September 10, 2007

Hunting Stories

Posted in animal advocacy, animal rights, real life at 7:13 pm by nevavegan

A little while back I made a statement that I was going to try to get more into the narrative, and that answers and theories live within the narrative. So that’s where I’m going today.

I grew up in a family that hunted. I can’t tell you how many dead animals of various types were stacked up in our kitchen, or hung in bunches in our car port. Later, when I was vegan and rescuing abandoned rabbits, my mother liked to remind me many times that I ate rabbits as a child, as if this was some moral failing on my part. She said that she herself couldn’t bear to eat them, but she cooked them and fed them to us. It makes me sad actually, to think of eating animals that I later learned were so intelligent and loving. But at the same time, I feel terrible for having eaten chickens and ducks that I raised and loved. And one animal death that I felt horrible about strangley enough was when my father killed a very large rattlesnake. He pulled the dead snake out from the underbrush to show him off, and he was huge, five feet or longer and fat. I just sat there thinking how long that snake must have lived to get to be that size and how quickly his life ended just because he crossed the wrong person’s path one afternoon. My great uncle always told me about the ancient wisdom snakes carried and I hated to see one so old die for nothing like that.

All through all this hunting and carnage I held on to certain myths. The first myth was the idea of a perfect life and quick painless death, that these things made it ok for us to kill young animals for our own purposes.

The second myth is that hunting maintains some kind of natural order, controlling population and ensuring the health of the herd. Only much later did I realize that human hunting runs counter to “survival of the fittest.” Human hunters use guns or bows to kill the healthiest and strongest animals because they make the best trophies. Nobody killed the weak or sick animals. I also finally figured out that human hunting doesn’t control populations. For one thing, the hunters tried to only kill male animals, again for trophies I suppose. But leaving all the females meant that the populations actually continued to grow, which hunters like because it means they get to claim that deer over-population is a problem to justify longer hunting seasons or relaxing the limits on how many animals they can kill.

When my father killed a buck with impressive antlers (I don’t remember the exact number of points) he brought the dead deer into our kitchen and set him on the floor. I sat next to him, petting his fur, holding his head. He seemed so perfect because my father had killed him with one shot, and the wound was facing downward, so I couldn’t understand why this animal was dead. I begged my father to just let him go, but of course it was too late.

My father told this story of killing the buck. He said he was sitting out in the woods, enjoying the crisp fall weather, when the buck stepped into a clearing. My father said that he was at first frozen in admiration of the magnificent deer. Then the deer turned and looked at him. My father is big into the idea of psychic connections and empaths, so he explained it this way: the deer felt my father’s admiration and love for him, and so he felt safe and showed off, tossing his antlers, which gave my father time to raise his gun and shoot him through the heart. This made me so sad because the lesson I took away from it was that some people see beauty and long to destroy it.

Because my father had such a high sharpshooter rating in Vietnam, he always bragged that he never had to shoot an animal more than once. He said he never even attempted a shot unless he knew it would be instantly fatal. This was at the heart of the idea that hunting is “a gentleman’s sport.” That is the second myth. While I have no doubt that there are some hunters that try to be good people, my experience has largely been that hunters drink a great deal, are violent over all, and are not exactly law-abiding or kind. In fact, practicing violence year after year likely hardens them to the suffering of others.

Hunters used to over-run my great uncle’s property and the adjoining park, illegally hunting bears and deer. It was illegal to hunt in the park, and my great uncle posted his land all over with “no trespassing” and “no hunting” signs. However, the hunters did not care about the law, and sometimes if my father found them illegally hunting on our land, it came down to armed confrontations. We had gotten to the point that if we thought a person was on our land my father would not leave the house without his gun, that’s how rough these individuals were. I think we frightened a number of campers who drifted over from the park or day trippers who took a wrong turn though.

One of my hunter encounters which still chills me to this day happened one afternoon when I had my friend from school over. She got bored playing near our house and insisted we walk over to the pond which was on my great uncle’s property. I told her my parents would never give us permission to go that far alone, but she convinced me to go with her, and she, I, and my dog Khaki set out for the pond. It was a nice fall day and I was proudly wearing my new plaid poncho my aunt had just given me. The poncho was huge on me and the plaid was in shades of olive green and rust brown, matching the fall foliage.

