A Reverie on Failure Part 11: The Discourtesy of Poaching
[Author’s re-introductory note about this series: I always intended to take my time revisiting the journal from my hunting season, Autumn, A.D. 2020, but I didn’t intend to take such a long pause in the middle of things. The last entry was in November of 2021. In the meantime, my brother-in-law, who was dear to me, died on Christmas Eve, and that one left a mark on me, about which I wrote on January 31, 2022.
I wonder about this kind of grief. I’ve had several friends die over the past several years, and all of them have been friend-adjacent. What I mean is: Brock was a friend, but he was closer to others than me. My best friend Peter died of gall bladder cancer several years ago, right after his 45th birthday. We’d been very close for twenty years, but his parents were there, as were his wife and his three children, and I was set an arm’s length away. That was a pretty lonely moment. His younger son, a real mensch, comforted me at the committal. Then David, who was a little older than me, died of brain cancer. We had spent many, many hours together over the previous twelve years, really hashing out meaningfulness, fishing a lot, eating a lot. I think he leaned on me as much as I did on him. He was a community figure of some notoriety; I’m not from here, and a troglodyte, of sorts, so there was that one, crowded out, literally, by a thousand people who got to the wake first. When Arturo died, my sister Mary Anne’s husband, it was the same. He had taken my sister in when she was particularly vulnerable after a horrible first marriage, and threatening to spin into outer space, so I was grateful to him, and I loved him for it. He was a good man. It was my fraternal duty to be strong for her while she wept and Christmas trees winked.
That one, as I said, left a mark, and I got depressed and didn’t want to write anything anymore, or talk to anyone about anything. I don’t get it: I don’t understand the futility of effort in the hereabouts, while we feel acutely these kinds of griefs. Why are marks left on us, in our innermost places, when we can leave no mark, just something for archaeologists to one day dispassionately sift through? The proportion is completely out of whack.
I mean, imagine, when you look at those intricate hieroglyphics adorning Egyptian tombs, all the joys which were expressed, and anxieties, the comfort of harvest, and the despair of famine, not to mention the basic human experiences of love and hate. That is, imagine all the marks left by the asterismic frolicking, then how short a time has elapsed since they all expired and the tomb raiders came (shall we dispense with the veil of “archaeologist”?). Yet even now, Orion and Cassiopeia and Theseus and all the regulars up there bring the exact same points to bear, and they press hard upon us, without any distinction between li’l ol’ me in western New York State and King Tut.
Anyway, someone I respect, maybe a friend, I dunno–I fear in superstition he might die if I call him a friend–told me that even if I can’t leave a mark for posterity, maybe it’s useful in the now, the hereabouts, to hammer some of these out on the forum of the very gracious people at Ordinary Times. “After all,” he said, “the flowers fade and the grasses fail, but they do actually blossom first, and that’s something, you know.” Well, okay.
Besides all which, I really like my Reverie on Failure. I experienced a lot of joy and some measure of personal growth in the fall of 2020, and I’m grateful for that. There are a few fun moments yet to come in the telling of it, just the sheer adventure of ex-urban big game hunting, as well as the exploration of the human heart and its relationship to animals, eating, death, and life…and to stupid, as in this next one.
The pattern is essentially that I took a journal each time I went hunting, and after some reflection, I comment on the entry, or the comment first, then the entry, depending.]
I took a circumspect view to the discourteousness of poaching, which surprised me when I just now re-read it, these many months later. The guy was poaching, a crime, an actual crime which could be prosecuted (and occasionally is), and I never even mentioned it in my journal entry. To be clear: I wrote that one on November 13, a week after it happened, so I had had plenty of time to reflect. I was just mad that he fired a rifle in that special moment at dusk.
By way of explanation: deer-hunting in Western New York is not quite rural (about which I’ve written in previous installments), and the deer have developed patterns according to our patterns. In the autumn, they rarely move unless the light is very low, right around sunrise and sunset. In archery season, especially, time is exceedingly fleeting because the light is fleeting, and the maximum range of a bow and arrow is about 40 yards, more or less; this makes for an anxious and exciting few minutes while large moving animals hover around 50 yards away, slowly fading into the grays of the waning day. However, this is also the time when people who are out-of-doors for any number of reasons are now moving indoors, and sometimes, usually at the worst possible time, they innocently spook the deer, and a carefully planned hunt is ruined. Add in stupid hunters, bad luck, and personal errors of your own, and it becomes understood why hunting is not called “harvesting” or, as my wife cruelly teases, “shopping at Wegmans.”
