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.
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.
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.
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.