“How are you doing?” Cath asked.
We were sitting at the kitchen table, having coffee.
I waggled one hand: so-so. “I’m in that zone.”
She nodded. She’d known before I answered.
Less than an hour after sunrise that November morning, she’d heard the shot. From the direction and distance, she’d known who squeezed the trigger.
I’d field-dressed the buck, then come back to the house to leave off my rifle and pack. Soon, I’d hike back into the woods and drag the deer home. But right then, I was just sitting, noticing the strange sensation that moves through me every time I kill a whitetail. If past experiences were any measure, it would last a day or two, ebbing slowly.
I’ve been thinking about that sensation over the past few weeks, ever since receiving an email from a Colorado hunter who’s been following my blog. He wrote to say how glad he was to read the words of a fellow hunter who, like him, finds the kill to be a tough moment—who, like him, experiences such strong feelings in response.
In the last few seconds before the kill, my mind is focused on nothing but the shot. The animal. The angles of body and bullet. The question of whether I have a clean shot and, if so, when.
The moment itself is unsettling. The shock of it. The prayer that my aim was true. The relief when the animal goes down fast.
That’s when that other sensation begins to build in me, cresting slowly like a great wave.
In the days to come, I feel gratitude for the venison. And I feel gratitude for my success, which I know is always against the odds—the woods thick, the deer few.
But in the background, that other feeling is there, too.
It isn’t the storm of uncertainty and grief that whirled through me when I killed my first deer. I’m clearer about my hunting now.
Nor is it the heart-wrenching remorse I know I’d feel if I wounded an animal, causing suffering. The few deer I’ve killed so far have all gone down quickly with a single shot, dead before shock could turn to pain.
No, it’s something else. Something I can’t ascribe to thought, belief or emotion.
Again and again, I replay the kill in memory, trying to sift out something elusive, some meaning that lives just below the visible surface of the event.
Yes, it’s something else. Some kind of soul-wrenching. Some altered state triggered by the encounter with animal and death. By my snipping of that thread of life.
© 2010 Tovar Cerulli