It’s deer season here in the Midwest, and once again I’m missing out on all the fun: the campfire camaraderie, the dazzling displays of skill, and the kind of Olympic-sized hangover that makes you swear off drinking for forever or until next weekend, whichever comes first. This is becoming an annual tradition with me, this not going hunting. It is an admission I am loath to make at a time when even conservative women are expected to go out and bag their annual moose.
Normally one becomes a huntsman by following in one’s father’s footsteps. My dad’s footsteps, however, were pretty much limited to diamonds and hardwood. He preferred the largely bloodless sports of baseball and basketball, while my hunter-gatherer grandfather considered those sports an unmanly waste of one’s time. What was the point of sport unless something died a horrible, painful death? This was pretty much granddad’s philosophy of life. Hell, you should at least get to feed the losing side to the wolves.
Old granddad was right, in his own loveable, psychopathic way. Hunting and fishing are two of the few activities fathers and sons are permitted to share without it looking like that’s what they’re doing. It’s a way to bond and still have plausible denial. “Bonding? Hell no. We’re just killing things.”
I grew up in an industrial town and never even saw a wild animal larger than a gopher till I was well into my twenties. These days deer are everywhere, as numerous as squirrels, only instead of homesteading in your attic, deer prefer to put up stakes on the lawn and look statuesque. Just glance out your window and you’ll see a herd of them eating your wife’s pansies. They aren’t the least skittish either. There are too many of them. They know they have us outnumbered.
THERE WAS A TIME when I considered hunting a cruel, sadistic sport. Killing a stately deer was like strangling a swan, only not so dangerous. Besides, what kind of person took pleasure in killing beautiful things? A psycho, that’s who.
That was then. Now I’m all for killing deer. The more, the better. In fact, I’ve killed two deer within the past two years. Both times with the front end of my car.
The first time I “took” a deer was around 1 a.m. on a lonely stretch of road in Washington County, Illinois. You’re driving along peacefully, about to nod off, and the next thing you know there’s a giant pillow in your face and your whole front end is missing. My Chevy just managed to limp home, its headlights dangling loose like eyeballs ripped from their sockets.
The next time was at dusk on Highway 255. I had just crossed the Mississippi River Bridge into Missouri. There is a veterans’ cemetery nearby that is a haven for deer. One of them must have decided, haven or no haven, I’m getting out of this creepy cemetery. He’d gotten halfway across the highway and run smack into the divider. It was the end of the line, so he turned back. That was where I came in. I wasn’t expecting a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound buck to come steaming at me from the middle of a divided highway.
He took off the whole front end of my car.
Moments later, as my ruined Chevy sat on the roadside, dead as a gopher, a pickup rolled up and a couple of good old boys asked if I was all right. What they really wanted to know was whether I was going to keep the buck. I sat behind the wheel dazed, muttering, no, please God, not again. I can’t take it.
“Cause if you don’t want it –“
“Just take it,” I snapped.
The next morning I had my car towed to Al’s Auto Body. “You better get a hunting license,” said Al.
Al did an adequate job, but after so many front-end collisions my car pretty much shakes and rattles like a gopher in a washing machine. Next time I hit a deer, I’m going to let the good old boys have the deer and the car.
So, yeah. As far as I’m concerned the hunters can shoot and kill and maim every last single deer out there. If I had a gun, I would join them. In fact, maybe I will buy a gun. It’s a lot cheaper than auto repair.