Venison from the North Pole

The twinkle in my stepson’s eyes should have told me I was in for it.

He and his wife were up from Jersey for a Christmas visit. It was a month after I’d killed my first deer. And we were opening gifts.

The box was small. Pushing aside the tissue paper, I saw the silvery gleam of spreading antlers. Uh oh. I drew out a shiny reindeer, an ornament for the tree.

He’d taped a tiny circle of paper to its chest. Drawn on the paper were the concentric circles of a bull’s eye target, reminiscent of the old Gary Larson cartoon: “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.” Also attached to the ornament was a tag—“Tovar: Let my people go.”

We laughed so hard it hurt.

When I broiled venison tenderloin that weekend, my stepson ate with gusto. He also snapped a photo of the meat starting to sizzle in the oven and emailed the picture to his brother, who’d just moved out West—with a caption: “There’s an opening on Santa’s sleigh team this year.”

And just a month ago, after Cath and I had our vehicular encounter with the doe, I talked with him by phone. He suggested that I might soon receive an anonymous letter composed of alphabet characters clipped from magazines and pasted to a sheet of paper, reading: “Mr. Cerulli: That was a warning shot. Next time we won’t miss.”

Every time he cracks a joke like that—gently razzing me about having become a hunter—I laugh. It reminds me not to take myself too seriously, even when life and death are on the table.

It reminds me, too, of how much I care about animals and their perspectives. Though I doubt ungulates quote the Bible or conspire to launch themselves at hunters’ cars, I do ponder what an old Koyukon man told anthropologist Richard Nelson: “Every animal knows way more than you do.” And I wonder: Given how much I care, is hunting the right path for me? I think so. But how sure am I?

Better that I shouldn’t lose sight of the questions. Better that I shouldn’t slip into certainty. “Human beings,” as Laurens van der Post put it, “are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.”

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli


  1. Arthur says:

    I think all of us hunters have pondered this question on more than one occasion. I firmly believe that the majority of hunters hunt out of love. I know that would make an anti go absolutely crazy, but it’s true.

    And all of us need to reflect on those feelings every once in awhile. It keeps us connected and grounded.

    And your stepson does sound pretty funny!

  2. Nice post – and at the risk of being boring, I of course agree completely. I think it’s very important to question constantly. I don’t see myself saying, “Oh, hell, I was wrong, hunting is bad after all.” But I do see myself probably refining how I hunt to ensure consistency with my developing beliefs.

  3. Eric Nuse says:

    Ah yes, the trials and tribulations of the “examined life”. But I agree that questioning deepens your understanding of yourself and your motivations, while building empathy for those you don’t agree with. The serious life and death aspects of hunting and the paradox of killing what you love makes perfect material for deep examination.

  4. Tovar says:

    Holly: That’s what I love about your comments and your blog—your constant quest in “refining” how you hunt.

    Eric: Bring on them trials and tribulations! Funny you should mention “building empathy for those you don’t agree with”; I’m mulling over thoughts for a post on just that.

  5. Tovar,

    Greetings from Afghanistan!

    Holly says you are the new cool kid on the block, so welcome aboard! Unfortunately I am limited to time and access on the net so forgive the brevity of my message. As soon as I get back stateside I will read your work start to finish, I promise!

    Best regards,
    Albert A Rasch

    • Tovar says:

      Greetings, Albert!

      Holly has been very kind in helping get the word out there about my blog. That’s probably the first time in my life I’ve ever been called anything like the “new cool kid on the block.” But if being a misfit with an unusual perspective on things makes me “cool” in some crowd somewhere, then so be it!

      Here’s wishing you a safe return from Afghanistan.

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