Open Deer hunting season closed here in Virginia back in early January. For someone like me, if I don't harvest enough Deer meat to last my family and me a whole year during the season, we go without. That is exactly what happened this year. Between my big hunting trip to Alaska and moving out to the Mountains, I simply couldn't get out in the field enough to increase my odds of stocking up.
I met someone recently who asked me if I feel sad killing animals. For me, the answer is complicated.
The moment before pulling a trigger or releasing a bow string, I experience a feeling akin to the moment before jumping into icy water. The knowing that "I can't undo this" and that the consequences are very real is enough to take my breath away. I'm then momentarily greeted by the ever present reminder that if I don't kill, I don't eat. It's enough to push me through the feelings of adrenaline, apprehension, and anxiety. With the Deer in my sights, I say a silent prayer for the animal thanking it for its sacrifice and also that my aim is true. My focus sharpens, I breathe, let go, and fire knowing that I can't undo this.
As the Deer's life wanes and returns to Nature, I offer it thanks and tobacco, hold my hand against its chest feeling the last shallow rise and fall of its lungs and beat of its heart. In this moment, I am overwhelmed by emotion. Intense grief and gratitude often compete for space within me with such fullness I have little room to process my thoughts. Grief is of course the direct result of the Deer's death...it's entirely because of me and there is no escaping that fact. It is a heavy, somehow sticky feeling. Like no matter how many times I wash the blood from my hands, there will always be blood on my hands. It's the gratitude however, that brings me to tears. It's the dominant emotion that grips my heart and forces me to deeply feel an undeniable connection to the Deer who died so that I can live.
For those of you who have never had the experience of hunting for your own food, it's tough to explain exactly how significant each and every meal becomes. Without the sacrifice of Deer, I wouldn't have meat to live off of. Sure, I could go to the store to buy meat, but those animals had to die too and I would completely miss out on the direct connection to the Deer and opportunity to honor it, to connect with the environment and each meal I eat.
For me, there is also pride in being a hunter. It comes from spending countless amounts of time and energy practicing aim, learning animal behavior, stalking into the woods and ultimately honoring the animal with a clean, swift death so that I do not have to pay someone else to do the "dirty work" for me. It allows be to be directly responsible for my own karmic debt.
After not harvesting enough venison for the year, I was looking into alternatives. Maybe I can take another crack at hunting wild hogs in Florida? Perhaps I can buy an animal from someone who lovingly raised it for meat and process it instead? Then the answer appeared. There has been new regulation allowing for an extended "Urban Archery" Deer season in many localities across Virginia. Just to clarify up front, before anyone gets concerned about archers roaming the streets of their cities, this is only permissible on PRIVATELY owned lands. Thankfully, I have been granted private landowner permission to bow hunt for antlerless Deer on their property in an attempt to fill my freezer. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to them and will share the venison if I am so fortunate to harvest one.
This season exists in an effort to control the Deer populations in areas where there are no real predators to keep their numbers in balance. Not to mention, the high level of Deer related vehicle accidents in urban and suburban areas is a serious and dangerous problem.
If by hunting in these areas I can acquire enough meat to feed my family until next October and in the process help manage populations where it's needed, then despite the inherent difficulties, I am honored and grateful to participate.
So to answer that woman's question about feeling sad killing animals. Yes, I do, and so much more.