Hunting Season

Summer’s almost gone. A part of me now rouses itself from its hibernation. The weather has yet to cool but already I can feel this primal thing inside me warming my blood. The fever will be coming on soon.

There are others out there who know this thing like I do, especially in Oklahoma.  There are others still who will never understand the thrill of the hunt like this.

I can already almost taste the crisp, silent air that comes in the black morning hours before sunrise. I will step as quietly as I can into the woods. I’ll weave through the forest guided by instinct alone beneath the light of the moon, hearing the forest creeping and alive around me as I take my place — this place where I will wait in stillness, allowing this great ancient thing for which there are no words to permeate through me. My mind and my soul will quiet and if on that day I am blessed, as dawn breaks, I will hear the sound.

From far off at first the sound will drift to my ears, a rustling so faint that I can’t be sure whether it’s real or merely a trick of the mind. On the best days the sound is real. It will draw nearer and soon enough I may catch a glimpse. It moves so fluidly and sometimes so absolutely silently. The deer will appear at the corner of my vision like a ghost and disappear in an instant again through the trees. But if I am patient and I am silent, it will near.

My sluggish blood will begin to pump furiously through the veins and I will steady myself against the flood of adrenaline within me. I shall steady my aim, breathe in deeply, long and slow.

If it is meant to be, there is this moment of perfect clarity — perfect calm — enlightenment. I let my breath out soft and slow, leaving my lungs half full as I release my shot. The deer reacts from the shock of the broken silence. There is a moment when neither the deer or myself knows for certain if my shot has landed where I’d intended it. My aim is true but my equipment is rudimentary and temperamental. Even a split second of uncertainty feels like an eternity of worry and shame.

The deer may fall and I can at last free my breath. My body still shakes with the adrenaline of it. I have to steady myself first, then I can approach. I always come up slow and respectfully. The moments are strange, spiritual. I kneel beside the animal stoically. I put my hands in the fur and I can feel the recent presence of the life that’s now evacuated from the vessel and I say thank you.

This deer will help keep my family fed for many months. Mind, soul and body will take nourishment from this day.

I will know that the food I prepare for my loved ones was harvested from an animal that lived free. It did not live in fear or pain or seclusion. It was never constrained in bondage for transport or to maximize space and profitability upon some stinking feedlot. I know that it was fed from nature, not from an engineered diet of strange fillers and antibiotics. I will know how the meat was handled, kept and prepared. And I will know that the place from which I have taken this magnificent animal through my actions, will be preserved and kept wild so that my own sons might enjoy a moment like this some day.

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