Kinds of harm

by Tovar on January 23, 2010 · 37 comments

The doe stepped into the road, then trotted across and bounded into the woods as I slowed the car. Cath and I both relaxed. We weren’t going fast, but that had been close.

Then the second doe was there, very close, pausing at the edge of the road. I caught the flash of movement at the periphery of the headlights as she leapt forward. I went hard left. But she came fast. Cath and I heard the bodily thud as she careened off the passenger side.

I stopped and backed up. The doe was lying in the road. Done for, I thought. Then she raised her head. Oh, no. A sick feeling rose up inside. Done for, but not dead. I’d never hit a deer before. And I was going to have to finish this one off, which would be illegal—or drive the half-mile back home, call a game warden, and make the doe wait for mercy at the official hand of the law.

When Cath and I got out of the car, the doe stood up. Then, recognizing us as bipeds, she trotted off and disappeared into the woods. Looking at the dented fender over the wheel, we realized it was more a case of deer-hitting-car than car-hitting-deer.

As we drove off, we talked about it. We agreed that we’d been lucky. It could have been far worse: for us, the doe, and the car.

Three hours later, I followed the doe’s tracks by flashlight, figuring she’d stop nearby if she was seriously hurt. I found only tracks; no sign of a fresh bed. Imagining her chances were good, I prayed she’d make it with nothing more than bruises and a newfound respect for headlights.

But the incident still troubled me.

It wasn’t news to me, of course, that animals get maimed and killed by cars. As a volunteer firefighter, I’d been on accident scenes. I’d led wardens to mortally wounded deer and heard the gun’s sharp report. Nor was it news that we maim and kill in all kinds of other ways, incurring a massive debt in animal lives and, worse, in habitat. But it’s easy to forget these things, to put them comfortably out of mind. And I’d always found such harm—regrettable, but unintended—easier to accept than premeditated killing.

The doe challenged me to reconsider that.

Just five weeks before she leapt at our car, I’d put a bullet through another deer’s heart. The buck had collapsed in moments; no time for shock to turn into pain. As deer kills always do, that one had shaken me with its reverberations.

But the doe, and the sick feeling that rose up as I saw her lying there in the road, made me ask: Do I really find it easier to accept the inadvertent, often-messy, often-unseen ravages I inflict on my fellow creatures?

The answer, I find, is no. Assuming it’s done quickly, I’m more at peace with intentional harm. With the kill I’ve prepared for and chosen.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli

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{ 37 comments }

Cork Graham January 23, 2010 at 3:21 am

Tovar –

This brings me back to Alaska in two ways: one is learning of a newly married couple’s death; the other is that California, like your state, is years behind Alaska in dealing with road kill and waste.

When I first moved to AK, this newly married couple was driving down the road in their wedding gift Camaro. A young bull moose was walking across the road and the car hit it, the moose landing through the windshield in the newlyweds’ laps. All killed…the one who took the longest to die was the moose, that had to be finished off by the patrolman.

Unlike California, Alaska has a great system for making use of road kill. As a resident, you’re invited to get on a list if you’re under a certain yearly income level, and get called if there’s a moose that has been accidentally killed. It’s a great way to keep the carrion eaters from being attracted to a carcass, and a family in need gets food to eat. During winter the meat can be just like a freshly hunted/butchered offering.

…It amazes me that anti-hunters can be more ok with a deer being killed by a car, than a perfectly placed round in a deer’s boiler room, efficiently butchered and used to feed a family.

Cheers,
Cork

NorCal Cazadora January 23, 2010 at 5:41 am

I find inadvertent harm to be much more troubling than purposeful killing because there’s no purpose to it. I think we all mourn the “innocent bystander.”

It tears me up seeing all the animals that become roadkill on our highways. No purpose whatsoever to their deaths – just unlucky enough to get in front of us. I’ve also heard somewhere that more animals are killed by cars than by hunters, but I haven’t personally chased down that number.

Tovar January 23, 2010 at 10:05 am

Cork: Here in Vermont, as I understand it, our system is much less formal than Alaska’s. Many (if not all) local game wardens keep a list of people who have requested meat. They refer to it when they end up with a dead deer—or, less commonly, a bear or moose—whose meat is in good shape.

