Check out the prologue to "Alone In The Light" by clicking here

An excerpt from: Alone In The Light

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Hunting: Life in Rural America

Recently I got the chance to write a piece about hunting for another blog. I thought I would go ahead and share that entry here on my own blog... 

Hunting: Life in Rural America

I'm fairly certain that hunting is looked at in vastly different ways by the rural communities vs urban communities. Out here in rural Nowhere - it's a way of life.

In the urban community it's probably seen as an unnecessary thing by many, possibly barbaric by some, and just not an option for most. But I am not talking about trophy hunting or going on safari (fuck you Eric Trump!). I'm talking about walking out into the woods before the sun comes up and freezing my ass off for several hours in the hopes I will come home late that day with a large deer that will fill my family's freezer for months to come.

People here hunt, and for good reason. If the deer in our area were left to their own devices - they would breed themselves to death. I know that sounds silly, but it's true. They'll strip an entire area of its food (for the deer) in a season or two if their numbers get too big. Then they'll start getting hungry and move into the towns and roads and become a hazard. The hunting community keeps these numbers in a manageable level. And the people here are passionate about it.

Around here - starting in October and running until January - it's not uncommon to see people in hunting clothes at the gas station, store, or even McDonald's on their way to or from a hunt. Garages are often seen with their doors open (if the weather is cold enough) and deer or other game can be seen hanging in there waiting to be processed. The local meat locker has a steady stream of traffic dropping off things to be processed by people who don't want to do it themselves at home. It's a fully integrated part of my local community. We don't quite have the nightlife in these parts as my friends who live in Boston or Chicago. We have a 1 screen theater, 4 bars, a liquor store, and some places to eat... Outside of the school's sporting events - it's kinds of quiet here. The nearest Wal*Mart is 20 miles from my town and we pretty much try to take care of ourselves here.

There is a large population of hunters here - as there are in most rural areas I would assume. And it's not about being all "macho" or "manly" and bullshit like that. Out here, in the sticks, it's about maintaining a healthy population of the wildlife and providing food for families and the community. I should also add - it's not a "guy" thing. I know tons of women who hunt. And kids. My son is 6 and he has expressed an interest in going out there with me and I can't wait to take him. He understands that he likes our summer sausage - and it comes from a deer. He wants to see the process from start to finish and I think that's pretty cool. I would never force my son to hunt. That's stupid. I'd never force my kids to do anything they didn't want to do... why would I? That ruins it for everyone. But if he wants to go with me - I will take him and make sure he knows how to do it right, safe, and ethically.

Ethically? Yes. Ethically.

If you're going to kill a living being - you need to make sure you do it properly and ethically. Causing it to suffer is not acceptable to most hunters. Most hunters practice. A lot. So that when the time comes they can kill the deer with the least amount of suffering and trauma as possible. That store-bought meat... just be thankful you don't know how it was raised, killed, and processed.

Thanksgiving Pro-Tip: Visit a turkey farm and you'll probably never eat turkey on Thanksgiving again.

Most of the hunters I know aren't in it for that AMAZING trophy buck to mount on their wall or
anything like that. They are in it for the actual activity of the hunt... and to fill their freezers with food for their families. Don't get me wrong - several of them come out each year with an absolute monster buck with a rack that looks like it belongs in a Ghibli movie as the Great Forest Spirit. But 9 out of 10 times - that's a "luck" thing more than anything else.

But what is appealing about it?

I wake up at 4am... drive out to my family's farm (45 miles away from my house), put on all of my clothes, safety equipment, and grab my rifle or bow... then I walk a mile out to the woods, find my tree, climb up into my stand and wait for the sun to rise at 7:30. Sounds cool so far, right?

It is absolute bliss out there. 

The silence of the woods in the early morning. Squirrels and chipmunks run around, birds land next to me and look at me, and I am just left with nothing in the world to worry about other than possible frostbite. I put my phone on "do not disturb" and then I stop worrying about work, life, or anything else for a few hours. This is the time when I get to sit and focus on the world and take time to respect the things around me that I don't see every day. It's not a stack of work from the office, it's not commuting to work, and it's not something that eats at my soul... it's peace of mind. In a way it reminds me of some of my time in the army. The good bits, not the bad ones.

I know that reading this, I'm probably not selling it very well. Which is fine. I don't plan it... but let me just tell you that I've been all over the world - 27 countries in all. I've been to every major city in the US and I've visited 45 out of 50 states. And being in the woods, sitting quietly in the tree is the most relaxing thing I've ever done.

Most days - I don't see a damn thing out there. It's just me and the morning. It's the closest thing I get to having a "spiritual" moment. Even if all I do is sit there for a few hours in the woods. It's exercise, fresh air, and the often sought-after "alone time" of being an adult with kids.

On those occasions where I do shoot a deer, there is a ton of work involved. I have to carry it to the truck - sometimes that is a LONG trek through mud. This past weekend resulted in 3 deer and each one was a mile walk through mud to get to the truck. It was brutal on my back, knees, and hips... But that's part of it. And the physical exertion that comes with hunting is, in my opinion, a way to rid the body of stress. When you're exhausted - you can't really get worked up about too much at bedtime. You hit the pillow and BOOM. You are out like a light.

I usually take it home, hang it up in the garage, and process it myself. (if I have an extra $90 I can drop it off at the local locker and they'll do it for me) The roasts, loins, and steaks get sealed and put into the freezer and all of the other bits get ground for use as summer sausage, burgers, or loaf. At the end of the day (or two) I am exhausted from the work of it all and very pleased with the quantity of food in our freezer... I usually then have a beer or three and sleep like the dead.

Sometime towards the end of the season, my friends will come over one night and we'll spend a few hours making the ground meat into logs of summer sausage. The next morning we'll fire up the smoker and drink beer for the seven hours it takes to smoke everything. Then we seal them, freeze them and eat it throughout the year. It's a lot of fun and the time spent together is usually festive - I am actually bringing the last log of Summer Sausage from 2017 to Thanksgiving on Thursday this year.

So - there ya go. Out here, it's life.

It's getting food on the table and in the freezer. It's not about "goin' out and killin' some deer!" There are rules and regulations for MILES on how many deer you can take, how it is to be done, when, where, how, why... the list goes on. And the Dept of National Resources (DNR) watches that stuff pretty intently. People who hunt unethically or illegally can go to jail, have their property taken, be fined... all sorts of stuff. And the hunting community supports these laws wholeheartedly.

I hope this helps shed some light on the life of those of us out here in the middle of nowhere who still depend on hunting to help feed our families. I hope you see that it's not some barbaric ritual of manliness for the sole purpose of killing animals. It serves many purposes and is very much a part of our culture here.

Thanks!  - Ben

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