Though I don’t hunt, I never disparage those who do. As a child, hunting was as familiar to me as swatting mosquitoes or tattling. I grew up thinking everybody ate venison, hung antlers on outbuildings, and transported dead deer on their car fenders.
My high school principal overlooked absentees on the first day of deer season, and the town sponsored a deer hunters’ ball the night before — an event featuring red hunting apparel and more action in the parking lot than the dance hall.
My dad initiated my brothers into the culture of hunting, but not my sisters and me. I don’t remember caring — except in recent years when my brothers tell stories about hunting with Dad, and I can’t correct them on the details.
When my brother, Bob, served a mission in Canada for two years, he admitted being homesick during hunting season. He missed the smell of crushed sagebrush in fields of pheasant, dreamed about stalking deer up a draw, longed to sight ducks in the cold morning fog on Utah Lake. He didn’t mention being homesick at Christmastime, on his birthday, or for his family. I guess we were so much chopped liver.
My dad worked night shift at an iron mill, hunted deer during the day, and never met a mountain he couldn’t climb with quick efficiency. He hunted through his eighties, though he no longer cared if he killed anything; he didn’t need the meat; he just liked looking out from the top of a mountain.
I have one deer story of my own: My parents moved to Lander, Wyoming, while I was in college, so I traveled there for Christmas vacations. The first year I did so, a friend I’d met the summer before called to see if I wanted to go sledding up Sink’s Canyon that night with her and a couple of Lander boys she knew.
A full moon lit our way down a swooping track crossed by tree shadows, and a bonfire warmed us between runs. I began to see the appeal of a life in Lander.
Later, as we drove down the canyon, a deer jumped in front of the car. After impact, it struggled on the ground until one of the boys took a gun from the trunk and killed it. Familiar stuff, until the experience took a new twist. The guys dressed out the deer, found its liver, cut off a chunk, and ate it.
When offered a piece, I declined.
I felt at home when I moved into the hunting town where I now live. Local hunters seem safe and skilled, and visiting hunters seem appreciative of our area. Though I miss some of the hikes my husband and I discontinue so hunters can have their day, I like the uptick of activity as the days shorten, the mountains change color, snow rides into town, and hunters take to the hills.