We live in a unique bubble in the history of mankind. It is totally plausible, and often the norm, that a person can live their entire life without having to look their dinner in the eye. Most people living in urban areas in modern America will never look at an animal the same day they eat it. They will never pull a trout from a stream, admire it’s beauty, then later that evening eat it’s flesh. They will never walk out to the chicken house, carry their supper to the chopping block, and ultimately the dinner table. They will never simultaneously admire the beauty of a whitetail deer and pull the trigger that will end it’s life.
The sight of raw meat packed in foam trays and plastic wrap is how most people think of meat. The sight of a skinned rabbit, or a scrawny plucked rooster may solicit a “gross” before it does a “yum”. Why is that?
A Quick Story…
During the 2012 hunting season, I was hunting one evening and was able to shoot a nice doe with my bow. It was getting dark fast, and I knew I wouldn’t have time to completely process the deer before I lost light. I skinned the deer, quartered it up, and put it into a cooler as quickly as I could. I drove over to the nearby sporting goods store to get a bag of ice to cool the meat for the night. Unfortunately I didn’t have a change of clothes and was in a hurry, so I slipped on some work gloves and ran in to buy the ice.
As I was checking out and fumbling with my wallet due to the gloves, the girl behind the counter asked,
“Why are you wearing those gloves?”
I responded, “I figured that bloody hands were not appropriate for this setting.”
The bloody hands, muddy boots and my fully camouflaged attire must have filled in the gaps for her. She asked, “Bloody? Why are your hands bloody? Did you kill something?”
I answered honestly, “Yes, I took a nice doe, and I need this ice to keep the meat from spoiling.”
She gawked, “You killed a beautiful deer? How could you do a thing like that?”
I simply said, “So I can eat it.”
She looked puzzled so I continued, “You eat meat, don’t you? Every cow you’ve ever eaten had to be killed first. I just choose to kill my own meat.”
She reasoned, “Yes, but those are nasty, stinky cows, not a beautiful deer. I could never kill a pretty deer.”
I paid for my ice, and left her with the advice, “Thanks for the ice, but you may be working at the wrong store.”
Respect vs. Beauty
The sad truth is that most people assume that hunters have no regard for the beauty of our prey. In reality, hunters will spend more time beholding the beauty of a deer or iridescence of a turkey’s feathers than most. When we encounter our harvest, there is a respect that goes far beyond surface beauty. An encounter with an animal who is a master of disguise and evasion, leaves us in awe. What a hunter feels towards that deer, turkey, duck, rabbit, etc is much more than just an appreciation for it’s beauty. Humility and admiration for the animal runs deep in the hunter’s blood.
Life from Death
We understand that for life to continue, death is required. If we are to eat meat and live, we must kill it first. If I pluck fruit from the vine, it immediately begins to die. All of creation points to this truth – life demands death. No one is exempt. However, some will never experience that death first hand; there are always those who will be willing to administer death on other’s behalves.
As hunters, we do not kill because we enjoy the violence. We respect the animal and the price our life demands enough to see it through for ourselves. No one will appreciate the animal whose life is taken to sustain my own, more than me. That is why I choose to look them in the eye, as a man does his friend.
If you connect with these thoughts and would like to read more along these lines, I highly recommend Steven Rinella’s latest book: Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter.