Dead Things

I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls. They always say because it’s such a beautiful animal. There you go. I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her. - Ellen Degeneres

Thanksgiving is going to be odd for me this year. Normally, I go to DC to spend the holiday with family. Or last year, I went to Oklahoma to spend it with my mom (as you'll recall, my parents are in the process of moving from the DC 'burbs to windy Oklahoma). This year, I took the trip early, spending part of October in OK with my daughter. This means I'll actually be home for Thanksgiving this time around. I think we've managed to score an invitation to eat the big meal with friends. If you are thinking, "Wait, isn't she a vegetarian?" - I am, but it's not as if there is some shortage of food on Thanksgiving. I can manage to eat myself into a stupor just like everyone else.

While I'm happy to be spending Thanksgiving with my husband this year (for the first time in a dozen years or so), what I'm not happy about is the realization that I'll be around for deer hunting. I've always managed to spare myself the sight by being out of town. Growing up in Northern Virginia, I didn't know a single soul who hunted. Living in the Midwest now, I know plenty. Obviously I don't dislike my friends/acquaintances/co-workers who hunt, but I do try to close my mind to it as much as I can. It's like the grown-up version of putting your fingers in your ears and screaming "Lalalala, I can't hear you!"

But yes, this time of year is hard for me. When I am on the highway in November and spot a car with a deer lashed to the hood, my heart (my bleeding, liberal heart) hurts. The deer's head always lolls to the side at an unnatural angle, blood crusted here and there on his massive body. Dignity erased.

Okay, I know what you're going to say. Yes, I know the deer population is probably too large. We've already killed off the natural predators of the deer, so it's not surprising that the deer population swells as a result. Yes, I know some will starve, but I'm guessing that if you ask the deer - they'll choose to just take their chances, thankyouveddymuch. They would also say, "You could only call this a sport if both parties were armed, man." I know many hunters feel they are doing a good deed by culling the herd. They say that the deer will starve otherwise, that there are just too many of them. This leaves me wondering what other altruistic pursuits these folks take on. If the concern about starvation is there, are they holding can drives for the local food pantry? If the concern about animals is there, are they also volunteering at their local shelter on the weekend? Protesting in front of the pet shops that sell sick puppies? Rehabilitating injured raccoons who've lost their habitat to urban development?

We do know there are other ways to keep the deer population from exploding, such as chemical sterilization. It's not as easy and it's expensive, so the idea generally gets swept under the "too much trouble" rug. I've done a little reading on it but am not knowledgeable enough to weigh in either way.

I was listening to a podcast called "The Animal House" earlier this week. The guest speaker was Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, who wrote a book called The Hidden Life of Deer: Lessons from the Natural World. During the program she noted that the fees from hunting licenses do go back to wildlife management. I hate the idea that wildlife needs to be "managed," but it did give me pause. We need game wardens out in the field to guard against poachers and to make sure hunting and fishing regulations are followed. So if hunting licenses pay their salaries, I'm not sure where that leaves me.

I guess it leaves me where I started. At my core I am uncomfortable with hunting and yet I know there are valid arguments for deer hunting (I'm not sure I can buy the arguments for hunting other animals, such as bears and so forth). Before landing my current job, I worked for a manufacturing company. It was a mostly blue collar crowd, with some of the nicest people I've ever worked with. One of my co-workers had a deer calendar above his desk. Each month featured a different wildlife scene, such as a lone buck standing in a snowy thicket. My co-worker talked about the beauty of the deer. I had to agree. What I couldn't understand was how he could then turn that corner from thinking "what a magnificent creature" to "magnificent creature must be obliterated!"

What's a bleeding heart to do?

I took this at my aunt's house in Trinity, TX when we visited in 2007. The deer come almost to her back door and she, remarkably, has no urge to blow them away.


Selena said…
Even after being married to a born-and-bred hunter for 7 years, I'm still totally mystified by this "sport". I have to comment on your Ellen quote though-- also somewhere in that skit she says something like "going off in search of that 30-point duck, or whatever... I don't really know the terminology." I repeat that to Jeff every time he heads out hunting, and add, "Good luck... (and then quietly I add) I hope you don't shoot anything." Hunting is so weird. Hope you don't have to see too much carnage this season!
Mary said…
I just have to say something that touched my heart many years ago. When I was quite young my dad went deer hunting. It was his only trip. My mom told me he was gone 2 days and came home because he could never shoot a deer. Not everyone enjoys the so called sport!!

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