Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Me, a Name I Call Myself

As I have, at great length, established the fact that I went hunting last week, and only if you have been reading this with your eyes closed would you not know that because I’ve labored intensively on the psychological details of the trip more than I have about the actual events that transpired. Well, perhaps you weren’t able sift through my over-analytical diatribes about the hunting trip to establish that I actually left the house and went on a hunting trip, but I assure you, despite my ramblings to the contrary and the hard evidence that I didn’t come home wrapped in deer hide or proudly displayed a mount above the mantle on the fireplace. Truth of the matter is that I would like to think that we weren’t that lucky when it actually came down to the brass tacks of hunting, but upon further realization of the facts of nature, that isn’t exactly so.

Simply put, the deer were more skilled than I at being in the wild by every stretch of the imagination, but before you sigh a deep exhalation of relief that the barbarous hunters clad in camouflage and armed with rifles that have the ability to propel a projectile at 700 feet per second into the soft flesh exterior of one of God’s fairer creatures, please take note that with all of technology available to mankind, the thousand years of advances in firearms, my college education, the ability to reason, to analyze the outcome of a variety of events with hundreds of variable, my opposable thumbs, my language, the skills at walking upright, and the countless other things that genetics, technology, education and my long-dead humanoid ancestors have given me… With all of these things working to my benefit, we were decidedly at a disadvantage when it came to hunting for deer.

Think about it this way: An intruder enters your house set on killing you. You’re naked, but that’s okay, because all of your walls, windows and furniture is flesh colored. He steps into the front door, but that’s okay because you can hear him coming, smell him coming and see him coming a long time before he even knows that you’re in the house at all. Stand behind the credenza and watch him walk right by you, and when he looks the other way, walk down the hall to the bathroom in complete silence.

That’s what it was like. Dad and I saw 31 deer, like I mentioned before, but only two of them were bucks. Since our deer tags were for buck, we couldn’t hunt anything but those, which means not only are you looking for a hay-colored needle in a haystack, but you have to see what the eye of the needle looks like before you pick it up. If you pick up the wrong needle (i.e. kill a doe by “accident” or hit a spike, which is a buck with an underdeveloped antler), they take away your rifle, ban you from the season and slap you with a huge fine; which is why it is hardly ever reported, I’m sure.

Since last year, when I first decided that I was going to go on this hunting trip, I was slapped in the face with a moral dilemma, not to mention a marital one as well. My views on gun control, hunting, the NRA, gun collecting and society’s views on such subjects has always been very clear. I grew up with the constant presence of guns—pistols, rifles, you name it—and I have been accustomed to them. They have become, not only a source of family pride and interest while I was growing up, but I have learned to see guns as a Constitutional right the likes of which is not found in any other country in the world.

My wonderful wife, on the other hand, is vehemently against guns; she doesn’t like to see them or hear about them, and I don’t even know if she’s ever handled one. Further, I’m sure the conversation would be a tense one if we were to ever debate gun control and I’m willing to bet that she would vote for gun control if it ever appears on the ballot. I respect her opinions because I respect her as a person, regardless of our political views.

However, as the calendar clicked off the days closer to the impending trip, she wanted to make it quite clear that I wouldn’t be killing anything while I was gone. To make it easier for me to go (and for future trips), I agreed, and at the time, I think I actually believed what I was saying. My purpose for going was merely a observational one, as I would enjoy the company of other men while carrying a rifle around in the forest, breathing in the bounty of nature’s clean air and seeing the magnificent vistas not found in the city. It seemed a lofty goal, and I assured her that the probability of us even seeing a deer, much less shooting one would be slim to none. As the day of our departure drew near, I played over a few different scenarios in my head—shoot, don’t shoot—ones that would haunt me day and night during the week of the trip. As a result, the outcome of those scenarios perhaps would end up defining my character, who I am as a person and how I stand on the ultimate decision.

Once we arrived at my Uncle’s house at the beginning of the trip, I called home to assure Kara that we had arrived safely and that it would be the last she would hear from me in a week because of the lack of cell phone reception in the mountains. At the end of the conversation, as we were saying good bye, I expected to hear an “I love you,” “Be safe” or at the very least a “Have fun,” and instead of any of those well wishing comments, the very last thing she said to me, perhaps the very last thing she would have ever said to me if I were Dick Cheney’d in the head while hunting, wasn’t “Have fun,” “Be safe” or “I love you” but “Don’t kill anything.”

I know where I stand in my marriage, as the safety of a bunch of strange deer take precedence over that of her husband. It’s okay. I understand how she feels about the subject, so it was less than I expected. However, the following day, she called me so that Natalie was able to say hello to me and ask when I would come back, and the very last thing she said to me again wasn’t one of well wishing, but “Be kind to God’s creatures.”

The whole thing reminds me of “My Cousin Vinni,” when Joe Pesci gets the opportunity to go hunting with the prosecuting attorney and he is worried that the leather pants he’s wearing isn’t appropriate for hunting. Marisa Tomei, who won an Oscar for the role incidentally, comes back with this line: “Imagine you're a deer. You're prancing along. You get thirsty. You spot a little brook. You put your little deer lips down to the cool, clear water - BAM. A f***in' bullet rips off part of your head. Your brains are lying on the ground in little bloody pieces. Now I aks ya, would you give a f**k what kind of pants the son-of-a-bitch who shot you was wearing?”

