I am a public land hunter. I always have been; I always will be. However, for the passed month I've been hunting on private land. I almost feel ashamed to say it... almost.
When I got invited to hunt private land I felt a mix of emotions. I was excited but also concerned that it would be too easy. I am not interested in shooting deer off of a feeder or a bait pile. The land I have been hunting is an honest to goodness soybean field and a swampy, boggy area behind it. Actually, I've hunted out there a few times now and still have yet to have a deer come by my stand. I enjoy experiencing some failure; having to reevaluate and come up with different strategies makes hunting, hunting.
Last night's hunt ended with gunfire. My friend killed a small buck. We found the downed deer as the evening light faded, he was in that swampy area behind the soybean field. The best thing to do was drag him to the truck which was less than a mile away. It was a strange experience for me. Since we were't field dressing him (my friend's butcher prefers to dress the animal) we had to literally drag the deer. It felt so disrespectful to do this, however, pragmatically, it was the fastest, most efficient way to get the deer back to the truck.
I am not a religious man, but I believe in a karmic spirituality of sorts. The Innu of the Quebec-Labrador Peninsula believe that animal masters control game and will allow further hunting success if the hunter is ethical and shows respect to the animals he kills. That really resonates with me and not because I want to continue to have success. It's a privilege to be a hunter. It's not a right, I don't believe that we have dominion over animals; humans and animals are a like part of nature.
Dragging that buck, I felt like I was doing a disservice to the animal. When I got to the truck I knelt down next to the deer and apologized; I reassured him that he would feed two families and that his death is not taken lightly.
I didn't make any photographs of last night's success even though there were some beautiful shots to be had. I could have made the trophy photo for my friend with a lovely deep violet sky illuminated by a crescent moon. I could have made a shot at the butcher's with three hanging deer, warm, incandescent light and the deep red blood on the wet concrete floor. A small part of me will think about that scene at the butcher's and half regret not making the photo. However, a larger part of me knows that, that photograph would convey the opposite of my feelings about the situation. It would not have shown respect to the deer. And while I did drag him to the truck, immortalizing him hung up in a photograph for anyone to see, I feel, is a far worse offense.