Holly: It seems to me that several different sets of questions that get raised here. First, there are questions about ourselves as doers of harm—whether intentional or unintentional—and how we feel about the forms of harm we cause. Second, as you suggest, there are questions about the “purpose” served by the harm.

Also, do these things matter only to us? Or might they matter to the animal, too? Beyond the natural desire to avoid pain, does it matter to a deer how she dies? Does she—or her spirit—care about the (lack of) intention or the attitude of her killer? Does she care how her body is consumed and by what organisms: humans, coyotes, ravens, or microbes?

Tovar January 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Cork: One other thing. You mentioned how it amazes you that anti-hunters can more easily accept a deer being killed by a car than a deer being shot by a hunter.

As an anti-hunter, I used to feel that way. Even as a hunter I felt that way for some time, as described in the post above. For me, it had a lot to do with intent. One way to think of it is as the difference between involuntary deerslaughter and first-degree murder.

Cork Graham January 23, 2010 at 1:45 pm

…and that’s what really blows me away, Tovar…that indiscriminate killing rates more acceptable in an anti’s mind than a deer purposely taken in order to feed and help a family rejoice mentally, physically and spiritually in what Mother Nature has been so amazing in making available to a meat eating predator.

Cheers,
Cork

Tovar January 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm

It’s understandable, though, if you shift the lens a bit: under the premise that people shouldn’t kill animals (or at least not the particular species or individual in question).

For example, if my dog was killed by a car accidentally, I’d be heartbroken; but I’d come to terms with it (involuntary dogslaughter). If someone killed her intentionally, I’d find that (first-degree murder) a lot harder to accept.

Cork Graham January 23, 2010 at 2:43 pm

That’s it right on the money: beliefs!

These are the hardest to change, which is also why there’s such a polarization. When people are looking at things from a belief standpoint there’s no changing of those beliefs until something traumatic occurs–true change is never comfortable. Perfect example: look at all the “peace demonstrators” during the Vietnam War, who were then so vehement toward destroying Al Queda and getting into war in the Middle East–the same rhetoric, action and intent delivered by Bin Laden was also previously available from Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, Giap and Guevara.

For me, it’s all about productive beliefs and counter-productive. The anti-hunting groups put all their money into advertising, while all hunters are legally required under the Pittman-Robinson Act to put their money into wildlife restoration. If everyone stopped hunting, there’d be no money going specifically to helping wildlife combat the onslaught of the most consumptive and overpopulating species on the planet: humans.

Considering how much of a footprint each human puts on this planet, if antis truly believed in doing no harm, they’d remove themselves from the living on this earth: they kill grass with every step they take, along organisms in the water they drink, the pollution from fuel they use to move around (and even using public transportation still means they use that fuel), and amount of wild animals displaced by farming practicies, even organic farming, is large–no species lives on this earth without impacting everything else.

…Once the antis become a little more honest about their participation in killing on this planet, then perhaps there wouldn’t be such a conflict and real effort toward communication, insted of just debate.

NorCal Cazadora January 24, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Interesting that you say that, because when I discuss hunting ethics, much of my concern centers around how the death is felt by the animal. It’s why I don’t rage against high-fence hunts or hunting over bait (though that’s illegal in my state), because they afford greater potential – particularly hunting over bait – for a quick kill.

All things being equal in terms of how quickly death comes, I don’t think the purposeless death of an animal struck by a car is necessarily better or worse than intentional death by bullet or arrow. It’s solely about my feelings. And that’s largely what humans obsess on with death, right? As if lavish funerals and eloquent eulogies do a damn thing for the dead.

Great post subject, though. And unfortunately timely for me – I posted my first comment before going out to hunt ducks yesterday, and on the drive to the refuge, an owl flew in front of me. I think he just hit my antenna, but I’m hoping he was able to pick himself up off the road before the semi a ways behind me got to him. Yep, I felt horrible about that, even as I went to intentionally kill ducks. Or at least try…

Tovar January 24, 2010 at 4:48 pm

True, the purposeless death of an animal struck by a car may not be better or worse than intentional death by bullet or arrow. Now, though, I’d rather be pulling that trigger than driving that car.

