...it's everything your Grandpa should have told you.

Look Your Dinner in the Eye


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.

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  • Aznealz

    More good insights Aaron. The connection between our life and the natural world which makes life possible is invisible to many people. I’ve had similar conversations or sometimes confrontations, with non-hunters as well. I do what I can, as an ambassador of the craft, to explain my passion. Some get it, some don’t. But we need to be present, to be honest and diligent in the mission, if you will, of reminding people of our completely dependent relationship with the plants and animals on this place.

    Both you and Steven Rinella do a good job with that task. Keep it up and thank you.

    • Aaron Farley

      Thanks Neal, I’m afraid there will be a lot riding on our ability to communicate that concept well in our children’s generation.

  • Ben Adams

    Great post! Love the account of your interaction with the check out girl.

    • Aaron Farley

      Thanks Ben, it was pretty unique. I guess she never thought about what the bullets and arrows she was welling to people like me were used for.

      • Dennis Jasper=KNAPS Hunting

        Aaron, i am the founder of a program that takes single Mom and single Dad kids 8-15 and wounded combat veterans deer and turkey hunting.To be able to open their eyes to the beautiful outdoors and get them out of the 4 walls and into Gods creation and to see smiles on their faces is simply amazing.Getting a wounded combat veteran the chance that he or she thought was gone is so uplifting words don’t describe.we as hunters know that we are the best stewards and conservationalist of the land then anyone.The millions of dollars in revenue we generate each year has had a huge effect on deer,turkey and elk resterations throught this country.I know many a hunter{myself included] that upon harvesting an animal we pray for the blessing of the animal and if we harvest one that is in our eyes a trophy we have it mounted.And the true hunter knows it’s not the size of the animal,it’s the size of the memory.For one to eat ones’ life one must take ones’ life.

        • Aaron Farley

          Hey Dennis, That’s an honorable things you’ve started! Thanks for all the hard work you put into it! I work with a group TruthInNature.org that does similar work with kids from single parent homes. You’re so right, being with someone on their first hunt is priceless. Keep up the good work and thanks for the feedback!

  • Mark Kenyon

    Great post Aaron. There is something so natural, primal and right about eating an animal I harvested myself.

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  • Evelyne Wassili

    Doesn’t sound like she has ever been near a cow, either. Or interacted with a chicken, pig, or turkey. I have, and have spent many hours just watching and admiring deer and elk, but come hunting season, I admire, then, hopefully, shoot. If I don’t get a shot, at least I got to watch them.

    • Aaron Farley

      It’s a unique relationship we have with the animals we hunt, you’re very correct! I can’t help but admire, and want well for them while at the same time fully intending to kill and eat. Thanks for the great comment!

  • DasGoat

    Aaron, I stumbled onto your post from Facebook and you summed up why I became a vegetarian 15 years ago. I was raised in a house without as much as a squirt gun. In my twenties I came to realize if I wasn’t willing to hunt, process, and prepare my dinner, why should I get to enjoy the rewards of another man’s kill. It was guilt and not wanting to be a hypocrite that changed my life. I do have respect for men like you who are willing to look their food in the eye. It’s those who refuse to acknowledge the steps taken to fill their plate I have a distaste for.

    • Aaron Farley

      So many things in life are easier if we just keep our heads in the sand, aren’t they? Thanks for the input Das, I really appreciate your honesty. Something comes alive in a man’s soul when he takes full responsibility for himself, whether that’s by killing his food, or abstaining because he didn’t. Thanks for speaking up.

  • Cory Wright

    Some people don’t understand how hard it is to walk up on an animal that you just killed. The emotion that goes along with it. I don’t have a problem shooting an animal that I want to eat, but it does not mean that I take it lightly. We have a responsibility as stewards of nature to care for our prey, and to treat them with respect, while understanding that their flesh is a life giving resource. I would much rather have my family eat meat that I know is clean because I packed it out, I trimmed it, and I butchered it, than buy meat in a foam tray.

    • Aaron Farley

      Right on Cory! I couldn’t like your comment more. It’s very hard to communicate that kind of emotion and purpose to someone who has never hunted/farmed. Thanks for the great feedback!

  • DaveR

    Thanks Aaron, for saying what many of us feel. I wish it was true for all hunters, but I’ve met a few who see hunting as only an expression of their competitiveness; as if killing some animal is winning. I don’t hunt with those folks.
    I thank the Creator every time I’m able to be a successful hunter or fisherman, because I know that it was a sequence of events I am totally out of control of that brought that creature into contact with me, whatever my preparation or motivation. I feel blessed, and I thank it for it’s life.

    • Aaron Farley

      Dave, you make a great point. Even with the best preparations, efforts, and skills, we are at the mercy of the day’s series of events. If we are blessed enough to have an opportunity, it was just that – an opportunity. Thanks for the kind words Dave, and for leaving a comment!

  • Ben

    We started raising chickens about 6 months ago, we ended up with a rooster and we are not allowed roosters where we live but can have hens. We knew this possibility going in, but had no idea how hard it would be to kill an animal that totally trusted us. We are fond of our chickens, good entertainment :), more pets than food. We really had no choice in the matter once he started crowing. We decided to process the rooster into Coq au vin, soup stock and other. I have hunted and processed animals before but never one that I raised, came right up to me, and trusted me right up until the moment I cut its throat. It was a very difficult thing to do but our chickens free range everyday and are treated very well. That gave us some comfort in turning out little friend into dinner. The other thing that we take for granted is how hard it is to process meat, plucking all the feathers and cleaning the bird takes a lot of time. Let me just say it is an experience everyone should go through if you are a meat eater. You will appreciate every meal that much more, we used every bit of our chicken, even ate the heart, liver ect.. More than anything, please buy meat from farms that treat their animals humanly.

    • Aaron Farley

      Ben, there is a strong emotional cocktail that comes with killing chickens you raised yourself – no doubt! I totally agree that taking part in the harvest of an animal is something every meat-eating american should be a part of. It keeps our connection to the realities of life and death realistic and it does make us appreciate the food we eat so much more. Thanks for the great perspective Ben!

      • Ben

        Thank you for the article! It is something I think most of us take for granted and I enjoyed reading your take on it.