‘Noble’ is knowing your animal, and knowing you’re an animal
Somehow there comes just a tinge of unease at the realization that one’s fondest memories are of the Killing Season. Maybe it is a sign of age. Maybe it is a sign of the times in which we live.
America is today an antiseptic, shrink-wrapped, environmentally disconnected world. At some level, everyone knows from where that McDonalds quarter-pounder comes, but nobody thinks about it.
God forbid that someone should admit they know their meat personally and enjoy killing it, actually enjoy killing it.
But sadly, life is about death. Death is the motor that drives every ecosystem. Without death, life on our blue planet would not exist. Meat quite possibly tastes so good because we are genetically hard-wired to understand this even as some try to intellectually distance themselves from the reality.
There is a bunch of people out there these days, who think it noble to avoid meat. I think it noble to kill your own, but maybe that’s because I love it. I’ve always loved it.
It is in the fall, in the fields and marshes that comes this true joy. I have killed so many animals I long ago lost count. And I have stopped killing some in recent years for reasons I don’t quite understand.
Big-game hunting in Alaska has become in many ways a rich man’s sport. The annual Kodiak deer hunts have fallen victim to cost. It is much the same for the caribou. Moose hunting, meanwhile, seems more like work than anything else, and besides the whitesocks in the fall on the Kenai Peninsula can be brutal.
As for the sheep hunting, well, most of the sheep hunting buddies have aged out of fitness or broken down or given up because they think I’m nuts. And, of course, I am nuts. Anyone who has spent a day in the swamps with dog and me knows that.
Lars and I share a passion – maybe even too much of it. The way the waterfowl season began this year it seemed that dog was catching almost as many ducks in the grass as I was shooting from the sky.
It is in his genes. His Labrador retriever nose directs a scent-seeking canine machine. It is almost as fun to watch him work as it to swing the shotgun and crumple the ducks he flushes from the tall grass. Yes, fun.
Hunting in Alaska circa 21st Century has become a muddled mess split between so-called subsistence and sport hunters, which makes it hard for most to even confess this anymore. There are subsistence hunters who claim “I don’t hunt for fun; I hunt to eat;’’ and sport hunters who come up with all sorts of reasons for what they do to try to avoid the accusation they somehow do hunt for fun.
It’s all a crock. I don’t know a hunter who doesn’t eat wild game, though surely one must exist. I really doubt there is anyone who hunts who doesn’t find it fun even in those moments of sadness that remind us of the simple brutality of the wild world where the fit and/or the lucky survive, and the unfit and/or unlucky die.
You would not be human if you did not sometimes feel for the animals that struggle valiantly only to perish in the end. I felt it for a crippled mallard that died after Lars made three laps around a small pond and almost caught it twice before it dove and disappeared. He did not quit. He’s like that.
He kept circling, knowing that if the duck emerged onto the edge of the pond again, he would find its scent. Instead, I spotted what appeared to be the head of a duck — just the head, and just barely the head — sticking above the water in the pond. At first, I could not quite believe what I was seeing, but when it dawned on me what it was, I shot it.
The carcass of a mallard floated to the surface as the blast echoed. Lars was on it and retrieving in a flash. He was happy as a Labrador in a marsh full of greenheads. I felt a little bad. I think that’s the age thing. I’ve known a lot of old hunters who gave up because they felt such a sadness. I have known a few who piously moved to some strange place where they think no one else should hunt.
I won’t be going there. I still love the hunt. It is the killing that falls short of quick and clean that sometimes bothers me, but I guess that is the thin line that separates the human animal from the other animals. And we will always remain animals no matter how we might try to cut ourselves off from the natural world. ◆