Well, Shoot

I tried to be a vegetarian once. I reasoned that if I couldn’t kill an animal myself, then I had no business allowing someone else to do it. The problem was that I hated vegetables (still do). Without meat or leafy greens, my diet consisted of cheese pizza, beer, and boxes of glazed donuts, much like it had in college. But I’m not in college. I’m a grown-ass woman who knows better. I lasted four months. But it did force me to examine my views on hunting.

I grew up in Texas, surrounded by deer leases and guns. Over time, I heard every rationale for taking the life of an animal.

I hunt because I love animals.

My hunting license goes toward preserving wildlife.

We use every part of the animal. Nothing goes to waste.

It’s a tradition and bonding experience.

Hunting is a valuable outdoor skill.

I do it to fill my freezer and feed my family.

I go bow hunting to make it fair.

My hunting keeps the animal population in check to maintain sustainable habitat.

But in much of the Lower 48, what I heard (although valid) seemed more like excuses to defend a beloved sport. This doesn’t change the fact that I’m a coward. I might not have killed the bird on my plate at Thanksgiving dinner, but I am responsible for its death. The hypocrisy gnaws at me like my son devouring the last bits of a rasher of spareribs. Of course, it’s easier when the animals aren’t cute and cuddly or when they’re pre-packaged in plastic at Safeway. 

To assuage my guilt, I try to be a responsible consumer, purchasing pigs, chickens, turkeys, and adult cows that have (according to the label) enjoyed free range, cage free, grass-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free lives before ending up on my grill. I like to picture smiling animals, frolicking. Still, it’s not enough. No animal wants its life taken, even if it was born and bred for that purpose (or has pink hairy skin like an old man’s head or a red waddle dangling and swaying like your old aunt Selma’s bosoms). I realize other folks don’t struggle with this issue, but I needed to delve deeper into my psyche for answers. 

A wary Sitka blacktail deer hides within the brush on Kodiak Island.

When I did, I found that my issue was less about hunting and more about intention. And at the end of the day, Alaskans helped me redefine my thoughts about killing and eating animals. I’ve been making a moral judgement: killing should never be fun, done for sport, or bragged about with the head of an elk dangling above the mantle. “Isn’t he stunning,” a hunter might say. Yes, but I might respond, “Well, so is your wife, but I hope she’s alive and well and that you simply carry a photo of her with you.” For this reason, I’ve been hard on hunters. Yet, regardless of the hunter’s celebratory attitude about bagging a 10-point buck, a clean shot from a rifle might be more merciful than some of the barbaric and inhumane practices at many slaughterhouses. Does it matter if the hunter has a good time? Maybe. Attitude is everything, as they say.

Most trophy hunters I know weren’t born and raised in Alaska. Alaska is one of the few places where sorrow and respect for the death of an animal still seem to weigh heavy on the hunter, and the joy of the kill comes from knowing that the harvested animal will supplement winter rations in a place where few cows or chickens are raised for meat, fish aren’t farmed, and the cost of groceries shipped to a remote store remain prohibitive. It’s not about the animal looking good on the wall. A beautiful animal is the one that can be used for sausage and burgers and steaks and stews for the next six months, regardless of the size of its antlers or the sheen of its pelt.  

What I’ve come to realize is that I’m not against hunting. How could I be? But I am in favor of mindfulness of taking the life of any creature, regardless of the end use, or how many steps removed we are from witnessing its end.    

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