#23 The Dilemma

Sunday, November 14, 2010

As a Quaker I grew up believing in nonviolence and that guns don’t solve anything. The acreage next to where I grew up was owned by the local gun club. Except for a few weeks out of the year, it was Rachel’s and mine to roam and explore. But when the men started wearing their camouflage and neon orange jackets and hats, we knew it was time to stay closer to home.

A number of my Quaker friends were vegetarian, as an extension of their nonviolence beliefs. In college I learned more about a proper vegetarian diet and enjoyed the cafeteria’s vegetarian offerings. That was the start of fourteen years of consciously choosing to not eat the flesh of a living being. Initially, vegetarianism was a conscious and spiritual choice. The more I learned and lived as a vegetarian, the more I learned about the health benefits that it offered; especially to those of us, myself included, who are of the A blood type.

The end of those fourteen years came with a trip to Europe for three weeks. I knew that I would have a difficult time getting a well balanced vegetarian diet. Having had some malabsorption problems in prior years, I knew that my body would need consistent protein due to the demands that traveling would put on it. Again I made a conscious choice. This time it was to take care of my body by again eating chicken, fish, seafood and other animal meats. I severely limited my red meat consumption, because of not digesting it well, not overtly caring for the taste and for its lack of being generally healthy. My body appreciated not being deprived of proper nutrition. The trip to Europe was very enjoyable, especially some of the wonderful meals we had.

Back home, at that time in Wisconsin with my second husband, I continued to eat meat (still refraining from red meat) as a convenience. It was easier to prepare one meal for both of us that satisfied his O blood type needs (good quality animal proteins on a consistent basis) rather than make him eat vegetarian or make one meal for him and one for me. Since then, eating meat has continued to be a conscious choice.

Even after I started eating meat I would tease a good friend of mine and photography buddy about his annual trek to the north Wisconsin woods with his step-father to go hunting. I would try to razz him by calling him “Bambi killer.” That really didn’t faze him. We’d talk about it and why he would go hunting. For him it was more of a reason to spend some male-bonding time with his step-father and be out in nature. It wasn’t a trophy expedition. And if they got a deer they enjoyed the meals it provided.

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I don’t remember what it was, but Hugh made a comment this summer that made me ask “Do you own any guns?”

“Sure,” was his simple and straight forward reply. I was taken aback a little by this. I was a little shocked that he owned guns. Although I knew he had lived in rural areas for decades, I was well aware of how much he did not like violence, such as in books or movies. I was also a little upset knowing that there were guns in the house, as I had grown up not believing in their use.

It is not that I had never owned or shot a gun before. I took a hand gun safety course about twenty years ago when my first husband insisted on getting a hand gun and rifle for “safety” reasons. At the time we were building a cabin in a very rural (and redneck) area of Missouri. We were “outsiders” and he didn’t feel entirely safe on the property alone. This didn’t sit well with me as a reason to buy a gun, but there was no talking him out of it. So the best thing for me to do was to educate myself and learn how to properly use it. The safety course I took involved target shooting with a variety of calibers – along with the .38 we owned, I was able to shoot a 9 mm and a .45. I enjoyed the challenge and sport of the target shooting. As it turned out I was a decent shot.

Ironically enough, about a couple years later I was called for jury duty. Each potential juror had to relinquish any newspaper or radio they had with them. The selected jury would be sequestered as it was an unusual trial for Madison, WI – a college student had been shot and murdered near campus. When each one of us was called for questioning we were asked if we had ever owned or used a hand gun. Yes, I had owned and used a gun. I have always wondered how much that played into my being selected for being sequestered for a week.

Hugh explained that the rifles were for hunting and the muzzle loader was from when he did pre-1830s reenactments, years ago. When he lived in Indiana he would occasionally put food on the table by killing deer, squirrel, and even muskrats that were being true down and outright pests. As he told me this it assured me that he wasn’t a trophy hunter or gun fanatic; but just a practical way to reduce the grocery bill.

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Our friend and neighbor on the north end of Shelter Island, Larry had given us some venison in the summer, as I had never had it before. It was tasty. This summer the DNR fined Larry for having his two deer blinds on state land. They had innocently been placed on the wrong side of the property line. So we helped Larry move two deer blinds and Larry and Hugh talked about going deer hunting together in the fall. In early September the conversation came around to me asking Hugh, “Are you going deer hunting this year?” Larry wouldn’t be coming up this fall due to obligations keeping him home in Detroit.

“I’m thinking about it,” Hugh replied. I knew this was his soft spoken way of saying yes. He already had his deer hunting license and knew that having venison in a freezer would be a financial help this winter.

I completely understood the need to eat as cheaply as possible. Hugh hasn’t had work at the saw mill much since July. I was going to be starting a practice in Drummond, but there was no guarantee as to its success and income, especially as the summer tourists had all migrated south. He had been putting “meat” on the table since spring by fishing. Sooner or later the fish would leave the bay and ice would take their place. Without fish to supplement the store bought chicken and pork and salted country ham, our grocery bill would increase. I am always amazed at meat’s percentage of cost of the groceries. Having a deer, or two, in the freezer would certainly help.

I have consistently tried to be involved in every thing that goes is done on here on Shelter Island. I’ve learned how to drive the boats, handle dock lines, and drive the tractor. With Hugh, I’ve logged trees for firewood and gone rock picking to enlarge the breakwaters. I’ve helped operate the wood splitter and brought in wood, cooking meals on the wood cookstove. I’ve driven the boat and hauled in the fish. I’ve hauled 5 gallon gas cans to and from town to fuel the boat and generator. I’ve done laundry in the wringer washer.

