Hunting Mule Deer

The author offers advice for new mule deer hunters, and reflects on the nature of hunting in the modern world.

| November/December 1989

At the meat market recently, my attention was captured by a tank containing a dozen or so live lobsters. Their claws were bound with rubber bands; their world reduced to plastic, glass, and a few gallons of stale water; their fate—to be purchased, carted off in a bag, and tossed into a pot of boiling water. My heart went out to these hapless creatures. From the lobster tank, my thoughts wandered to the slaughterhouse, to the poultry factory, to the fetid veal pen, and to various other grisly commercial operations that provide the civilized world with its meat.

And then I thought of deer hunting. By comparison, a natural and marvelous arrangement—for the hunter, and, as I hope to show, for the hunted as well.

Of course, as vegans are quick to point out, the human animal does not need meat, in a biological sense, to survive. So true. In fact, for a couple of years in the mid-'70s, while living on the West Coast, I was a vegetarian myself and enjoyed excellent physical health. Still, at dinnertime, something vital, even primal, seemed to be—well, missing.  

Then one night shortly after moving to the rural Rocky Mountains, I was offered meat at the home of a new acquaintance. Wild meat—the cleanest, leanest, most healthful meat there is. I accepted gracefully and ate voraciously. Next thing I knew, I was enjoying meat on a regular basis again, meat I earned by hunting the elusive but abundant deer.

By the early 1900s, due to habitat lost to settlement and the commercial slaughter of millions of deer, primarily for their hides, America's total deer population was down to a scant half million. It was sport hunters who sounded the first alarm, calling for stiff protective laws and special taxes on hunting and hunting-related goods, taxes earmarked for funding wildlife restoration, management, and habitat protection programs. Our deer, elk, wild turkey, and black bear were saved, as were many other creatures, both those hunted for their meat and those who thrill us all with their beauty, grace, and songs.

But hunting involves killing—what of the killing?

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