Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Beating the Storm

With the season nearing the end and my contact for the ranch going "radio silent," I figured it was time to focus on putting something on the ground so I took Big Jim up to Belt for a little whitetail hunting. It's not the biggest buck on the property but it is venison and I know it will get put to good use. My cousin has done me a lot of favors over the years so I try to help her out when I can and she loves venison. For Jim, a chance to see the process and decide for himself whether or not to put his .30-.06 to use next year.
I was still in "trophy" mode yesterday because we had seen some really good deer on this property a couple weeks ago. I've passed on a lot of decent bucks this season and even yesterday, we did see bigger deer but I was holding out for the 'one'--that is until the wind picked up, the snow started flying, and I was about 150 yards from getting back to the truck. This guy came busting up out of the bottom and stopped just long enough to take a shot and I took it.
Jim and I had just hung the deer in the garage when Jill came in with her son, Patrick. He's seven years old and loves to shoot the .22 and come along on duck hunts but he's also figuring out the whole death thing and the gravity of that. We watched the movie, "Where the Red Fern Grows," the other night. I didn't tell him how it ended and when Big Dan met is fait, Patrick was crushed. (Those of you that know the story also know that wasn't the end of it, which at some point just felt like piling on to a seven-year-old.)
Having read the book and seen the movie and cried myself each time, it wasn't hard to predict the reaction from Patrick and it made me feel a little guilty and sad for him. At the same time, I also knew it was a good way to open the door for conversations about how he should treat the dogs and other pets and even people in his life and why we shouldn't take them for granted. (Patrick really is an awesome kid and there's never been a problem with that but it's still something worth talking about.)
It also gave us the opportunity to talk about taking the life of an animal like a deer and the responsibility one assumes in doing that. Now, with a deer hanging in front of him, I was able to ask him what he thought about it.
He said it was "cool" but also a little "creepy." It's obviously a different deal, seeing someone's pet and companion dying like in the movie versus a deer but it's still an animal and it still died and some kids don't disassociate the two. Some people, I'd say go the other way and don't value that animal's life; which I think is also a problem so we talked about honoring the animal by making sure we use as much of it as we can and not let the meat go to waste. We also talked about taking good shots and not allowing the deer to suffer unnecessarily.
Patrick then said something about hunting shouldn't be for fun to which I said it was ok to have fun doing it but that we just need to realize that we are killing something and to not let the "fun" part get in the way of what is ethical. (BTW, using the word ethical with a seven-year-old is asking for another long discussion trying to define something that is pretty abstract.)
I think trophy hunters get a lot of criticism because by putting the animals on display, they're not honoring the animal or respecting the animal the way they should and it's just about ego and pissing matches. I don't totally disagree with that and think hunting an animal just for the spectacle of it is wrong. It's why I have such a huge problem when I see wild game go to waste. I know there are guys that come out to Montana that shoot elk or deer and would just as soon leave the meat and take the horns and I do have an issue with that. But it doesn't just happen with trophies and I will tell you, I've hunted with a lot of guys who kill just to kill and shoot whatever they can regardless of the size of horns, (or even if it has horns,) just to say they killed something and then they leave the deer for the rest of the camp to divvy up not even taking any meat home themselves.
But is it wrong to go after a trophy? I don't think so. I think there is an element of hunting that allows a person to test themselves and is good for the soul. You should feel proud of the accomplishment whether it's your first deer, your first elk; whether it's a huge bull or a doe you shoot with a bow and the reality is, one person's trophy might not be a trophy to someone else. It is ok to pump the chest a little and share a story and even compare your own accomplishment with someone else's. Hunting can be a number of things to us all including sustenance, necessity, fulfilling a bucket list and even fun and as long as it's done ethically, I don't think there's anything wrong with that.   
Here's the bottom line for me and what I'm trying to teach Patrick; when you decide to pull that trigger you have to understand that you are taking a life and that, that life is important and has relevance in the bigger picture. We shouldn't take it for granted regardless of the size of the deer's horns or what your buddy thinks but it is ok to want to take pride in the process. It's ok to want to shoot something impressive and to value that part of hunting too as long as you don't forget about honoring the life that was taken.
Keep 'em where they live...

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