Being here on Shelter Island is amazingly beautiful. The incredibleness of this life is realizing how much of it you create yourself. The heat from the stove is warmer because I know which tree the log came from. The fish is tastier because I know when it was caught. The sunlight is more spectacular because I know that it provides us light at night to read by from the solar panels and batteries.

I’ve done everything on this island that I can to learn, to help and to be self-sufficient. This was never an intentional goal, but just something that I inherently knew that I need to do as part of living here. Hugh continually hears from me “Can I help?” I ask because I want to be of genuine help as well as to learn. I was now faced with a dilemma.

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There are very few things that I never thought I would do in my life. One of them is I never thought I hunt. But, part of living here now meant bringing in meat for the table; literally. Hugh would be fine going hunting by himself, I knew. But with Larry not there, he’d be very happy for the company in the deer blind on that cold November morning. Then when he would kill our deer, he’d need to field dress it (aka gut it) there in the woods and drag it out. Larry had said we could hang it to cure in his garage. But it’s a good twenty minute walk, on a nice day. I didn’t want Hugh to have to drag it back to Larry’s all by himself, which is at least a half a mile.

If I wanted to maintain my involvement with all that happens here, this meant that I would have to go hunting with him. I’d have to look that deer he/we were about to kill in the face. Look at an animal that I’ve often thought of as “cute with their big, soft brown eyes” knowing full well that in a moment it would be dead. It’s mate, would be without her buck. (Fortunately deer don’t mate for life, nor are the bucks involved in rearing their offspring.) Could I really do this? All of my 42 years I have condemned senseless acts of violence. I have never believed in killing for sport. But this was different.

So if I were to go with Hugh to keep him company and help handle the deer carcass, why should my participation stop there? Being fully involved actually included getting a license myself and taking up a rifle to kill a deer myself. This would mean I’d become a “Bambi killer.”

When we talked about buying a chest freezer to hold the venison and me accompanying him we talked about me hunting also. It made no difference to him and yet he seemed pleased that I would be fully joining him in putting food on the table. I told him that I wanted him to teach me about the rifles and let me do some target practice. I had shot a hand gun, but that had been twenty years ago. I didn’t want to blow it by learning on the spot.

Yesterday, even thought it was grey and cold, I asked him to teach me. We took the .22 out to the flat rock by the wood pile. We didn’t have any tin cans to plink, so we used a half gallon milk jug and a 12 ounce water bottle for targets. Hugh drew two bulls-eyes on one side of the jug and a single one on a second side of the jug. After a few shots, some misses and some hits, I remembered a trick – aim, hold my breath then slowly pull (not jerk) the trigger. (This is also done with photography, when hand holding a camera to eliminate hand shake.) Time and again, from about 25 yards I hit my target, although not always but frequently in the bulls-eye. Even with a number of misses, it didn’t take long for both the water bottle and milk jug to be peppered with holes. I was assured that my aim was still good. Hugh was pleased.

After a hearty and warm lunch of homemade lentil, barley and ham soup, Hugh showed me the rifles we’d be hunting with on Monday. The .22 was too small to take down a deer. We’d be using his .30-30 and his .306 with a scope. He told me that for both, the trigger pull is stronger and has a bigger kick in the recoil. They also were both heavier than the easy to handle .22. Hugh assured me they wouldn’t be very difficult to handle with a place to rest the barrel, such as in the deer blind. I have confidence that I can handle the rifle(s). And I’m sure I’ll be able to hit my target. But will I be able to pull the trigger?

Last night at dinner I told Hugh, “If I tell you ‘Take the shot’ I mean that I want you then and there to take the shot. Please don’t try to talk me through the emotions of killing a deer. Take the shot; I rather have you take the shot and put it in the freezer than it get away.”

“Just keep thinking about roasts and steaks.” He replied.

I never thought I would be going hunting, let alone to ask for good thoughts be sent our way that we “bag” (aka kill) two bucks tomorrow, Monday November 15 on opening day of rifle season. In the early hours of morn, we’ll bundle up to the 40 degree weather and walk off the island. It will be about a 30 minute walk with our gear (rifles, knives, rope, etc. along with snacks for us and apples for deer bait) to Larry’s then it’s another 20 minutes to the deer blind. It doesn’t matter if we get one of the 8 or 10 point bucks that have been sited in the area. We just want meat in the freezer this winter.

Tonight though, in a few hours we’ll be heading into town. Tonight is the annual Hunter’s Dinner at one of the local churches. It’s a fundraiser and a social event for all, especially the hunters – local and from below the bridge. It will be a good way to meet more folks here on Drummond who could use my bodywork services. It will also be the next step of this new aspect of my life – deer hunter. But before we leave I have some gear to pack to be ready before the light of dawn.

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About juliemckaycovert

I am a therapist, teacher, photographer and published author. I am a lover of life and nature. My husband, Hugh, and I live off the grid on a remote 40 acre island, Shelter Island, just off of Drummond Island in the far eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This blog is about my life, a life I thought I'd never be able to live. This blog is about dreams and ideals being manifested. It is about daily events with a backwoods twist. It is about the simple pleasures and wonders being brought forth. I invite you to be inspired and even, as some friends have, live vicariously through my words.
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