I hope your owl made it.

Envirocapitalist January 23, 2010 at 10:51 am

I find it funny how useless I am to these type of conversations. I hit a deer last year. I was upset about the bumper being knocked down at an angle and the fact that I was only able to salvage the hams off the deer (both front shoulders were ruined). It never crossed my mind if the deer had felt pain. Maybe I am heartless but I have always figured it was silly to worry about the well being of an individual animal that I plan to digest. I find that my concern is better placed on the deer herd. This outlook keeps me from feeling remorse for killing a deer and keeps me focused on making sure there’s plenty of deer for me to eat in the future. I think Walt Disney has made us stop thinking of the animals as food and start seeing them as some sort of cute little thing with a great personality and human emotions. I never hear any hunters worrying about the cows going to slaughter. I don’t see the difference. If an animal is killed on purpose or accidently the result is usually the same. It will be dinner for me or for the buzzards, either way the circle of life is preserved. Note: dogs ended up with the messed up shoulders and didn’t care how the deer died, so I guess they didn’t go to waste after all.

Tovar January 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Gabe (Envirocap): Thanks for your honest comments. I’m with you on the importance of focusing our concern on animals collectively. In terms of conservation and species survival, habitat is far more important that any one animal.

Yet I also feel it’s important to have compassion for the individual animal—deer, cow, dog, or bird—to be mindful of not causing unnecessary suffering for that one creature. Isn’t that why conscientious hunters strive for a quick, clean kill?

I don’t think we have to choose between Disney sentimentalism and callous disregard. As ways of understanding and relating to animals, both are sadly impoverished.

Envirocapitalist January 24, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Thanks for the conversation Tovar. I strive for a quick clean kill so I do not have to track the deer and do not lose it, not for the deer’s sake. I mean I’m killing the animal. I don’t see a point is trying to be nice about it. If you extend your logic of the conscientious hunter then we should outlaw bow hunting since you can’t have immediate death from an arrow, like you do with a high powered rifle. I myself would like to hunt with a rifle all the time because it is more efficient however the state I live in has a bow only season. So if you want to hunt you have to use a bow and track bleeding deer until they fall dead 70 to 100 yards later. I would rather be hit by a car than shot with a stick and bleed to death. But back to my point I believe either you think it is ok, as I do, to kill and eat animals or you think that it is somehow wrong to harm animals if not done properly. I do not want to alienate bow hunters who I see as on my side of the animal rights issue. Plus I do not believe it to be callous disregard (which I took as an insult) any more than I believe ripping the ears off a corn stalk and boiling it is callous. IT IS OUR FOOD! I do not disregard my food it is very important to me, I only disregard its feelings. Life is less confusing that way.

Tovar January 24, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Thanks for your further thoughts, Gabe. Sorry you took my reference to “callous disregard” as an insult. I didn’t intend it that way. I simply wanted to suggest that we have more options than either (1) treating animals in ways that completely disregard their suffering or (2) treating them like Disney characters.

I get what you’re saying: you want to kill quickly for your own sake, not for the sake of the animal. Personally, I feel differently: I aim to kill quickly because I can’t stomach the idea of unnecessary suffering. When I choose to kill, I want the animal to die very quickly, before it feels pain or fear.

Regarding bow-hunting, I’m thinking of an interview with David Petersen that appeared in The Sun in December. He points out that—just like humans—animals don’t initially feel much pain from a bullet or arrow. The pain comes later, after the initial shock. So the question is whether the shot is accurate enough to cause very rapid death. “The ‘merciful’ kill,” Peterson argues, “doesn’t depend on weaponry nearly as much as on the skill and judgment of the shooter.”

I grant you: life is more confusing when you regard your food with compassion! But I care too much about animals to disregard their suffering. I have to hold that care and compassion, right alongside the killing and eating.

