What About Hunting?

What About Hunting?
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Like many gardeners in this land-rich country, I often wake up on a weekend morning to see a graceful herd of deer grazing beside my vegetable garden, browsing my young fruit trees to a nub.

I am increasingly troubled by one thought: Why aren’t we shooting and eating some of them? 

Obviously, I’m not a vegetarian.  But I’m not stupid, either.  I think our relationship with the animals that we use for meat is extremely morally fraught and complex.  Science increasingly shows how intelligent animals are and that distinctions are between our brains and emotions and theirs are muddy at best.

However, I’m not sentimental about what makes for a healthy landscape, and I think well-managed meat animals are part of it. We’ve driven away most of the natural predators of the deer.  Now it’s up to the hunters to make sure their populations don’t get out of control.

I’m convinced that we humans have a role to play in the ecosystems around us as carnivores. I used to buy my beef, for example, from an amazing woman farmer around my age who did not eat meat. But she finally concluded that she really, really needed the manure to fuel her vegetable crops, and so began offering beef to her customers.

And check out this excellent counter-intuitive piece by Judy Schwartz that argues that the best way to save overgrazed grasslands is…with cattle.  Well-managed cattle encourage a species-rich environment. 

I only buy grass-fed meat from my friends, who raise their animals in the most natural way possible.  I look at the deer and think…grass-fed.  What’s the difference?

The difference, of course, is that somebody has to shoot and gut the deer on my property.

It could be my husband, who is an amazing shot, but it won’t be. He grew up in a deer hunting culture, and some of his fondest memories are of whiling away the dawn hours in a stand in the woods with his grandfather, a former cowboy turned landscape architect, waiting for the deer to come by.  But today, as an adult, he wants nothing to do with hunting any more.  I’m not sure why.  Repulsed?  Too busy?  I’ll have to ask at some point.

A cautionary note was also sounded by my German aunt. She had hunted and fished with tremendous enjoyment her whole life.  But at her 80th birthday party, she astonished me by saying, “It’s a difficult thing, to kill a deer.  Those eyes.”  She was struggling against the cancer that would kill her, and it clearly made the death of a deer a weightier thing to her.

After 20 years in the vegetable garden, I am coming around to a different conclusion.  I think a certain number of those deer should be harvested.

That’s because my feeling about growing food has deepened over the years.  It feels less like something I do and more like something that happens in collaboration with my piece of earth.  In gardening, I am simply collecting the amazing riches of my landscape and doing it in a respectful way that doesn’t run the place down at the same time.  It’s not so different, cutting broccoli out of the garden, and hunting for boletes in the woods, or sauteeing the purslane that shows up as an uninvited weed in my planting beds.  It doesn’t seem as if picking off the occasional deer is much different either.

Of course, I don’t know how to shoot a gun!  Just musing.  But I’m curious if any of the vegetable gardeners among our readers hunt.

Posted by

Michele Owens
on December 3, 2010 at 3:10 am, in the category Eat This.


    • shira
    • 19th May 2016

    It’s funny, I just had a conversation with a friend (her husband hunts) about this. I’ve been a vegetarian for 20+ years and find myself way less offended by her husband hunting deer so they can stockpile meat for the winter than by what goes on in factory farms in this country.

    • Foy
    • 16th September 2016

    I’m all for hunting deer. Intentionally shooting them for meat is better than unintentionally hitting them with cars and driving by their dead carcus for weeks.

    • Jeff Ball
    • 16th September 2016

    Here in southeastern Michigan which is thickly developed and 90% privately owned over 400,000 deer do the most serious ecological damage to our communities, and that is completely eliminating the understory of all the woods and forests in southern Michigan. We have about 70 years to find a solution which is the timing for forest succession around here.My prediction is we will have no woods or forests at all in southern Michigan in 50 years. Hard to imagine we are letting such a catastrophe happen.

    • skh
    • 4th October 2016

    You are so, so right!!
    I garden, my husband hunts. It’s a great balance.
    Live in over-deer populated Fairfield County. The deer
    are ruining our eco-system and are overfed on a diet rich
    with expensive perennials purchased at area nurseries.
    And, what most people totally fail to acknowledge, is that the
    average hunter is a conservationist. They, by in large , are lovers
    of the natural world and care to sustain and protect the outdoors…we need more people to understand this! Cheers for your rant and happy hunting, and, my hub only shoots bow and arrow. Let us know if you need a visit!

    • Christopher C NC
    • 3rd November 2016

    I am surrounded by hunters and until they come on the property and start shooting near the house I am cool with that. The offenders are the hunters with the hound dogs. Dogs don’t recognize boundaries and when what ever is stuck up a tree is good enough, neither do hunters.

    • commonweeder
    • 9th November 2016

    I live in a rural area where hunting is a popular sport, and I am very glad of it. If one is going to eat meat, and I do, I don’t see the difference between killing a cow and a deer, except the deer is not a sure thing. I agree that factory farms are a bigger moral problem than deer hunting. I also know that deer hunters are usually conservationists and I know that I need hunters to make some attempt at keeping the large deer herds under control. Hooray for hunters.

    • Kate
    • 10th November 2016

    I am also a vegetarian of 30 years, and I am a strong supporter of hunting. However, our land is now posted after someone stopped a truck right in front of our house, jumped out and fired a RIFLE right towards our neighbors house! Every year around here someone gets shot while sitting in their living room watching football.
    While most hunters are responsible, there are too many who don’t respect how far their firearms reach, and pay no attention to what is around them other than the animal they see.

    • bonnie
    • 14th November 2016

    Timing of this posting is amazing. I just finished a book by Dan O’Brian, “Buffalo for the Broken Heart” about the relative effects of cattle and buffalo on plains ecosystems. I’d be more enthusiastic about deer meat were it not for the BSE issue. Wild buffalo meat (not produced via the feedlot model) is an interesting alternative.

    • El
    • 14th November 2016

    Well, you don’t need to learn to use a gun, Michele: I have given permission to bow hunters a couple of times now to use our property. Bow (whether the regular bow/arrow thing or a crossbow) is both silent and has its own season in our state. It seems a much saner method, frankly, than baiting a path and then shooting the poor buggers from a tree. But whatever. Control does seem to be key. Michigan is the #3 state for deer:car accidents and frankly that is one lousy way to control the things!

    • lifeshighway
    • 15th November 2016

    We have a decent hunting program in our state but miscalculations have been made.
    Bucks were hunted for years with a limited doe season. What did this do? Why it created more deer. A buck can service quite a lot of does. This year our wildlife program is limiting the buck season and extending the doe season. Hopefully this will help the situation. I am more comfortable with a deer hunted and used as meat than hunter for trophy antlers.

    • admin
    • 15th November 2016

    I think Bonnie means the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) issue, not the BSE issue. CWD is a transmissibel spongiform encephalopathy of cervids (deer and elk) but it is not the same disease as BSE. Hunters are actually an important part of CWD surveillance.

    • John
    • 15th November 2016

    You don’t need to be the hunter, just the venison eater. Deer hunters usually have plenty of extra meat at the end of the season (often donated to charity). Befriend a hunter and your freezer will be full. I offer to help with the butchering since actually pulling the trigger is just to hard unless the deer was attacking me and I needed to defend myself.

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