“Did becoming a hunter change how you see wildlife?” The question came during a recent book talk.
No, I thought.
In my thirty-plus years as a non-hunter, I enjoyed watching all kinds of wild creatures, from goldfinches and squirrels to rabbits and herons. I still enjoy watching them.
In those three decades, I also took care to avoid causing inadvertent harm. In June, for instance, I kept an eye out for the painted turtles who crawl up from the pond to lay eggs along our driveway, lest I run one over. I still take the same care.
The second part of the question was more focused: “Now, when you see deer, do you see meat on the hoof?”
“No,” I said and began to explain.
As a non-hunter, I took aesthetic pleasure in seeing whitetails. I marveled at their beauty and grace, glad to know that these beings were among my wild neighbors. I still do.
I now have a deeper appreciation for how deer live, eat, and thrive, for how they interact with each other and with other animals, for the difficulties they face each winter. And I have become more attentive to their tracks, to the places where they tend to cross hiking trails, to their patterns of movement across the landscape. Most of the year, though, I simply enjoy seeing them.
As a non-hunter, I also took care to avoid harming deer. Driving at night, I watched roadsides, lest a whitetail suddenly leap in front of the car. I still do. Though aware that hunting season might bring me into a very different relationship with a particular deer, I do everything I can to avoid indiscriminate harm.
And I’m not alone. In my experience, hunters hate the idea of killing a whitetail outside the bounds of hunting, and hate the idea of wounding one in any context. One deer hunter told me how, while mowing the tall grass in front of his hunting cabin, he once came upon a tiny spotted fawn. He stopped cutting immediately, relieved that he had noticed the animal.
A few weeks each autumn, I do contemplate taking a deer’s life. Sometimes I actually kill, and then begin the deliberate ritual of dismantling that body, packaging meat that will feed our bodies through winter. In my eyes, though, deer are much more than food.
That’s one of the many truths factory farming obscures: Animals are not just meat.
© 2012 Tovar Cerulli