So, there’s potential that I could be facing some serious sleep-on-the-couch time if I come home with 50 pounds of deer meat (which she already exclaimed she wouldn’t eat) and a decomposing deer head for the above the fireplace, but then again, I was clear that I had no intention of shooting a deer, regardless of the situation.

During World War I, a man by the name of Alvin York, from Tennessee, was drafted into the Army but objected under religious conditions that he was a conscientious objector and that he couldn’t kill another person. I don’t exactly remember what changed his mind, but he later went on to not only being a skilled soldier but one of the highest decorated soldiers of the Great War.

I felt like Sergeant York after a few days in the forest with my rifle.

When I first went out on Opening Day, I was steadfast in my promise to my wife that I wouldn’t kill a deer if I had the chance, and my cousin Brent, who saw us before we left, pontificated that I would be the only one out of all of us that would probably end up getting one because: “You have nothing to gain and everything to lose by it,” and the joke went on through the week that the odds were good that deer would drop dead in front of me by the score and those that didn’t would come up to me and nuzzle right up against the barrel of my rifle with a “please shoot me” sign on its back.

The first day out was the most difficult for me, as the potential to test my dilemma was at its strongest. On the first day there, I don’t think I would have shot a deer if give the chance, regardless of the situation.

The second day I might have.

The third day I’m sure I would have.

After actually seeing a buck on the fourth day there’s no question that I would have pulled the trigger, none at all.

Dad and I had just spent the previous two hours walking up a dirt road that snaked its way through a field of yellow grass and into a thicket of trees. On our left was a towering wall of lava rocks that, who knows how long ago, cooled and solidified right there, a giant wall of black permeable stones like the ones you find in Hawaii. We saw nothing, which was getting to become pretty much par for the course. The catalyst to turn around and head back to the main road where we were dropped off was that I thought I dropped my radio when I was taking care of business, ahem.

We returned to the main road at Julia Glover Flats (or so the sign said) and turned right. I couldn’t tell you who saw them first, Dad or I, but we both reacted at the same time. Since it was most comfortable to carry my rifle in the cradle position, with my arms folded in front of my stomach and the rifle tucked under my right elbow and resting on my crossed hands, I was able to bring it up to my shoulder quickly and begin to take aim at something, anything. I’ll verify what I was aiming at after I take aim, knowing that it would take a while for my eye to adjust, not to mention for my brain to react. Before me, there were five deer, three doe and two buck, both of which were called forked horns, meaning they had two points on either antler; aka, fair game.

I remember Dad saying, “wait, wait, wait.” Maybe he was thinking I was going to start shooting wildly into the pack of animals, which I might add, were already on the move long before we saw them. In fact, that’s what gave it away is that they were well spooked by our tromping feet that the began to scatter over the lava rocks and into the trees.

Now, let’s make one thing clear. The hooves of these animals are far from nailed to the forest floor, and the events that I have described in the last three paragraphs so far have a timeline of two seconds at the most. Everything is happening very fast, and that is where the excitement is. That’s where the heart races and the thrill of the hunt really takes its hold.

As I’m standing there, my brain becomes confused with an overabundance of information, half of which is coming from my right eye looking through the scope of the rifle to take aim at the brown swirls of fur and hides as they scampered up the rocks, and my left eye is trying to count deer, decide which ones are the bucks, count them, decide if they had antlers or not, how many, where they are in the pack, where they are headed while they’re running away from me and where I need to shoot for the cleanest hit. All the while this is happening, my feet are adding to my brain’s confusion by telling it that they are not balanced enough to take the force of the rifle’s recoil. Basically, they argue, if you pull the trigger, you’re going to end up on your butt, and foolishly they added.

The group of deer begin to thread their way up the jagged rocks with the adroitness and nimbleness of Baryshnikov, and if they were conscious of their potential fate, the doe and buck were intermingling as they climbed the rocks.

By the third second of the event, the deer had disappeared behind the grasses and twigs they were so good at hiding behind. But it wasn’t over for us, as I know that deer aren’t very smart and they seem to settle down after a good scare only a few hundred feet from where they were originally scared. In the excitement, I peeled off my backpack and my camera and threw them in the bushes and took chase. I realize that wasn’t the wisest thing to do because we didn’t give them enough time to calm down and return to activities as normal, but excitement took over and I scrambled up the rocks after them while Dad flanked around to their left. When I got to the top of the rocks, I slowed down to a creeping crawl, thinking they were just around the corner from where I was at.

Alas, they were long gone, but it was a defining moment for me and the trip. Before that moment, I would hesitate about pulling the trigger, but afterwards, when I actually came upon the situation where the choice would have to be made, I decidedly figured out what I would end up doing.

Was it a massive revelation for me? Not really, but part of me was surprised at my reaction when I saw them. Excitement took over and pushed me. I was as ready as any hunter could be, and I figured I would deal with the wrath of my wife when I came home with a mounted deer head for the fireplace.

After all, me, the name I call myself—at least for that week—is Hunter.

**The lead picture at the top of this page shows the area where we saw the deer... or where they saw us, and Dad is aiming his rifle to where they scattered over the rocks.

**The second shot is the four of us eating dinner. I expected that after all of the walking that I did, miles every day, that I would lose some weight, but when I came home, I had gained five pounds. Who roughs it in the woods and gains weight?

**The final shot is the only deer I was quick enough to get a picture of before she ran off to join her friends for reindeer games later (I know, they're not reindeer, but I've played Mahjong before and I'm not Chinese).

1 comment:

Kara said...

The couch? As if you would have been so lucky.


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