Along The Trail 3-16-17

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While driving on US 50, my soon to be sister-in-law witnessed a deer being struck by a car as it crossed the highway.

She said that three does ran into the roadway and the last one was unable to avoid being hit. After the accident, the deer stumbled to the side of the road and eventually had to be euthanized. She told me that she instantly became emotional and began to cry after having seen the deer suffer. She has been a deer hunter for years and at that moment, she said that she questioned why she hunts and if she could continue to do so.

Seeing an animal suffer is tough for anyone to stomach. No one likes to see an animal go through undo pain. I think that some folks believe that just because one hunts, that they have no emotions or connection to the animals they pursue. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. As a deer hunter, I hate to see an animal killed by a vehicle because I know that most likely, that animal’s death wasn’t quick or humane and it suffered to some extent. In my mind, it was an “unnatural” death, outside of the predator/prey relationship, the normal cycle of life.

My future sister-in-law, after having witnessed the car versus deer accident, equated that deer’s death on the same plain as taking the life of a deer through hunting. She and I had a long discussion about it and comparing the two is akin to apples and oranges in my mind. A hunter doesn’t relish the thought of injuring or wounding an animal. We do our best to give the animal a quick ending. Responsible hunters study their prey and become proficient with their chosen equipment to achieve that result.

Do some deer suffer at the result of a poorly placed shot? Of course they do, but that’s the minority… Every dedicated deer hunter I know has lost a deer that they have shot. It happens. No one, especially the hunter likes that part of the chase and no one cares more about that lost animal than the hunter that shot it. A good hunter will do everything he or she can to reduce the chances of a poor shot and wounding the animal and making sure the game is recovered.

Some people might find it odd how much that hunters actually care about the prey we pursue. Admittedly, it is a strange idea, to care about an animal that we hope to take by hunting. But, when you think about it, it’s very similar to a farmer that raises livestock. The farmer cares for his herd, not just because the animals equate money to the operation, but because the farmer has a connection to those creatures, a connection that is hard to define.

Hunters are the same way.

I have untangled deer stuck in a fence in the spring only to hunt that same deer later in autumn. I always have a hint of sadness whenever I find a deer’s carcass in the field and wonder how it met its end. Was it coyotes, old age, sickness? Deer hunters are deeply tied to the animals we hunt and for many of us, the hunt itself is as important a part of it as is the killing of the animal. It’s the totality of the experience. The preparation, the challenge, the fair chase and ultimately the taking of the animal and the meat it provided for the table.

I think it’s completely normal for someone to feel sad when seeing a deer struck on the roadway. It can be a traumatic experience for certain and one that many people aren’t prepared to deal with. Hunting big game such as deer can also create a mix of emotions. Hunting isn’t and shouldn’t be easy or for the feint of heart. Responsible hunting of game animals is ethical, honorable and needed. It’s a conservation tool, but more than that, it is and remains that deepest of primal connections to wildlife that man has…Will my soon to be sister-in-law continue to deer hunt? In all honesty, I doubt it and in my opinion, she probably shouldn’t. Taking the life of an animal through hunting isn’t for everyone and I am glad that it isn’t.

On a side note, I asked her if she’d have been upset if she would have seen a snake struck on the road and killed and she immediately responded with a resounding “No!”… Isn’t it strange how we place human emotions and characteristics on cute, fuzzy animals with big brown eyes or don’t bat an eye when we sink a fork into a medium rare sirloin from the grocery store?

– David Hewitt