Poaching, on the other hand, is a different beast. I now know who these poachers are, and they have been notorious for poaching for many years. They are also known for their abject lack of wisdom or discernment. Exhibit A: they are actually in another person’s woods with a rifle during archery season. That’s a couple astronauts short of a lunar capsule. As for me, I generally carry a firearm into the woods for self-defense, but I’m not exactly anxious to make the news, even in self-defense, so I’d prefer not to meet other, criminal, armed people; thus, I make it a practice not to become known to others while I’m hunting. Yet, poaching gives hunting a bad name; this is the stuff we conservationists have to bear in order to make our case. “Yes, I must grant that this is a dangerous endeavor for that reason, as well, but hear me out…” Herein is also a discourtesy.
The fact of the matter is poaching is a crime in New York State, technically a misdemeanor (which is still a crime, as opposed to a violation), punishable with up to 90 days in jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both (as of May 2020). I’d lobby for far stiffer penalties, especially for firearm hunting during archery season, because of the danger it entails. Wildlife management ought to occupy a larger space in our legal world, but experience teaches that we won’t enforce stricter laws because we need those misdemeaning miscreants on the loose in order to maintain political fund-raising issues, as in the world of other hot-button social issues, one of which happens to be adjacent to hunting. That is, if we successfully legislate better enforcement of poaching laws (see: funding, lack thereof), we take away the issue politically, and, well, we can’t have that, now can we?
When I heard the report of the first shot, that distinctive crack a rifle makes, I got myself as flat onto the ground as I could. I was shocked initially, wondering to whose backyard I was against and why they would pick that crucial moment during the archery season to sight-in their rifle. Several more reports followed. My heart fled into my throat.
It was an idée fixe for a considerable length of time that I was at the edge of a narrow strip of woods dividing two fields. The reports were so close at hand I had no difficulty ascertaining that they came from a location about fifty yards from my position. After it was over, I made my way into Mike’s house, and when I told him what had happened, the blood drained from his face. Eventually he explained to me that I was at the edge of a large woods of some acreage, far beyond anyone’s backyard, and whoever it was that was hunting in there had probably been stalking a deer, which means that the perpetrator had been moving. This is an egregious violation of good sense, rising to the level of a crime against good sense, you might say.
Mike has known the perpetrator since the beginning of time, and over the off-season, he girded up his loins and went to his house to have a little conversation with him and his fellow-perpetrating brother. I’m more ashamed than ever about a certain episode upcoming, something which divided me and Mike for a time. He’s a man, an adult in this world, willing to do me the courtesy of confronting arms-bearing perpetrators, whereas I wilt like a flower and dare not enter in those glorious woods for seven whole days.
November 13, 2020
I took a week off from across the road, returning to find the remains of a blue jay five yards from my setup spot. I heard a sharp chirp, and once I remembered to look up high (I have a tendency not to aim my head up enough, so I miss things) I saw a hawk. So now I have identified the source of another sound I didn’t previously know. Chickadees have moved in, in force, and as delightful as they are, they’re screwing with my psyche because they sound like a deer coming through brush, especially when a little buck suddenly appears right in front of me! He was out of range, and also a yearling, so I let him go without a hunt.
As I mentioned, I took a week off from across the road, and for a reason: at dusk last Friday, someone behind me fired a rifle several times, which absolutely destroys any hope of deer movement. When I finally exited, I made my way back to Mike’s, where I discovered I’d forgotten my new skullcap [a beanie], so I made my way back. When I turned the corner into the section of the field I was set up in, I saw a headlamp. Someone was walking around, about fifty yards from where I was hunting. I turned on my lamp and said, “Don’t shoot!” He turned and walked away without a word. I suspect he shot something and was trying to find the carcass, but he didn’t have permission to be on the property.
It is discourteous, see, to fire a rifle at dusk during archery season. Such discourtesy evokes anger within me, and a little fear, because I don’t know what safety precautions the shooter is using; nevertheless, the primary emotion is anger, but as the weeks progress toward regular season [when firearms are allowed, but never rifles, not in DEC Region 9A, Niagara County, NY], more and more people are sighting-in their firearms…at dusk.
There’s nothing to be done about it. Where there is no alternative, there is no problem. One grins and bears it. Okay: this one grimaces and bears it, hoping for marginal weather: good enough to hunt, bad enough to discourage recreational firearm shooting.