I feel I must make an insincere apology ahead of time for the somewhat serious tone of this story. Although there is definitely the usual amount of humor that would undoubtedly fly well above the heads of the readers that have long abandoned my writings regardless of the amazing wit I obviously posses (sarcasm, just in case you are miraculously one of the few new readers I hope to attract for what will sure to be a short-lived time before you join the aforementioned). But I would also venture to say that there is an underlying tone of importance as to what this story is actually based on. It absolutely must be stated that certain aspects and details cannot be taken without regard to utmost seriousnesscityness. Seriously. So having made a disclaimer on my usual disclaimer, here we go.
In October of 2016 on a visit to upstate New York to determine whether or not (my idea not my wife’s) we wanted to forsake the cushy Cali weather we had been living in our entire lives for eight months of hot humid summer, followed by two days of beautifully colored fall leaves, followed by seventeen months freezing rain/maybe snow, followed by a couple hours of perfect spring birds/flowers/babbling brooks every year, all for semi-reasonable property costs and as you will soon see, a selfish motive.
A trip the previous October had an unanticipated benefit to a simple vacation and had shown me the potential for a new (to me) food source: white tail deer. On the trip I was extremely fortunate to be treated to view world class hunting and top-notch access by my dear friend Mario Korf. It seemed that a whole new world had been opened up. I might have been the last guy on the planet to realize that I could spearfish and hunt big game, but realize I did.
So I bought a compound bow and started practicing. I took an online and onsite bowhunter’s safety course. I watched hours of tree stand related bow hunting videos. I asked anyone who would listen questions about bow hunting. And most of all, I relentlessly hounded Mario with questions of preparation in anticipation of what I knew to be an inevitable lifetime infatuation with sitting in a tree stand. I was finally about to fulfill the turf part of the “surf and turf” I had been doing my entire life. Minus the turf.
And just like that, there I was. Twenty minutes into my first sit in a stand, and it happened. I had just finished ranging (for the third time, 21 yards) a small shrub on one of the converging trails when I caught sight of a doe traveling toward me. As she casually slowly strolled past the mark to stop and graze, unaware at approximately nineteen yards, I rose to a standing position in my eighteen foot high seat and waited. She walked another couple of steps, dropped her head again and I drew. The next couple of minutes were life changing.
The arrow was gone without a cognitive realization. I wasn’t aware that the shot had been fired until the animal jumped and landed softly, took two steps forward, turned ninety degrees downhill, and jogged ten yards before falling gently and peacefully expiring. I hardly remember aiming. But somehow I had just (maybe by training, but in all probability through sheer luck) managed a clean pass-through, double-lung shot.
The ice water that seemed to be flowing through my veins prior to and during the critical moments before the shot, suddenly turned into an over accelerated heartbeat and for lack of better terms a complete physical and mental melt-down. Why was I capable of executing (bad choice of words?!) the task so coolly? Why was I apt to completely fall apart immediately after? As it turns out, that was the just the first of several startling realizations.
But first came the rookie moves. Maybe it was the fact that I had just seen the deer collapse in plain view that led me to completely ignore the proper protocol I had learned regarding a downed animal. Maybe it was simply pure excitement. Regardless, I rapidly descended from the tree. But not before I had texted to Mario, the phrase “fish on!” (a David Laird tag line), in what was my second inexplicable and embarrassing reaction to what I had just done. As I approached the first mammal I had ever killed, my heart pounded out of my chest.
Then came the next startling realization: that human beings before me had done this very same thing without feeling some level of remorse, many times over. I can’t say why that hit me in the moment, but as the wave of emotion concerning the gravity of what I had just done came down with crushing force, it was the foremost thought of on my mind. I could only escape that thought with the hope that others before me had the same pragmatic appreciation that I would soon come to realize that I had all along, and long before it had seemingly surprised my awareness for the first time like a locomotive hitting an AMC Pacer. My strange sense of personal guilt in the moment was somehow thankfully tempered by a much, much deeper sense that this is what I was born to do. It struck me suddenly that it was a need that had been ingrained in my (our) DNA for hundreds of thousands of years. I don’t know why that moment took a gazzilion fish, a bazzilion fowl , and one deer, but it did.
I finally realized the morality of it. According to my code of belief I had done nothing wrong. I had taken the life of an animal in a way that is ethical, not in just the method but also for the intent of consumption. Call me a weirdo, but I even took the time and care to vocally apologize to the deer for taking her life, along with a thank you to my “Mother” (sorry, I’m an apologetic, unapologetic, non-angry-but-rapidly-losing-patience-for-religion atheist) for providing such an amazing bounty. Simply, the biggest realization was that I was neither happy nor sad. Not prideful, but appreciative.
But enough of my preaching, and more to the point. As it turns out, my new found piety and over-all big mouth eventually led me (again) to trouble. Moral high-ground combined with an innate propensity towards a seemingly eternal and unavoidable overestimation of my skills led me to shove my size 11-1/2 in my mouth once again. In consideration to what is, in retrospect, an ignorance of what could only be deemed a miraculous beginners luck hunt, I had decided in December to only eat fish, fowl, or game I harvested personally for the entire calendar year (of 2017).
Upon proudly declaring this goal to my wife Katie, I received an unexpected but deserved reaction. She rolled her eyes up and away and stated, “you’re going to eat a lot of vegetables,” as she spun and walked away. Darn it if she wasn’t right. In defense of her lack of faith in my abilities, I went out for a restaurant-bought steak on the second of January. Long before any attempts at hunting. Couldn’t even stick to my goal for three days. But I’ll be damned if the three extra dirty martinis that I didn’t distill, combined with the scalloped potatoes I didn’t pluck from the earth, coupled with the creamed spinach I didn’t harvest from my zero-carbon-footprint organic garden that I don’t have, but ordered along with that steak, didn’t help to wash the taste of humiliation out of my mouth.
Next Issue: Once Upon a Time in Panama Part I