Friday, November 16, 2012

D-Day Minus One

 I shall be away  for D-Day, which is tomorrow.  So I can delay rooting around to find my electric orange woolly hat, which I'll have to wear when walking up our lane for the next couple of weeks. I have to wear it because deer don't normally wear electric orange woolly hats and I don't want to be mistaken for a deer.


  For Saturday is Deer Day, the start of the business end of deer-hunting season. The part when you can let loose on the creatures with shotguns and not just bows and arrows or muskets (euphemistically called "black powder").
  It's a day when cannonades re-echo around the hills and hunters in camouflage, doing a sweep for deer,  pop up by the side of the road.
  Apologies to squeamish readers and those of a politically correct disposition. But you really can't avoid the subject.  For many of my neighbours, deer-hunting season is just a normal part of the year's natural cycle.
  "Gear Up For Deer!" the sporting goods shops have been exhorting for weeks. The hunting camps - isolated wooden huts up in the wilds - start their chimneys smoking and convoys of rusty pick-up trucks converge and park outside. High wooden deer stands for hunters to perch dot the woods. Buffalo’s sports megastore carries everything a hunter would need, from camouflage suits festooned with realistic gauze leaves, to hair and body wash (“increase the success of your hunt by eliminating human odour”), to deer grunt callers to attract your quarry - and for the huntress who has everything, “Your camouflage make-up kit with built-in mirror”.
    I suppose, being a townie, my heart comes down firmly on the side of the deer.  I’ll never forget my first sight of a group of white-tails tiptoeing through the snow-frosted trees by the side of the road, looking at us inquisitively, flicking back a cheeky ear and then trotting nonchalantly across. A  magical sight.  And one Opening Day, a giant, stately buck took refuge in our back garden, as if he knew that shooting within a certain distance of a house is a no-no.
    But there are times, such as when I staggered out of my wrecked car after our fabled double deer collision , or went to check on the bushes I’d been nurturing all year and found them munched to the ground, when I've felt the beginnings of compassion fatigue.     Sadly, my head reminds me that there are just too many deer and too little food for them.
    Hunting around here is anything but a snob sport. Country parents have taken their kids hunting for generations. When a neighbour's son, who helps mow our lawn, turned fourteen, the first thing his dad did was march him down to the office to get his hunting licence. Last year he told me proudly, "I got a doe".
  And you get the feeling it's not just a sport. They talk of the almost mystical side to it, the communion between people who normally wouldn't agree, the bonding between father and son, the closeness to nature. And hunting is strictly controlled. You're normally only allowed to bag one deer each for your personal consumption. When I first came to America, I fell into  conversation with a local priest about the things that constitute traditional American values. I was surprised when he included gun rights among them.( I wouldn't be now).  “You know, there are lots of people in this county”, he pointed out, “who still sustain themselves by hunting and fishing– for those who can’t afford to buy much meat, it’s a valuable source of protein”. I thought of some of the rusty old trailers that pass for homes up in our hills. Yes we’re far from Manhattan here – in more ways than one.

Not quite a hunters' moon...


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