I try not to post here about things that aren’t related to my writing life, because I assume that’s why most of you are here. And besides, I’m really not an authority on anything (probably not even on writing), but at least when it comes to writing I have some experience. Still, today I’m heart-sick enough to break my own rule.
Why? Here’s what happened: this morning Bailey-the-Rescuepoo and I were out for our morning constitutional. A neighbor driving down the road stopped to chat. As we were chatting a huge buck — 12 or 14 point — charged across the street in front of us and into another neighbor’s yard. It was bleeding. An arrow was stuck in its left shoulder.
I live in a residential neighborhood where deer also live. I have a deer fence to keep the herd (of sometimes 20 to 30 deer) from driving Bailey utterly insane. We encounter them daily on walks. They regularly get hit by cars. Deer are not, in short, an unusual sight, and this is not the first wounded deer I’ve seen.
But that arrow. Who the hell is shooting arrows in my neighborhood?
So, I called the local police and here’s how the conversation went:
Me: I have an arrow-wounded buck rampaging through the neighborhood.
She: Well, it’s hunting season.
Me: Is this a municipal cull? [Princeton Borough does cull deer, but in February]
She: No, this has nothing to do with us.
Me: So this is just some idiot with a bow and arrow?
She: No, it’s a hunter.
Me: Well, not a very good one if he’s left a wounded animal to suffer this way. If you can’t kill an animal cleanly with a bow and arrow, you shouldn’t be using one.
Me: What can you do about it?
She: Call animal control.
Fine. So I called Mark Johnson, our animal control guy, and he came right round. He drives a truck with compartments in the back for strays and there’s a kind of fork lift thing on the back. The fork lift thing carried the carcasses of a doe, two fawns and a cat. Mark tracked the buck. He later called and said he’d track it into the woods. He was taking a break, but he’d go back in and find it later today. I know what will happen when he finds it — a shot to the head. Which is, under the circumstances, the right thing to do. Animals left to suffer are not a good thing and a friend of mine who hunts tells me that if you’re hunting for meat, the meat from such an animal is often inedible, because the wound festers and becomes gangrenous. Lovely.
Look, I’m not against all hunting. If you hunt for your meat, and you are skilled and don’t leave wounded animals to drag themselves off to die, well then, off you go. But in most cases (Ted Nugent notwithstanding) this means using a rifle and knowing how to use it so that you don’t kill innocent bystanders in residential neighborhoods. It also means that should you merely wound an animal you have the responsibility of tracking that animal down until you find it.
Honestly, I’m ambivalent about eating animals at all. The older I get the less it seems like the right thing to do. I remember Isaas Bashevis Singer being asked if he was a vegetarian for his health. He replied, “No, I am a vegetarian for the health of the chicken.” I get that. (I periodically go vegetarian, but I end up putting on weight and feeling generally not very good, so it gets reintroduced to my diet. I’m hoping to figure out a way to remedy that one day.) And the more I learn about animals and what they feel and experience, the more barbaric I think it is that we raise them, slaughter them (especially in the deplorable ways we do), and eat them. However, if one is going to eat meat, perhaps the least offensive manner of obtaining it is by being responsible for tracking, killing, skinning, butchering and preparing it yourself. In that way you are accountable, you are in relationship with the animal in a way you simply aren’t it if, like me, all you do is go to Whole Foods and buy a plastic package of steak (even if it does come from a pasture-raised animal and not a factory beast).
That entire argument goes out the window, though, in the face of the new trend in retro-macho bow hunting. Few are good at it. More animals suffer, and not because the hunter hunts in order to feed him or herself and his or her family, but so that the hunter can play out some archtypical masculine fantasy (regardless of gender). What happened this morning in my yard, and what is no doubt happening all over the place during hunting season, is not ethical, it is not moral.
I posted something about this on Facebook this morning, and I was so pleased to hear from many of my friends who are hunters and who agree with me on this point. If you wound an animal — Man Up! Do the right thing and make sure it doesn’t suffer.