By Hank Shaw
On a day not so long ago, I sat on a cooler in a meadow at dawn. Hot coffee in hand, I drew breath on what was to be my final morning of a weeklong deer hunt with my friend Steve. In a few hours I’d pile back into my truck and return to the world of pavement and steel and glowing computer screens. But for the moment, all was quiet. Steve was fast asleep in his tent, and the slightest of breezes set the fading oak leaves to murmuring amongst themselves.
My lazy gaze settled on a pair of ears, bobbing through the suede grass of an adjoining field. It’s Mr. Jack, I thought. And then Mr. Jack was joined by Mrs. Jack. Or perhaps they were brother and sister, or maybe sisters or brothers both. I have no idea. But what I do know is that these jackrabbits clearly enjoyed each other’s company, and were unreservedly relaxed as they hopped toward our campsite.
Soon they were less than 10 yards from sleeping Steve. I found myself beaming as I watched these two hares casually going about their business, having a good time; I rarely get to see two jackrabbits interacting with each other. It felt like I was being given a gift.
And then one stopped and looked directly at me. Without thought, I waved hello. And while Mr. Jack did not exactly wave back, he did cock one ear in my direction before continuing on his way – every bit as casually as he and his friend/lover/sibling had been before they’d seen me.
I sipped my coffee and watched them amble out of sight. It was a lovely way to start a morning.
But you should know something: I kill and eat jackrabbits. In fact, just two days prior, I had stalked, shot, killed, skinned, gutted and cooked one. Could it have been a friend or relative of these two jackrabbits? And how is it that I can feel such pure joy in both the act of watching animals and in hunting them?
I feel a deep kinship with the animals I hunt; most hunters do. We get to know them in a far deeper way than all but a few other sorts of human: We know their personalities, their foibles, their habits. Where they like to live, what they like to eat, and what they might do in any given situation. Yet most of us take delight in being fooled when a deer or rabbit shows us some new quirk of their behavior. Hunt any animal long enough and it ceases to be the Disneyfied caricature of itself most people know and blossoms into a clever, free-thinking entity – an entity not so different from us.
My mind settled onto this seeming paradox the way a leaf settles onto the forest floor. Sitting in this meadow, in this place, as a hunter and a human animal, it felt serenely right in a way I find wildly incapable of explaining to those who have not experienced the same feeling.
This feeling lies beneath rational thought, and no attempt to reduce it to reason can capture it accurately; a picture of the ocean is not the ocean. However, one piece of this feeling centers on the fundamental fact that to live on planet Earth something else must die. It has been so for more than 600 million years. No animal, from an amoeba to the girl next door, can exist without making a mark upon this planet. Dealing death is the business of life.
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