I signed up for hunter’s safety today. After nearly 30 years on this earth, those are words I never thought I would say…er write…
I grew up on the Disney anthropomorphization of God’s creatures. Bambi, The Fox and the Hound, The Lion King, Robin Hood.
That moment when Bambi is excitedly munching on early spring grass with his mother and the music turns from light twills to a deep rumble… I still feel my inner-child’s stomach drop. “Keep running, keep running” she calls as the two flee the field while an ambitious hunter takes a shot that misses. Soon after, a boom is heard. After dashing through some bramble, a young Bambi cheerfully calls out “we made it, we made it Mother!” Only this time, the hunter didn’t miss, and Bambi is left alone. Whose eyes didn't well up?
Hunters in my childhood were essentially shown as bumbling idiots. Looking at Bambi, for example, there is a scene where “man returns”, a pheasant hen is so terrified as the boots approach, she can’t help but take flight; against the advice of the other hens in hiding. She hits the sky, bullets fly, and she’s down for the count. That’s just the beginning. All the other animals take off running to get as far away as possible from the humans, who just start letting the bullets fly. They appear to be shooting at everything and anything with no regard for what season it is or what is beyond their targets. Half the time, it doesn’t even appear they have a target. They are portrayed as having a “pull the trigger and hope you hit something” mentality. Kill anything that’s moving.
Drawing this theme home, I recently re-watched one of my favorite Disney films, “The Fox and the Hound”. (I may be getting old, but gosh darn it I can still enjoy my cartoons.) I was, once again, flabbergasted at how hunters are portrayed. Amos Slade, a cranky old hunter who has no love in his heart except for himself, his rifle and his pooches, sneaks onto a wildlife preserve with the sole intent to hunt down a fox that he blames for his dog’s unfortunate accident. Again, the bullets are flying. Slade, although a hunter, is apparently a terrible shot, and the foxes (Tod and Vixey) run for their lives. Slade haphazardly sets traps, one of which he himself gets caught in, sets fire to the foxes’ den, all the while shooting whichever way the wind blows. He does all this on a wildlife preserve because of a vendetta against a wild animal.
I’m starting to think Walt Disney didn’t like hunters.
I didn’t grow up in what you would call a family of hunters. The closest thing to a deer rifle was an old BB gun my dad had in the hall closet. He said it was to keep the rabbits away from the garden, but I can’t recall ever seeing him use it. In fact, I don’t think I ever remember seeing any ammo either.
It’s not that my parents were actively against hunting, it’s just not something they grew up doing so there was no tradition of early mornings in blaze orange to pass down.
But my mom’s brother-in-law was a hunter. I remember going to my cousins’ house to visit my aunt and uncle and seeing the taxidermied trophies on the walls. It was there that I remember having my first taste of game meat, a nice tender slice of venison roast cooked to perfection and served up with all the fixings from mashed potatoes and gravy to biscuits. However, my sister and I weren’t told it was venison. In fact we were outright lied to and told it was beef. I mentioned to my parents that it tasted odd and a gleeful smirk crossed their faces. “That’s because its venison” they said, “what’s that?” we asked. “Deer” was the reply.
The look of shock on my sister’s face was classic, and I’m sure mine bared a similar expression as I’m sure we were both picturing Bambi all alone in the woods and his momma on our plates.
But I also remember that it was delicious.
I didn’t have another taste until meeting my now-husband, some 10-plus years ago, as teenagers. He was born and raised as a hunter. Early morning hunts and weekend deer camps at the cabin were a regular fixture for him, his brothers, cousins, step-dad and grandfather.
As an outsider, who didn’t know the difference between a 20 gauge and 30-06, it was strange to see all the hunting gear come out in November. The camo and hunter’s orange vests hanging out on the porch to get rid of the human scent.
But as strange as it was, listening to them swap tales of the buck that almost was or how many rabbits someone got in one day, I was also amazed by the camaraderie they shared. No matter how old they would get, or how far apart in miles they would be as life carried on, one thing would be for certain. Those memories, and traditions, of hunting would stay with them forever.
When my husband and I traveled across Lake Michigan to the land of cheese, some eight years ago, being in a new location, without those established deer camp buddies, and focusing on careers, hunting took a back burner in his life.
But he still regaled me with tales of the hunt. Whenever Scott visited with his family, and they began swapping stories of days in the woods, I could see the twinkle in his eye. The hunter inside was screaming to be let out.
I’m not exactly sure what it was that first got the fire burning under Scott’s rear-end again, but, after purchasing a new rifle, and nailing his first squirrel, the hunt was back on.
Every free moment he had was spent doing something revolved around hunting. Taking hikes to scout new locations, researching calls and deer movement patterns, training our puppy Rupert how to find deer sheds hidden around the house or in the backyard.
Seeing his growing excitement as he delved back into his childhood passion, got me interested.
When he brought home his first squirrel of the season and proudly displayed it to me claiming “this is dinner”, I admit, I was skeptical. But, after simmering the little tree rat in some homemade mushroom soup for a few hours, the first bite made me a believer. (Once I pushed past the mental block that I was, in fact, eating a squirrel.)
I grew up in a world where burgers came from the grocery store and chicken came in strips, and now as an adult I’m learning the importance of knowing where your food comes from. I like the idea of being as self sufficient as we can be, taking our meat, vegetables, and fruits from the land. This is the way our ancestors did it, and there is a kind of honor and pride that comes from making a meal from ingredients obtained without a barcode.
But, in order to keep our freezer full of fresh venison, pheasant, and maybe the occasional squirrel, I need to get my hands dirty and get out on the hunt.
So, today I signed up for hunter’s safety, and I couldn’t be more excited.