21 October 2011
Still have hunting on the mind. Something happened recently that further clarified for me what makes hunting what it is for me (or what it isn't).
My neighbour, Toni, came up my path with a flashlight late the other night. A dinner guest of hers had come back to say that they’d seen a deer in the road with its head wrapped in netting. She asked if I could check it out, as it may need to be put down. I’d already pulled out my contacts, as I was headed to bed, planning for an early morning hunt. But I put on my glasses, a headlamp, grabbed my rifle and headed off down the hill to the road that runs past our cabins.
The moon was waning off full and flooded the landscape with a silver light. The road was clear, nothing in sight. But as I walked down the road, a deer burst out of the bushes galloping with an awkward gait, streaming about six feet of heavy green netting behind it, the kind that people here use to keep deer out of their gardens. It came to a halt in Toni’s pullout, facing me, its head a ball of cord. Then it fled off into the brush by the slough. It buried its head in a salal bush a short way in with its rump facing out and the net trailing behind it. There it stayed in a pitiful, “if I can’t see him, then he can’t see me” posture.
My glasses were collecting condensation and refracting light from my headlamp, so I headed back up to the cabin to put in my contacts and get some gloves. On my way back down, I was hoping that the deer had escaped the net and bounded off into the night to further leave tantalizing tracks across the dunes by the beach. And I was surprised to find when I got back, that the deer was indeed gone and there was just the green netting left on the ground.
Relieved, I picked up the netting to take to Toni. The netting was snagged on a bush and I gave it a yank. Then the bush yanked back. From the thrashing that ensued, I gathered that the deer was still attached and had just burrowed deeper into the bushes while I was gone. I pulled on the netting, feeling for all the world like I was fighting a giant halibut with a handline. The deer was tiring and I managed to haul it out into the open. And there it stood, alternately digging in its heels and thrashing backward. It was a good-sized buck. I could only assume that it was antlers that had caused its head to become so enshrouded in netting. I could see that it was not going to come off easily. I’d had grand visions of wrestling the deer to the ground and cutting the netting away, saving the majestic buck. And afterward, it would come regularly to my cabin to eat crabapples from my hand, and we’d have a special bond that transcended the predator-prey relationship, kind of like the reverse of that fable where the mouse removes the thorn from the lion’s paw. But I wasn’t prepared to risk getting kicked or gored, or hacking at the mess of netting around its head with my knife. I tried to calm it, talking in what I thought were low soothing tones but it all seemed a little disingenuous as ultimately I knew that I was going to shoot it.
It was getting more and more frantic but also more and more tired. Just as I was trying to figure out how I was going to tie the net off to a tree to free up my hands, Toni came down the path. She saw the state of the animal agreed that shooting it would be the most prudent and merciful and thing to do. She took hold of my end of the net and I chambered a round into the .308.
Even with it dead, it took us a great deal of fiddling to untangle the netting from around its antlers, its snout, and from in its mouth. There are burn marks from where the net had wound behind its leg. It was a good-sized two-point buck, a healthy animal, something that I would have felt lucky to harvest on any hunt.
We field dressed it in the headlights of Toni’s truck and hung it in the wood shed. Even though the animal was stressed and shot through with adrenaline the meat wasn’t going to waste.
Despite having intended to go hunting the very next morning and having this buck seemingly delivered into my hands the night before, it didn’t feel even remotely the same. It underscored that hunting for me isn’t about pure meat retrieval.
As it turned out, when I was butchering the animal, I found sign that the deer had also been hit by a car. Four or five of its ribs were broken and a shoulder was shattered even though I’d shot it in the neck. There had been an unusual amount of blood when we’d field dressed it and the meat was bloodshot and bruised. I was now even more glad that I hadn’t wrestled with the deer. We decided to let the meat go.
But it wasn’t a complete waste. Alicia and Douglas, a couple of (former?) vegetarians who were interested in deer hunting, and Alicia’s visiting cousin, André, got to see their first deer being skinned and prepared for butchering. And Chris the Mapper, took the carcass and canned the meat for his dog, Banti. The antlers, I kept to use for rattling while hunting during the fall rut. I’m still looking forward to that early morning hunt.