The deer are hungry, and their numerous tracks crisscrossing my property reveal their incessant search for food. During, and right after, our two large snowfalls, they fed on my arborvitae trees. Some deer who survived the recent hunting season will not survive the winter.
Hunting is a cruel sport, but underneath the beautiful body of Mother Nature beats the heart of a killer also. Writers who wax poetic about the serenity of rural life have failed miserably the requirement that a writer be a keen observer. The peace and beauty of the countryside and woodland masks the “kill or be killed” rule of the jungle that operates as efficiently in upstate New York as it does in Borneo.
In some places people hunt because they need to eat, but in New York state, hunting is often simply a blood sport and a means of helping the state keep the deer population at manageable levels.
With the cost of guns, ammo, licenses, other equipment and gas, it is hard to imagine a pound of venison costing any less than a pound of beef. Yes, I have read the many studies promoted by hunters saying venison is cheaper, but most of them are flawed.
One I read was based on killing three deer per year, traveling only 40 miles total to do so, and only takes into account the cost of gasoline rather than the total expense of operating a vehicle. All of them ignored time and labor.
Of course, when you are having fun in the woods, you can ignore the cost of labor, which brings me back to my belief that the modern American hunt is primarily a blood sport.
No doubt there are some hunters who keep an eye on their expenses and manage to put venison on the table more cheaply than they can buy beef. But there is one thing you will never see in the parlor of a farmhouse, and that is a stuffed cow’s head hanging on the wall, and I have yet to see a photo on Facebook of a farmer bagging his first steer.
Nevertheless, until we or the deer learn to control our populations better, hunting is necessary to cut down on the frequency of collisions between cars and deer, the destruction of crops by deer and the spread of disease carried by deer-hosted ticks, although some people think there are better methods than hunting for doing this.
On Christmas Eve a few years ago, my son hit a deer on the way home from Schenectady. Fortunately, he, his girlfriend at the time and his vehicle were unscathed, but the deer died.
That same evening, someone hit and killed a deer in front of my house.
Since my son’s girlfriend was already upset over the deer they had killed earlier, I skidded this one across the snow and hid it behind the shed.
While I recognize the need to cull herds to cut down on accidents like those above, that does not mean I have to like hunters, particularly ones infected with buck fever. Ten years ago I was walking on my property during bow season when an arrow whipped by my face. I hollered, but the coward refused to show himself.
On another occasion, a truck stopped on our road, and a paunchy, middle-aged man and a younger man started running across our field.
“Hey,” I hollered, “Where do you think you’re going?”
“We’re chasing a wounded deer and Mr. So And So told us we could cross his land.”
“But that is not Mr. So And So’s land,” I said. But I let them go, more for the sake of the deer than for them.
It is hard to respect hunters who are careless, who trespass, who can’t shoot straight, who jack deer and who participate in canned hunts. Of course, not all hunters are jerks. And I must admit that there are a lot of people who make their livings providing goods and services for hunters. I don’t even mind that most hunters are opposed to gun control because I am too.
Not about manliness
But there is still something about modern American hunting I don’t like, and I think it is related to the concept of blood sport, and that is the prevailing notion that equates hunting with manliness.
I used to attend a very large church in Fulton County. Its big men’s event of the year was a sportsman’s dinner where you could gorge yourself on venison, deer, pheasant, turkey and the like. All other men’s events were sports-related.
I can think of nothing less manly than a canned hunt, and I don’t particularly see anything manly about sitting in a blind all day waiting for a deer to show up. Stalking a deer does take a lot of skill, but it also is not necessarily a manly thing. Many men spend all day in the woods, hiking through rough terrain in all kinds of weather and without guns.
And, just in case you haven’t noticed, so do many women.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.