Deer

I had the privilege to harvest my first deer this past weekend. I’ve never been a great sportsman, and, in my mind, “opening day of gun season” had become synonymous with aspects of hunting culture that I have come to dislike. However, my experience Saturday has solidified something that has been growing in me for the past year or so; a rediscovery of what it means to be a sportsman, outdoorsman, conservationist, and responsible steward of the natural world. My father was relentless when it came to exposing me to the out-of-doors. We walked the old logging roads of conservation areas, scanning the trees for squirrels (especially those big fox squirrels). We spent hours on pond and river banks, line in the water, searching the depths for a few more panfish to add to the stringer before we head home. Evenings of catfishing yielded to nights of frogging when the sun set, the “jug-o-rum” choruses rang from the banks, and stink bait and fishing poles were traded for gigs and flashlights. Hound dogs bayed in the cold moonlight while the snow was lit all around us, chasing that elusive, possibly non-existent raccoon they were going on about. Dad taught me the importance of the oak trees to the deer and turkey. I sat beneath them, matching bald-headed acorns with their long lost hats, catching stick bugs, watching two deer mice, one after the other, dash across a log, and my knee. We made bows, shot stumps, and canoed year round. I have great memories of these times.

As childhood gave way adolescence, I took on different interests and hobbies. I got busy at school, and I spent less time outside. In college, I found myself increasingly bound to the campus and downtown area, seeking little time outside in natural settings. Only after school did I begin to prioritize spending more of my free time on the trail or on the water. Lately, the memories of days and nights spent in the woods came back to me vividly. Under the guise of hunting or fishing, my dad and I had spent countless hours learning the names and voices of the wild things. We usually didn’t come back with anything but stories and laughs. Sitting under an oak tree this past weekend, one eye scanning the ground for a stick bug that might wander close by, I remembered what I missed. The air was warm, the tree at my back offered support and comfort. I was content to spend the morning there, watching the grey dawn bring to life birds and squirrels. Had it not been for the buck who had to cross right in front of me, I would have spent the day out there. I rediscovered what it means to go “hunting”.

Whatever it is that gets you outdoors, do it. Be it hunting or fishing, or hiking, paddling, running, or biking, don’t stop and don’t be afraid to try new things to keep you outside longer. If you don’t have that special favorite activity, you’re in the yoga. Ask a friend, join a group, do something to get plugged into outside. Our connection with nature improves our physical and mental health and encourages us to be mindful of our resources. When we see sparkling springs and crright place. You can do just about anything outdoors here in the Ozarks, from hand catching bullfrogs to paddle-boardeeks, we look at tap-water differently. When we learn the plants and animals of our area, we may have a new perspective on our urbanization and how it affects these fellow earth-dwellers. We cannot view our own actions or the actions of human beings the same way when we’ve been held up to the mirror of the natural and wild.

So, whatever it is you do, keep doing it, and bring someone else along with you. Keep learning the language of the wild, and expect to be surprised by what you hear.

A Note to Hunters:
In order to avoid excluding purely non-consumptive nature lovers (hikers, paddlers, runners, etc.) I left out some of the details of the hunting experience. However, there are a few things worth noting. There is something to be said about taking a clean shot and prioritizing a swift passing for the animal targeted. I experienced profound joy at my shot, and gratefulness for the deer that I had killed. After spending the next couple of days cleaning it, packaging, and freezing it, I will be privileged to a unique experience the next time I pull meat from the freezer to thaw. Aldo Leopold, in A Sand County Almanac, said it best, “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” Although he speaks of farming, the same principle applies to hunting. Harvesting and processing your own food adds another dimension to our connection with nature, with ourselves, and with our fellow creatures.

Rob Hunt
Watershed Center Coordinator
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