NorCal Cazadora January 24, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Agreed, Tovar. I almost envy Envirocapitalist’s perspective because it is less complex and less – to be frank – heart-wrenching. It’s funny: When I argue with antihunters, I often think they would be surprised to find that I empathize with animals as much as they do. The only difference is that I accept and embrace Homo sapiens’ place in the cycle of life on this planet, and that allows me to suspend my empathy long enough to pull the trigger (and sometimes longer).

Envirocapitalist, interesting what you say about bowhunting – that’s one of the reasons I’m content to stick to my rifle for now. I often wonder about the wisdom of laws that extend our seasons by requiring people to use primitive weapons for those periods when those weapons – in many people’s hands – aren’t as effective as the rifle. The laws engineer our behavior – I’m guessing many people wouldn’t bowhunt or use muzzleloaders if they didn’t have to to get that extra time in the field.

The sad truth is I’ll probably have to get a bow at some point, because my job (teaching at a university) won’t allow me to leave the state during rifle season for elk and antelope, and the herds in California are so small that you have to get very lucky to get permission to hunt them.

Tovar January 24, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I’m with you on all of the above, Holly.

When I was a kid, I fished and hunted frogs with something like Gabe’s perspective: they were food. I liked catching them and eating them. I didn’t think about how they felt. As you say, it was simpler and less heart-wrenching.

I do bow-hunt, though I haven’t ever shot a deer with an arrow. I’m not as confident in my ability to choose and make that quick-killing shot with a bow.

Cork Graham January 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Hi, EC –

That’s interesting. I find that I feel sorrow whenever I kill. When I was deployed as a paramilitary advisor in Central America showing Nicaraguans and Salvadoran boys how to do it right against Raoul Castro and Daniel Ortega’s boys, I felt no remorse whatsoever…probably because everyone was there to tango.

Because I now follow the “Native” ways that helped me, through hunting, heal my memories of war, though I feel sorrow at the moment right after the kill, I also feel the joy and appreciation that I will eat well, and be nourished. As I was taught “everything” is alive, and in a quantum physics understanding it’s true. It’s also what I hit the “veggiemite sundaes” with when they say they don’t eat meat because they don’t want to kill. We have much more respect to the living and dead than they, think you not?

Cheers,
Cork

Envirocapitalist January 24, 2010 at 12:06 pm

If I ever had a hand in the death of human beings I would feel sorrow, I don’t know if I could do it unless it was instinct and self-defense. I think bringing killing people for political reasons into a conversation about death and or waste of our food is the sort of thing that animal rights activists love. They hope one day animals would kill people since we were there to tango and the animals are innocent. I can’t understand their mindset but it scares me.

NorCal Cazadora January 24, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Cork, ditto on the joy and appreciation, though I usually don’t feel it quite at the moment of the kill. It’s almost the reverse: When that animal is finally on the table, I recall the hunt with gratitude – taking that bite completes the cycle.

Tovar January 24, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Ditto, Holly.

Cork Graham January 24, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Yes, Holly–there’re two kinds of joys for me: one right when the kills have gone quick…gives me shivers to remember times it hasn’t. And the joy of thanks at the table with a well prepared meal that started with this divine animals gift.

The both start with the sorrow of taking life. The falling to the ground, last breaths, and fading of life from the animals’ eyes…these are the first reflections of what I notice immediately after I make the shot and come up on the animal. And if it’s a long shot, and the animal’s spirits has already left, there’s my moment of silence and either spoken or thought words of silence and if I had pack of filterless cigarettes that I carry for this specific event, a sprinkling of tobacco on the animals with a prayer of thanks.

madeleine January 24, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Tovar,
Surely you’re aware of such deer whistles which warn deer of oncoming cars. Have you considered getting one?

Tovar January 24, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Thanks for joining the conversation, Madeleine!

Yes, I have heard of those whistles and have read mixed reports on how well they work. Assuming they do work, I think the manufacturers generally say they kick in at 35 mph or higher: faster than we were going in this case. But still, now that I’ve had a deer-car collision, I should do some more research on them.

I see that “The Hornet,” to which you provided a link through your name URL, is supposed to work at any speed.

Arthur January 24, 2010 at 9:01 pm

I’ve written about this before myself, and I think all of us, even hunters, want things to be on a more level playing field. We want the animals to have just as much of a chance to get away as we have a chance of killing them.

