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The other night my beloved called me upstairs to the main floor of our house to show me something outside. I looked out the window to see a five-point buck deer, not ten feet away, staring back at us with curiosity. I said to my wife “If only I had a rifle, the creature would have nothing to fear from me.” I couldn’t hit a bullet with the broadside of a barn.
Not that I haven’t tried. After all, if you live in Montana hunting is practically mandatory, especially for men and boys. Hunters generally think of non-hunters as less masculine than they ought to be, and nobody wants to be labeled a sissy. So, I started hunting when I was fourteen, seeing it as more of a duty than a profitable form of recreation.
We did most of our hunting in the Missouri breaks, a beautiful and rugged territory filled with wildlife. Before I was of legal age, I’d gone on hunts just for the fun of it. What I quickly discovered was that hunting was misery and I treated it as a form of penance. My two older brothers loved it, but I couldn’t see the benefits. Nonetheless, to self-ostracize would have been a tacit admission that I was some sort of girly-man.
So off I’d go, hoping that at least the food dad cooked over a campfire would compensate for the suffering to come. It didn’t work out that way. During the day we walked up and down the coolies in search of our prey. The outcome was generally nugatory. The deer knew all the good hiding spots. Truth be told I was rooting for the deer, not because I was a PETA-type. I’m just lazy, and when someone got a deer it meant dragging it to the truck, usually parked a mile away from the kill-zone. Maybe I should have rejoiced in these rare opportunities to do something that required muscle power, but I suffered from chronic laziness and had exactly zero desire to inflict pain upon my flabby body.
Then one day, while armed with a Winchester 30-30 lever-action carbine pop gave me as wages for helping re-model our house, I had the chance to redeem myself. It was mid-afternoon and we’d spent most of the day trudging up and down the coolies, only to come up empty. Then, as I stood alone trying to catch my breath, a little doe came meandering up a ravine a mere ten or so feet from me. I took aim—and missed. I again keyed in on the animal, fired, and missed again. I fired four more times and on the last shot a hit—in the hoof. The deer collapsed writhing. I ran up to finish it off. After reloading I stood three feet away, fired at the doe’s head, and missed. I fired again and again and missed again and again. Finally, my cousin Chris walked up and killed the hapless animal with his nine-millimeter pistol. I’m guessing the doe stood at the gates of deer heaven laughing her guts out. I was embarrassed, of course, but at that moment I resolved to never hunt again.
It was clear to me that I was the mirror image of Elmer Fudd, the long-suffering hunter of “wabbits,” particularly Bugs Bunny, who always gets the best of the idiot Fudd.
Over the years, I’ve twice broken my vow to never hunt again. Once when I was twenty and went out with my younger brother in search of white tail. For some reason my shooting skills had improved. I fired at a deer about four hundred yards away. The bullet landed between its legs and he hurried out of the area. I was duly proud of myself for nearly bagging the critter—and relieved. I didn’t have the drag the thing to the truck,
The second time was thirty years ago when my younger brother and I took my eight-year-old nephew to the breaks. The wind was howling like a hurricane. You couldn’t stand outside for more than a minute because it was impossible to breathe. Plus, the deer– showing IQs a hundred points higher than ours–hid in the coolie bottoms, out of the wind. I did take a shot at a deer walking up the side of a coolie about five hundred yards away. My nephew was anxious for someone to fire. I missed, but not, I think, because of my lousy skills, but because the bullet got maybe a foot out of the barrel and blew into the next county.
I’ve learned a great lesson from my hapless efforts at hunting: It’s great if you love it, and useless toil if you hate it.Published in