permission only, Monday will be fairly tranquil, with probably no more than a dozen shots all day long. The hunters will sit quietly in the trees, some of them perhaps communicating via mobile phones, but most waiting in a state of heightened alertness akin to meditation for more than twelve hours, with a break for lunch. If they do shoot, they will generally not need to shoot a second time.

divergent

And whereas Black Friday shopping only contributes to the growth economy that is killing the planet, deer hunting in the East is — in the absence of natural predators — an ecologically crucial activity, without which forests such as ours would over time suffer drastic declines. Just in the forty years that we’ve lived here, we’ve observed major shifts in the flora as the deer numbers have fluctuated, and have the data to show the success of our deer hunting program, now in its 20th year.

If I sound a little defensive, that is of course because the average suburban American — which is to say the average American — tends to be far more critical of hunting than of shopping. In part, I think it’s snobbishness based on negative stereotyping. Our hunter friends come from a variety of backgrounds and both sexes (we could have as many as five women and girls sitting in the trees on Monday, I think). They include a contributor to this blog, poet and professor Todd Davis, who hunts here with his teenage son Noah. Back in 2008, I even incorporated Todd and Noah into a poem about deer hunting. I can usually spot Todd’s blaze-orange vest from my front door.

three deer in snowy woods 3

I also think people have lost touch with where their food comes from, though the burgeoning locavore movement seems to be changing that a bit, thank god. Conscious vegetarians I respect, but all too many people who recoil at the thought of hunting have no trouble buying factory-farmed meat in the supermarket. Perhaps because so many of us lead such tightly regimented lives ourselves, and are politically so willing to embrace lengthy prison terms and even indefinite detention for other human beings, the specter of concentrated animal feedlot operations doesn’t fill us with horror as it should.

Of course, for those of us who don’t hunt, the first few days of deer season are a time to stay close to home, and wear safety orange when we do go for a walk. We’ve felt much safer here since we posted the property 20 years ago, though. I’m more worried about interrupting somebody’s hunt than I am about getting hit with a stray bullet. And since I love trees, including the many species that would never make it out of the seedling stage if we didn’t keep deer numbers in check, I think it’s a very small sacrifice to make.

joinery

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

12 Comments


  1. Like that strange last photograph… And of course I am married to a wildly adventurous hunter (who also quilts, is a superb cook, repairs antique toys, etc. etc.) who often goes off to very treacherous places, sometimes on his own. So the freezer is full of wildness.

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  2. On “I also think people have lost touch with where their food comes from…” — you heard, of course, that pizza is now listed as a vegetable on school lunches.

    Wonderful photos, Dave.

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  3. Great post, Dave! I come from a rural Western PA family and I am always amazed about the true ignorance people show towards hunting. (Most of the time, this ignorance is showed through people who blissfully buy their meat at the supermarket — never thinking at all where it comes from!)

    Say hi to Todd for me.

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    1. HI Karen – Glad you liked this. Of course, the fact that much of the opposition toward hunting comes from folks of a liberal persuasion, and is often combined with classism, feeds into the right-wing narrative about effete liberal elitists (“eco-weenies,” e.g.) and fuels the paranoia machine that is the NRA.

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      1. I would never, ever hunt. HOWEVER, I believe that people who eat meat have no right to condemn hunters who eat the animals they’ve killed (or donate the meat to food banks). Those conscientious hunters are, at the very least, honest about the origins of their food. And eating wild game is also better than supporting the horrors of factory

        As for your insulting political stereotypes, I know plenty of conservatives who shudder at the thought of “killing Bambi,” all the while happily munching on factory-farmed meat…. And here’s the part that might surprise you: I am a liberal, feminist vegetarian.

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        1. Quick correction to one sentence: …And eating wild game is better than supporting the horrors of factory farming.

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        2. Thanks for weighing in. I’m sorry you felt insulted by my generalization. I too know plenty of conservatives who are not keen on hunting, and conservation-minded liberals and leftists (like myself) who support it. But I’ve also noticed that the topic of hunting all too often prompts those who otherwise pride themselves on tolerance to make snide and disparaging remarks about working-class people.

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  4. That last photo -skull sutures I presume. (I nearly spelled that sutras).

    The great thing about dead deer, in my experience, is that it’s also known as venison. Which is seriously delicious. In burger form with cranberry relish in particular. I hope you get the occasional haunch for family consumption.

    Horn makes great buttons, egg spoons and trout priests too.

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    1. “Trout priests”?

      They do usually gift us with enough venison that we rarely have to buy beef, and yes, we mostly use it ground, in various casseroles. There’s no better meat than “mountain cattle”!

      Yes, that’s a close-up of a deer skull.

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  5. Straight length of antler with metal fill for weight as here for coshing fish. Any old stick or stone will do, obviously, but weighted horn is also good.

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      1. Oh dear, sorry. There’s a good account of the cosh, its etymology, and being “under the cosh” here.

        I used to have a cosh, French security force issue, heavy hardened rubber end, flexible rubber neck between it and the handle. Didn’t show up in airport x-rays of the time. When hitch-hiking with a friend the person in the back would have the cosh just in case the driver needed subduing.

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