And that is why I think we don’t like to see animals maimed or worse at the hands of a vehicle; or want them to starve to death for that matter. We want them to be at their best, against a worthy adversary; not hit by a car.

It’s a great post, though. I loved the discussion that’s going on.

Cork Graham January 25, 2010 at 12:14 am

Actually, Arthur, if everyone wanted things to be on an even playing field, we’d all be living in caves and out in the woods with only a Ka-Bar knife. People do that knife bit, but it’s not my bag…but it’s definitely evening the field, actually taking us back as humans to earliest roots and relations to the wilds.

…Personally, I look at my experience in the wilds as an opportunity to take game in the peace of the wilds, like my ancestors who arrived in South Carolina in 1774, and fought at Battle of Kings Mountain during the American Revolution: There’s that romance of hunting that harkens back to that time for me, and I like to hunt with a blackpowder rifle sometimes because of it. But, even a Minnieball or a roundball are too slow in killing an animal for me.

When it comes to the actual kill, I want no evening of any field. I want to have as fast and efficient an opportunity to kill the animal so as to keep it from having undue savagery and prolonged death as might be brought by a lion, black bear, bobcat, or worse, a pack of coyotes or wolves.

There’s no evening of the field with my .300 Win Mag, 7mm-08, or .280 Rem. If there were laserguns available for hunting, I’d be using one. I’m taking that animal because DFG issued me a tag and in so doing says that the deer, pig, or bear is in excess of population for the environment and must be taken. And, I benefit with a good meal, tool materials, flytying materials, clothing materials, etc. from using everything I can from the animal.

I consider myself an important component of conservation and wildlife management, that helps the herd as a whole survive better and healthier: Though Aldo Leopold’s words were written so many years ago, I find them just pertinent to what’s happening nowadays, even with how far many departments of fish and game have deterred from those solid understandings in the last 30 years.

And, yes, I hunt for food as a treat, more than what I enjoyed as a subsistence hunter/angler in AK, where everything came from the land. We all know it’s cheaper to hit the supermarket, but definitely not healthier….unless we raised our own farm animals.

Animals have never been an adversary to me. It’s also why I don’t think of hunting as sport and a topic of which I’ll write soon on my weekly outdoors column. The only real “adversary” I ever went against, were humans, those who were also hunting me in a war; and anyone who has been in a war, or the police department, often consider that the only real adversary of people are people.

We are the supreme predators of every other species: as humans, our only real “adversaries” are the Four Horsemen–Conquest, War, Famine, and Death.

NorCal Cazadora January 25, 2010 at 9:50 am

You’ve said this in a couple places now, but I actually disagree with the concept that the issuance of a tag means the animal MUST be taken.

Fish and game agencies determine the number of animals that MAY be hunted and killed taking into account that many people will not get their limits or fill their tags. If they believed every tag holder would be successful, the number of tags issued would be lower.

A good example is blacktail deer hunting – the success rate in California is about two deer killed for every 100 hunt days. In 2006, there were nearly 186,000 deer tag applications; between 29,000 and 33,000 deer were actually taken. If we killed all we had tags for, our herd would be a tad beleaguered.

The only thing I feel obligated to kill for the good of the environment or ecosystem is snow geese – they are so populous in the Central Flyway that they are destroying its tundra, and our population in the Pacific Flyway is skyrocketing as well. I suppose if I lived in whitetail country I’d feel the same about deer, but I live in blacktail country.

Cork Graham January 25, 2010 at 1:21 pm

You’re absolutely right, Holly. In a state that’s run by sound wildlife management practices, though, tags are actually issued in much more relation to how many must accurately be taken: Sadly, CA is not one of them…

…CA does crazy stuff, like sell so many more tags than are available deer for those hunters in the field: could it be because they just need money? Is it because they want to make it look like every hunter has a good opportunity to take a deer–though the best opportunity is on private land inaccessible to so many?

