Confessions Of A Deerslayer

Is he an eight-pointer or even better than that? I probably will never know for sure until I get a better look and a good exposure, and the roll of film is developed and I can accurately count the points. The year before, when I more or less deliberately blew a thirty yard shot at the nice little six-pointer on the third morning of the season, I knew my heart wasn't in it any more. In my mind I guess I excused myself with the thought that he'd make a much worthier target in a year or two. But this year, after making sure he was still frequenting the area, and even taking down my muzzle-loader from its rack the night before the season opened, I found myself going out in the early dawn carrying a camera instead.

I guess I have to admit it: I have slowly, but finally and probably irrevocably, changed. After some thirty-five years of deer-hunting and more than two dozen deer of all sizes and shapes taken with everything from a .270 Winchester and a .222 Remington, to a .45 home-made cap-lock or else with bows that ranged from a graceful semi-recurve to a heavy compound, I've pretty well lost interest in killing any more deer. Perhaps trying to do one in with a home-made spear, or dropping on one from a tree-limb with a knife between my teeth would arouse my sense of challenge, like the first time I saw my arrow fly through the air and sink itself into a deer's side, but I doubt I want to revive that amount of blood-lust again.

Maybe it's because I have spent the last fifteen years living year- round among them, observing them closely, getting to know them as individuals, watching does lavish affection on their fawns and even sometimes getting a rebellious kick for their trouble from their adolescent offspring. The last buck I killed, about four or five years ago, was a perfect little 10-point (practically all my other bucks were odd-numbered when it came to the hat-rack department) that I'd observed for nearly two months before I finally dropped him in December with a sixty-yard muzzle-loader shot that broke his back. Yet as soon as I walked up to him, I found myself regretful that I really never gave him a chance to grow up and sire a lot more perfect specimens like himself. A busy friend wanted the meat, so that was my excuse, but I could have obliged my friend much more easily with one of the surplus of many does we had around at that time. So why did I shoot that beautiful little buck? An ego-trip I suppose.

Since then I have continued to go out hunting, especially during October bow season when the weather is nice, but have not really taken a serious shot at single deer. No longer can I justify, at least for myself, the hunt on the plea that I could use the meat. I used to eat venison quite often, often up to five times a week. But then I learned, to my dismay, that, according to a study carried out by the University of North Dakota, white-tail deer meat runs about one-third more cholesterol than lean beef! Perhaps, more than anything else, that study did it for me. Although my cholesterol count was not particularly high, still, with a family background of cardio-vascular problems, I decided I'd better drastically cut back on my deer-meat diet, as well as all red-meat. When I reluctantly came to that conclusion, I guess I felt I'd pretty much run out of excuses for killing any more deer. It's not that I've become a full-blown vegetarian. I still love venison, and most forms of meat, even though the fancier cuts of beef, after so many years of venison, now seem decidedly greasy to my taste. But even on that score, I guess I'm become more of a scavenger than a predator, simply because I hate to see any food go to waste.

True, the biologists, and especially the farmers, tell us that we have far too many deer in our state. Although, after several severe winters in a row, that no longer appears to be the case right here where I am, I can believe them, as for so long the official policy seems to have been to keep the maximum number of deer around to keep the large number of hunters happy, even if that meant favoring quantity over quality. Now that a change of mentalities on that score seems to be in the works, I suppose I should go out and kill a doe, just to do my part. But I think I'll leave that job so those anxious young fellows who are a lot like I was forty years ago when I filled three doe permits within one minute's worth of shooting at the urging of my friends.

But for me, at this point in my life -- or maybe its just because I'm a lot older (and I hope a bit wiser) -- my philosophy seems to have swung more in the direction of "live and let live". I figure that in the years to come, if I still want to be around to enjoy them, I'd do better to extend the same curtesy to the animals whose stomping grounds I share. Besides, think I'll get a much bigger kick out of seeing the big bucks I didn't kill rather than in gracing my cabin walls with any more hat-racks for someone who has already worn way too many hats.

RWK 11/15/97

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