Hank Shaw is a blogging friend of mine and he runs the popular site Hunter Angler Gardner Cook. He is also the author of a wild game cookbook that I highly recommend. One of these days I am going to get Hank to visit Kentucky and chase squirrels with me but in the meantime he and I remain kindred spirits as his outdoor philosophy resonates deeply with me:
Honest food is what I’m seeking. Nothing packaged, nothing in a box, nothing wrapped in plastic. I eat meat, and I’m not keen on factory farms, so I either hunt it myself or buy it from real people who raise animals humanely.
Last week he posted about his recent experience hunting pronghorn sheep in Wyoming.
Where the hell had this antelope gone? I looked to the right, and there he was, this time much closer. He was still bedded down, looking at me, calmly chewing grass. I was stunned. No animal should be that calm with a predator so close. Why didn’t he get up? Then it dawned on me.
Something was wrong with this fawn. Something serious.
So I did what I set out to do. I set the crosshairs of my rifle on the best target I had available: The spine at the base of his neck. My pounding heart bounced the crosshairs mercilessly until I took a long, deep breath to calm myself. The last image I had before the world exploded was that fawn looking directly at me.
Standing over the dead pronghorn, I was at first struck by how small he was. Probably born in June, he could not have weighed more than 50 pounds. Then I saw what the dark patch was. Something, probably a coyote, had almost completely torn off this poor fawn’s foreleg. It was hanging only by a small bit of muscle and skin. A horrible wound, a fatal wound.
I know in my heart I did the right thing. Not every hunter would have chosen to use his tag on such an animal. And had we left him, the yearling would have died of starvation or, more likely, have been torn to pieces by the coyotes when they returned for him in the night.
My brain tells me that this fawn did not know this, that he could not possibly look his death in the eye serene in the knowledge that with his leg in ruins, a bullet was the best of all possible ends. My heart says otherwise.
Powerful stuff. If you hunt for very long, sooner or later you will run into an ethical dilemma like this. If you’re the kind of hunter I admire, which is someone who actually thinks about the morality of what we do, you will agonize over these kinds of questions. I have had those moments and I am not being melodramatic when I say they haunt me. I still fret over a turkey I wounded but did not kill this past spring. I’ll never know if he died in the woods, although my gut tells me no. I have lost birds in thick cover occasionally despite spending a long time looking for them. It never feels good.
I am a little torn over Hank’s decision. He ended that animal’s suffering and he ensured it would not go to waste, but he also took that kill away from the animals who inflicted the wound. That’s where our humanity and our sense of morality can sometimes conflict with our place in the natural world. I want to say I would have done the same thing as Hank; I am certainly no trophy hunter. But I also think often that predators need to eat too and they earned that kill. Sometimes it seems like the answers would be a lot more simple if I played golf. Instead I will have to settle for complicated.