It Was the Ethical Thing to Do.
I froze in place. He was crossing the wooded hillside no more than ninety yards from my fire. It was 1:30 in the afternoon, when most deer are bedded down, yet there he was: a handsome whitetail buck. In less than a minute he would step into the trail of smoke that drifted lazily through the pines. Once he did so, he’d spook and disappear. My heart in my throat, I waited for him to look away so I could drop into position.
Hours before I’d surrendered myself to the warmth of the small blaze out of frustration. The snow was loud and crunchy that morning. The chances of putting a stalk on an animal seemed thin at best. Better to enjoy just being in the mountains. Build a fire for no one but myself. Coax it from pine needles and small twigs, watch it grow into a bed of coals. I was alone with my thoughts and the occasionally shifting smoke.
A few hours on a mountainside sure beats the hell out of hurried trip to the supermarket.
A guy from Manhattan once told me that hunting was “disgusting.” He stood there with a beer in his hand, mouth twisted into a sneer and backed up his statement with, “you don’t know where that thing has been.” He was a medical student at the time and, get this, was NOT a vegetarian.
Vegetarians can take a pass here. I find no fault whatsoever with those who choose to avoid meat. It’s the hypocrites I find disturbing.
If you’ve never killed an animal, you probably don’t appreciate meat the way a hunter does. How could you? A shrink wrapped package of ground beef looks nothing like a beautiful deer or elk, piled up on the forest floor. A drizzle of pink on styrofoam doesn’t make one think of a steaming gut pile. The meat isle at the local Kroger or Publix is sterile, purposefully whitewashed of reality. You won’t see a poster of blood splatter on white snow while choosing a sirloin. Nonetheless, death is death, and even carrying your meat in a super-eco-friendly reusable bag can’t change that fact.
I do know where my meat has been. I stood on the same hillside with it. Walked the same ravines and felt the same chill of the air. I watched him carefully, belly down in the snow determining whether I could make a lethal shot. I laid my hands on his still warm body and thanked him with a sincerity that’s hard to match around a dinner table. I worked my ass off to bring every ounce of that animal off the mountain and spent at least fifteen hours processing it in my garage. With every mouthful I appreciation its life and the land that sustained it.
Any non-vegetarian who also disagrees with hunting should visit a feedlot or slaughterhouse. Then we can have a discussion about where meat ‘has been’ and what exactly is ethical treatment of animals. Personally, I’d rather be a wild animal, hands down before being cattle. (I’d also choose to die from a hunter’s bullet over 98% of the ways most wild game dies. Spoiler: they don’t die in cozy beds getting visitations from Hospice.) I’m happy to debate whether meat should be consumed by humans in this modern day, but one thing seems irrefutable:
There is nothing more organic, healthy and natural than killing your own meat.
And yes, I ate the heart. It was delicious.