They gather like scattered birdseed along the road, trucks pulled up to old barns or farmsteads. It is the beginning of the hunting season.
For many, this is a singular event. It has been planned for. Locations have been sighted, and old deer stands have been repaired or constructed, deep into the long months of summer.
By now, they are quite ordinary to the landscape.
Corn has been planted in a forest opening or two. Guns are sighted and ready. Anticipation is now all that is left.
For many, it is the annual effort to restock freezers.
But that is not the entire story.
I was visiting with an ardent hunter the other day. I was amazed at how much he knew about the natural world, deer patterns, the intricate chemical balance of hormones running deep in a deer’s constitution.
For many, hunting attunes one even more completely to their surroundings. Subtle, slight changes in the weather, in the scent, in color, are all noted.
It is more than just scant observation. It is something shared with birdwatchers in the wild, this keen mindfulness.
It’s not just a walk in the woods.
It is like a grandparent at a baseball game. It makes a difference if their grandson or grand-daughter is playing. Now they are indeed “in” the game.
Those men and women who hunt this time of year know they are part of an ancient ritual. They honor the code, which says that meat must be gotten at a price to the animal. This is always the way it has been.
Many of us associate steaks and hamburgers with store shelve and neat Siran wrappings. There is little apparent cost in terms of how these items got there.
Hunters embrace this knowledge and with it, often have an appreciation and awareness (an honoring) as to the life they have taken.
Not all do this, and for some, it is carnage. But still,
for many, this is an unvoiced recognition.
It is the way of the natural world, this relationship between predator and prey.
Hunting reminds us that what might seem cruel and often brutal is a gleaning of the herd. Without hunters, populations would grow out of control. We saw this with the killing off of the wolf and what this did to the food chain.
In Saskatchewan, I’ll never forget one winter when farmers said deer would come into the yard emaciated and weak. The snow was heavy in the woods. There was little food supply for the number of deer that were depending on it.
Hunting, to me, made sense to avoid this kind of depredation. While some would die, it avoided the wholesale misery of many.
It reminded me of nature’s calculation and of those who hunt
who respect and understand this ecological balance.
With that conversation of the past week, I saw the light of enthusiasm in this hunter’s eyes. Once again, he would join in the ancient migration away from home to find food.
I marveled at his woods wisdom, learning gained from a lifetime of experience.
I knew that once again he, like others, would taste the solitude and quiet of hours spent on a deer stand, away from others. Such a refuge from the pace and frantic activity of a society seldom at rest.
I thought again about responsible hunters taking to the field and of the camaraderie they would experience. They would depend on each other for their safety.
There would be moments back inside when they would be sharing old and familiar stories, just as funny the fourth or fifth time between the years.
Old faces of past hunts would be remembered and honored with a memory or two. Eccentricities would be especially appreciated.
Between jars of whiskey, mugs of coffee, and blankets of hash browns, there would be an unspoken respect for the heartiness of each person in the group.
There would be common knowledge that theirs
is a link to our collective past.
Here accountants, farmers, the retired, clerks and homemakers, construction managers, and preachers would all come together.
As with some Terry Redlin painting, burnished with nostalgia and light, this gathering would harken back to another time in America’s history when life was simpler yet, oh so precarious.
To a time when, in the twilight between past and present, this kind of knowledge meant everything.
And everyone knew it.
J. Bragstad is not a hunter. The sight of a deer is always novel and beautiful. But he also is aware hunting is part of a niche in nature's balance. He is the author of two books available on Amazon or in GM.