I didn’t grow up around hunters. I was a city girl. My dad had an old .22 rifle and an old shotgun, but they stayed in the back of his closet, and as far as I know, they haven’t been fired since before I was born. I heard stories from both parents about their dads going hunting to put meat on the table, but as far as I was concerned, meat came from the butcher counter at the supermarket, wrapped in plastic.
Now I’m a country girl. I live just outside Emory, Texas where the two biggest stores in town carry deer stands and all sorts of other hunting paraphernalia. A lot of the folks around here wear camo and hunting gear as a lifestyle rather than a fashion statement, and it’s common knowledge that everybody owns guns and knows how to use them.
I live on 2+ acres of land with lots of trees and a variety of wildlife. We have tons of squirrels and all kinds of birds. Last year we had a pair of hawks who visited frequently, and we sometimes see a rabbit or a skunk wandering by. And then there are the deer. There is apparently a grazing trail that runs across the back of our property, close to the creek where the trees are thickest, and we often see several deer slowly working their way across, nibbling on the wide variety of weeds we offer. We especially like it when they eat the poison ivy that David can’t seem to eradicate.
Given the combination of the prevailing culture and our occasional guests, it should have come as no surprise when our doorbell rang a couple of months ago. I opened the door to find a pleasant looking man who introduced himself as one of our neighbors.
“My son hunts with a cross bow,” he said, “and he’s going to be spending some time in the area for the next few weeks. I’ve seen deer on the back of your property and wondered if he could hunt back there while he’s here. We’d be glad to pay you.”
My first inclination was the say Absolutely not! How could you think of killing those beautiful creatures, and to close the door. But with the economy being what it is, I knew David would at least want to talk to him. I made the introductions, and they walked outside to talk macho, guy stuff that made this new kid on the country block cringe. When David came back in, he sat down in his easy chair and turned his attention to his laptop.
“Well,” I said. “What did you tell him?”
“I told him it was okay with me as long as he shared some of the meat with us if he gets anything.”
I shuddered again and prayed silently that the deer would stay away until the season was over. That was about it. Father and son came over once so we could meet the hunter, and a small feeder and a very small wind break appeared where it was barely visible from the house. When we came home from a 10-day holiday trip, both were gone, and I thought my prayers had been answered and the deer had made it safely through. Then the doorbell rang again.
“Hi,” said our neighbor. “I brought you something.”
I took the plastic bag he held out to me and looked inside. There were four vacuum-sealed frozen steaks and 3 one-pound packages marked “Deer Chili.”
“Oh,” I said. “He got one.”
“Yes,” he said proudly. “A nine point. The biggest he’s ever gotten.”
We chatted for a few minutes while the remains of Bambi weighed heavy in my hands. After he left, I put the bounty of the hunt in the freezer. Qualms or not, there was a lot of meat there, so I sighed and went to the computer to learn how to cook venison.
Over the next few days, I thought a lot about the deer that was killed on our property. I’m not sure why it seems crueler to kill a beautiful buck for food rather than a homely cow. At least the buck lived wild and met his maker while he was still free instead of ending his days in a feed lot, poked and prodded through chutes, finally facing a slaughterhouse executioner. And it’s not like there was a Mrs. Buck and Baby Bucks waiting at home. I checked, and bucks are like a typical bar-hopping male, having multiple partners in a season.
We don’t have any decorative plants, so the grazing deer haven’t been a problem for us, but they can be quite a nuisance for those with more picturesque landscapes. They’ve been known to wreak havoc in a flower garden and take the bark right off young, tender trees. We won’t be doing much traveling for the next several months, so I’ve been thinking about putting in a garden. If I find deer tracks and teeth marks among my sprouting veggies, I may have to take up the cross bow myself.