The bear tag issuance is also a total annoyance to me: DFG sell tags so that until an actual number of animals is taken, we can hunt in hope? And if you don’t get your bear in time, i.e. before that number is reached, you’re SOL. This is in part because bear are so hard to take without dogs, which is why many are taken incidentally while deerhunting. Also, the recording accurate predator numbers is so much harder than taking ungulate numbers. I love hunting bear with a predator call, or spot and stalk and the meat is delicious when from a bear taken during blackberry or manzanita berry season.

When, I first started deer hunting in 1979, the problem wasn’t an uncontrolled predator problem as is happening now, but a bad ratio of bucks to does, where all the barren/old does were competing with the fawns for feed. DFG was trying to get more doe tags for hunters, to help deal with the problem. It has only happened in spare, frankly inneffectual cases.

This is in contrast to 1957, when there so many does and antlerless taken (the closest CA hunters came to removing “hunter error” from the equation). The backlash from non-understanding public was fierce and led to the passing of the Busch Bill of 1958, that gave counties veto rights on game management practices…always applied based on PC attitudes and not on the sound biological research provided by DFG. We hunters and wildlife have been paying for it in CA ever since: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/QandA/2008/20080828.asp

Why have the deer populations been paying? In contrast to all the political uproar, the best years of a healthy deer population in CA were those 10 years after the controversial, 100% because of those antlerless hunts and such incredible hunter success rates.

…Nowadays, our biggest problem in CA isn’t an overpopulation of deer, it’s an overpopulation of predators…as in many other states like OR (they’re even getting ready to vote on using dogs again for cats population has exploded like here, and the elk/deer herds have been hammered so much by those cats).

How many deer hunters actually take the time to go back the places they hunt deer in the fall, and call in and shoot two to three coyotes for every deer where they shot the previous fall? If they did, fawns would have a better chance–and the coyotes wouldn’t be mangy and unhealthy. If DFG would finally take on Mountain Lion Foundation and remove this insane moratorium on hunting cougar in CA, the buck survivability would improve immensely–cougars prefer to hunt the lone buck because there aren’t all these doe eyes on the look out. Cougars would also benefit by not being pushed out of their hunting grounds by fellow, overpopulated hungry cats: predators don’t come down to urban areas to hunt Fido and Fifi, unless the have to…

In states where tags are issued in relation to animals needing to be taken, and not based on PC politics, the tags are fewer, even for residents (like CO for mule deer, WY for all species, and ID). But, in CO for elk, or WY for antelope, they can’t sell enough tags to take care of their “problem”–I kicked myself for not bringing more cash with me to purchase four more antelope tags last time in WY: it’s the sweetest tasting meat, when they’ve been eating sage and not greasewood.

The quicker we support CA DFG in getting back on track and giving the antis a good fight, and get the antis’ hands out of game managment practices, the better for hunters and so much the better for wildlife… You mentioned the snow goose. If we followed a more appropriate wildlife conservation stance, we’d be able to use electrical callers like they use in TX and almost all the way along the Central Flyway. Anyone who has seen a summer goose breeding ground in the Arctic would understand why…Ducks Unlimited got so good at conserving and preserving waterfowl populations and buying northern lands, geese can’t even feed their goslings on the greens during the raising because adults have eaten most of it.

Yes, there’s allowance for “hunter error” (even in places like AK, CO, WY with hardly any kowtow to PC politics, and total respect of a hundred years of studies in ecology and biology), but in California, it’s a twisted world where tags get issued based on such a large variance…

Tovar January 25, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Holly: I often think about how hunters tout the importance of regulated hunting in managing wildlife populations. To be sure, it is a cost-efficient way for the state to manage wildlife. But it often seems like something of a defensive smokescreen. Hardly any hunters go hunting, or choose their preferred game, primarily because they feel duty-bound to manage certain species. A topic for a future post here, I suspect.

And, here in Vermont, as in California, only a fraction of deer hunters fill their tags each year.

Tovar January 25, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Interesting, Arthur.

I don’t think of deer as adversaries. But I think I get what you mean, framing the challenge of the hunt as a contest.

Likewise, I’m bothered by the maiming (and starvation) of deer because I dislike unnecessary suffering, not because I wish those deer were still out there for us to hunt. But, again, I get what you’re saying.