My friend started singing and I happily joined in, and so we were singing pretty loudly when we neared the pond. Unfortunately there was a group of illegal hunters at the pond, waiting to shoot deer when they came to drink. We were just one turn away from the pond when I heard a man’s voice echoing up “Do you hear that? Girls! Let’s get them!” And then I heard the engines of their ATVs starting up.

I started running, but I looked back and my friend was stumbling along slowly, so I had to turn around and grab her and drag her into the woods. My dog stayed with me. I knew we didn’t have much time, but then I saw a tree surrounded by fallen leaves with a slight hollow in the roots on the Southern side. I shoved my friend down into the hollow, then my dog. I threw my poncho over them and began heaping leaves on top, and finally slipped under it myself.

For fifteen minutes we huddled there while the hunters drove their ATVs up and down the road shouting to each other “Where are they?” and “They couldn’t get far!” So easily they switched gears from hunting deer to hunting little girls. Finally they became convinced that we must have gotten much further down the road. One shouted “It’s how sound is up high like this, it carries a long ways, I bet they’re down near the church!” So they turned their ATVs and raced toward the church. Only when they were completely out of sight did we start trying to get home. I made sure we didn’t walk along any roads or large paths, so we picked our way through thorns and trees, keeping under cover the whole way.

Things like that made me understand why the old couple that maintained the church hid whenever a car or truck went by. We could go to services and they’d be friendly as anything, but drive by on a weekday when they were out weeding the cemetery and they’d dive behind a headstone and keep down.

Other than that encounter my family found slaughtered animals so often. Heaps of deer that had been shot and then only their antlers sawed off, etc. When there was a story in the news about a hunter who killed animals on his remote property until he got bored and started kidnapping women, raping and torturing them, then setting them loose on his land so he could hunt them down and kill them, it didn’t surprise me. I’ve seen it. I heard it in the voices of those hunters on the ATVs. That is not to say that all hunters hurt people. But I do believe that hurting and killing animals as a form of entertainment makes it easier to hurt people. I do believe that people who like to hurt people often also hurt animals. I think in a kind culture we have an aversion to bloodshed, but hunting teaches that bloodshed is admirable. In a kind culture we feel the shock of empathy when someone is hurt right in front of us. For a moment we envision the pain they feel, it’s what spurs us to rush in and help them, because we identify with their pain and know it is not right to turn away from them. Hunting teaches people to take pleasure in the suffering and death of other living feeling beings. Is it such a jump from there to not caring about others at all, or to being able to hurt people?

I do have to note also that all the hunters in my family were war veterans. These were men who had been trained to kill other people and in some cases had actually had to use that training and take human life. Some managed to kill their human enemies from a distance. Others had to fight at close range and watch their friends and enemies alike die terrible deaths. Once someone has reached a point where they’re able to do that easily, I can understand how they could easily hunt and kill animals. But I’d prefer to live in a culture where all life is valued.

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3 Comments »

  1. Vivacious Vegan said,

    Hi Neva, I hope your sweet kitties get better quickly. Our cat is an indoor cat and one time she mysteriously got sick. Our vet told us that people can carry in germs and bacteria on their shoes and track it through the house. In our situation, our cat likes to chew on the soles of shoes (if they’re foam or rubber – like flip flops or running shoes). I know it sounds crazy but even as indoor cats, there are still ways that they can catch diseases/illnesses.

    Your hunting stories were really riveting. I have always hated hunters and their logic never made sense to me but to hear you talk about the second myth regarding population control…I never thought about it that way. Thanks for giving me some amunition (teehee) to use in my arguments the next time.

    The story ao about the men on ATV’s is frightening and it gives me chills to think about what they would have done to you. Your quick thinking very likely saved your lives.

  2. Canaduck said,

    What the hell, that’s the scariest set of stories ever. Never having been around hunters, I am constantly amazed by what you can tell us about them.

  3. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Vivacious Vegan! Liam and Squeaker are both much better though we never got a real answer about what was wrong other than that the blood tests indicated bacterial infection and they both took antibiotics to get better. But Liam was so sick he needed a bunch of different medications and some time on an IV. And now to watch him you’d never know he’d been sick at all.

    Canaduck, I cannot claim that all hunters are the same. I certainly love family members who hunt, though I reject their rationale for hunting. However, I have encountered many hunters who seemed to border on anti-social behavior. Others have supported this view, when I talk to other women who grew up in hunting communities and they describe a lot of general violence and a lot of drinking and crime connected with hunting.


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