Morning arrives. It’s fall, and I sit down to my laptop with a mug of coffee in my hand. The first image that greets me on the screen is the face of a smiling hunter and the deer he has killed. This image has been shared and re-posted, angry citizens calling for his head over the death of the deer. “Murderer!“ they write. “He deserves a bullet for this!” they type, angry, smearing bacon grease from their breakfast on their smartphone screens. “That deer was innocent! Just wait until I find that coward!”
As I shake my head and scroll through my newsfeed, I am haunted by that image and those comments. How can people do that? What kind of person calls for the blood of a stranger that way? What fuels their misguided hate? I don’t wonder about the hunter. I am not a hunter, but I know him.
He is the man in Texas, the one the state government has given a task. Deer are overly abundant in the area and collisions between motorists and animals are at an all-time high. Injuries are mounting and several people have died. He harvests the deer he is asked to, and as a result, has more meat than his family can possibly utilize. He donates most to the local home for abused and battered women and children. He is not heartless.
He is the farmer in Iowa, tilling the earth to make his living. He was raised to know the land, to appreciate and safeguard its abundance. He saw the deer grow season by season as he tended the crops under his care. He collected antlers where they fell each spring, and saw the young bucks grow them again over summer. He knew this buck. It never had growth hormones, was not genetically modified, and never slept in a cage. It ran wild and free until its last breath. As the hunter sits down to dinner tonight with his children, he knows where the food that nourishes them came from. There is no cruelty here.
He is the outdoorsman in Canada, watching animal populations rise and fall. This is not the natural ebb and flow of yesteryear. Habitat loss due to human encroachment has caused their numbers to fluctuate wildly and unsustainably. Our sidewalks and roads cover ground that was once theirs. The hunter knows, and never forgets. He put hay out last year when the snowfall was too heavy and the deer went hungry. When the predator population was too high, he thinned the pack. The hunter knows that the quick bite of the bullet for a few will save the suffering of many, and be quicker than Mother Nature using starvation and disease to thin the pack herself. The deer population is low from the stress of last winter and can’t support so many hungry mouths. The one deer he harvested is one of the many he saved. He is no monster.
The hunter is the safeguard of balance in a world that has been thrown madly askew by exploding human populations and urban sprawl. His passion is for the wild and all it represents. He admires the tenacity of life, and respects its cycle. He does not ask for compensation for the countless hours and dollars spent that keep life in the woods and on the mountains for us all to enjoy. He only asks that you not condemn him, and that you not threaten his sons and daughters for choosing to follow in his footsteps.
Where were you last winter as he labored through the snow, a bale on his back that he could have sold? Where were you as he tossed that brilliant hope of green onto the colorless ground so that the fawns of last year could live to see the spring of next? Were you home as I was, comfortable in your bed? Were you too struck by the uselessness of that posted photo? Deer are unaffected by impotent internet ramblings that don't put food in their bellies. What have we contributed to the very real life around us? I fear it is nothing compared to the contribution of the hunter. As I throw this letter into the void, I hope it can bring some understanding. I am not a hunter, but I can respect one.