Glad you enjoyed the post and discussion!

Eric Nuse January 25, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Tovar,

As a retired game warden, I’ve had to put down way too many injured deer. It was never pleasant. I’ve on several occasions had to talk for quite awhile before they would take the deer’s head off their lap and leave so I could do my work. It is easy in theory to only care about animals as a population, but up close the individual is tough to ignore.

I think many hunters do themselves harm by using the familiar deer season greeting of “get your deer?” I like “got any good stories?” Because that is the essence of the hunt.

Tovar January 25, 2010 at 8:37 pm

It’s good to hear your voice here, Eric, as one who long played that role of mercy-killer.

I resonate with both your observations: about the theoretical population versus the up-close individual, and about the value of emphasizing stories over kills.

I think all our relationships—with animals, with nature, with each other, and even with ourselves—revolve around stories. Let’s tell good ones!

HankShaw January 25, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Tovar, one of the only times I have come close to tears in the last decade was when I was driving some narrow mountain roads in the Sierra just after dark, rounded a curve and ran right over a dying deer. I never hit it, my tires went on either side of the poor thing. I knew it was still alive because it raised its head. I will never forget that. There was nothing I could do, because there was no place to stop and either drag the deer off the road or, if it were dead, into the back of my truck. Don’t know how long it lay there before either getting up or getting really run over. What a mess.

Tovar January 26, 2010 at 7:36 am

That’s a rough one, Hank. I can well imagine how that image would burn into your memory. Thanks for the story.

T. Michael Riddle January 26, 2010 at 7:57 am

Hi Tovar,

Sorry for being late to the conversation, Cork invited me to put forth my two coppers worth and my sentiments are this:

First, we can lament the death of any creature no matter how small (and no I am not going to get into Dr. Suess and Horton Hears a Who ;-)) and to the point of completely missing and celebrating life entirely.

By that I mean that if we, as the sentient and conscientious creatures that we all aspire to be, really valued other life above or equal to our own, then we most definitely should take much better care of our own bodies than we currently do, because the human body plays host to a multitude of parasites, microbes and other living organisms with which we symbiotically coexist with.

So it really is incumbent upon us to eat a well rounded diet to remain in the best of health so that we do not (purposely) kill all of those organisms which share this body with us. Unfortunately, this also means that we must kill in order to survive because fresh meat would be included in that diet.

I, by no means am diminishing this post in the slightest but am merely pointing out the fact that we can ponder upon this circle of life only so much before we return right back to the starting point.

If we did not possess this ability to reason and feel compassion though, then we most certainly would quickly cease to exist as the human race altogether, because at that point we would all become psychopathic killers. And the conclusion to that sort of existence should be very obvious!

Personally, I always give thanks to the animals which must die so that I may live, and know that a part of them will continue to live on within my conscience and my soul.

This would include inadvertently killing any animal, reptile or organism be it with my “tractors plow” or with my truck.

Tovar January 26, 2010 at 8:26 am

Quite true, Michael.

These things were very much part of my transitions from vegetarianism back to flesh-eating and on to hunting. They remind me of Barry Lopez’s words in Arctic Dreams about the dilemma of “how to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in all life.”

For me, the questions are important: How to eat, feel compassion, and celebrate life despite the blood? How to fully inhabit both my body and my heart? More posts to come on related themes!

NorCal Cazadora January 26, 2010 at 10:45 am

Keep ‘em coming, Tovar! Good stuff.

Drew January 26, 2010 at 8:39 pm

An evocative piece of work Tovar. I’ve always wondered if the conscience switch is turned on for those who hit and maim and run. Having watched my share of autos swerve to run over eastern box turtles, I tend to think that sympathy for those things that must make their way across our fragmenting roadways is in short supply.

Meanwhile, for those of us who choose to kill –purposefully and cleanly in the art of the hunt–the switch should always be on…regulating the arm that draws the bow or the finger that warms the cold steel trigger…or caring for the lives of those things that die by our hands and not on the other end of a fair chase. Kudos to you for reminding us to think about such things…

Drew

Tovar January 27, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Thanks, Drew.