This weekend I joined an exclusive group encompassing about 6% of the U.S. population; people who hunt. Technically I could have claimed that when I started out in September; however I envision the label “Hunter” as applying to those who have demonstrated the ability to hunt successfully… who have exhibited the quality of being able to skillfully bag wild game, and exhibit the physical and mental power to accomplish the task.
On November 08, I used my crossbow to bag my first whitetail deer; a doe weighing about 180-200 pounds. I had spent over 40 hours hunting, every weekend since the bow season opened. When I hunted mornings, I was up at 0445 and in the tree-stand, or tree blind, by 0530; sometimes in freezing temperatures. In the afternoons, I was seated with my Parker Challenger crossbow by 1600 usually, sometimes as early as 1400 (2:00 PM); in temperatures ranging from 40 degrees to 90, depending on the Kansas weather. Many days I hunted without seeing any deer at all, yet I persevered. There were times when I couldn’t get a shot off, despite the deer in front of me, and twice when I attempted the shot and missed. I have been attacked by poison sumac and swarmed by mosquitoes. Never-the-less; I paid my dues, and was rewarded.
The reward was far greater than bagging my first deer (which is an incredible reward); I also experienced an intimate relationship with Kansas, the Flint Hills specifically. From watching the stars fade away to daybreak, to seeing the stars reclaim the night sky… from hearing the morning yelps of coyotes awakening, to the splashing of crappie as they sought out their evening meal… I have experienced Kansas as a lover would; with newness, anticipation, appreciation and a little obsession. And after 40-plus hours of hunting, I have realized that I truly like it here. While out tracking a deer in the blossoming morning light this weekend, I saw a world hidden from the mundane; tall prairie grass blending with evergreens and sugar maples, and deer beds where the white-tailed deer lay down to rest. For a nature-lover and photographer such as myself, the experience hunting for the first time has been remarkable and unforgettable.
Even the seeming irreverence of the deer toward me has been awe-inspiring; such as last weekend when I was hunting late afternoon into early night (sunset). For three hours I remained as motionless as possible, poised to shoot a deer should I see one; sitting in wait until the dusk light made it difficult to differentiate my surroundings. I had not seen any deer, and while waiting for the last possible speck of light to fade I got the sense to look to my right, toward the pond. There stood a buck, who had eased on down the sandy path from the woods to the pond, and who was standing between two trees staring at me. I could only see him from the neck up so I could not take a shot. I suspect he had wondered what was making bleating sounds, since he saw no does. I watched him watching me, and then satisfied I was harmless, at that time, he turned around and walked back up the sandy path into the woods.
Most of the people I associate with and work with have been supportive of my new-found love of hunting. Even a co-worker who swore never to hunt again after her first time, has encouraged my endeavor. However I have run into a little flack; for instance the sister of my deceased besty who claimed she would “unfollow” me on Facebook because the sight of my bagged deer was too traumatic for her. And the co-worker/friend who has made repeated comments about my desire to kill Bambi, who recently texted me that I have a mental deficiency and queried, “Can’t you tap into ur feminine side for a change?” The last texts offended me, as the societal view of femininity has been that of weakness, softness and ineptness; yet my co-worker/friend never dared say that my service to my country as a soldier was unfeminine. And who would dare say that Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, lacks femininity despite being a tattooed, deer-hunting, U.S. Army sergeant? But like the esteemed Sarah Palin; I will ignore the negativity and rise above.
Hunting has been a spiritual experience for me (spirituality and religious reverence are considered as feminine traits). And it has provided me with the skills necessary, albeit new skills, to validate my independence and freedom. With the ability to hunt, I have the ability to provide food for my family and myself if (and whether or not) the grocery supply is ever cut off. Hunting holds me accountable (as does fishing) for sustaining life (another feminine trait), and places me ‘mano a mano’ with nature. It is with sincerity and reverence that I hunt and take the life of an animal, and I almost cried upon seeing the deer I shot lying dead under a tree last night. Unlike the 94% of my countrymen who do not hunt, I am not pretending to be free of guilt for the death of the food I eat, and my venison comes from a free-range deer whose life and death was cruelty-free, not caged, shackled, mutilated and drugged with hormones and anti-biotics.
In the end, I have become a better person, and a more spiritual one, because of my experience; I now have some of the skills (which will be practiced and improved) to survive and thrive on my own, and I will eat my venison knowing that it is the healthiest meat choice I can make. And knowing that I have done more for conservation than those who simply donate money. I have joined an elite group of Americans, many who have served in the military, who maintain some traditional proficiencies and values, as did the generations that came before us; before the advent of microwaveable, canned, and processed food.
As it is written in Genesis 9:3 – “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”