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A response to the death of an elk

Recently, a fellow parenting friend posted on Facebook about how he and his one year old daughter had just witnessed the death of an elk. Although the killing effected him and has since also affected me as I’ve spent the last almost week pondering this exchange between he and some of his friends about the situation. I also wanted to position an oppositional viewpoint as I grew up in a household of non-hunters yet I now find myself planning and working towards become a bow hunter so I can bring honest free range organic meat for my family’s dinner table. I’ve wanted to respond for sometime now, but just wasn’t exactly sure how to best put my words, so here goes:

Granted anytime an animal dies there is sadness, this issue is extremely complicated and more thought may need to be given to this topic. Instead of avoiding it, this is a perfect opportunity to have open dialog about what this all means and how each of us processes death for food.

First off, no one on this Facebook thread actually knew the hunter and know exactly what they went through to get to that exact point that they witnessed There is circumstantial evidence based on one’s own observations. The hours of scouting, tracking, and woodsmanship that may have gone into this hunt had happened long before the trigger was pulled.  Or maybe not. We just don’t know. Additionally. it could also appear that to take a shot into a herd of 30 elk, and dropping what possibly sounds like the herd bull elk in its tracks could also potentially be that of an expert marksman. To not harm any other animals in the herd and to thread that bullet to drop the elk that fast, does not seem clumsy to me. We also don’t know how many times this hunter had been out in the woods hunting this elk, this could have possibly been after many trips to the woods in a relatively short hunting season.

Secondly, for a person to chime in about the use of knives is ridiculous. There are hunts in Hawaii where people track wild hogs with dogs and then once they corner the animal they jump in with a large bowie knife and slit the throat of the hog. So in fact, it’s done. To me that doesn’t seem like a very humane way to take the life of another animal. It should be a quick kill. I’d actually be willing to bet that what this person was really wanting to discuss was the idea of “fair chase.”

Fair Chase Defined:
Fair chase is defined by most as a situation where the hunted is not put in a disadvantaged position and has a real chance to escape.
In the wild, this means you don’t shoot a moose when he is swimming across a lake, you don’t walk up to a caribou mired in the mud and shoot him and if you find two helpless locked-up bucks you do every thing you can to get them apart and let them escape unharmed.
Some extend the definition “fair chase” to not hunting over bait, food plots, watering holes or any other artificial means of concentrating wild animals. Others believe hunting islands, blind canyons or using natural terrain blockades isn’t fair chase either. Short of obeying state and federal fair chase game laws, the concept can get pretty gray pretty fast. Basically it is up to the individual hunter or club or organization to draw the fair chase line in the sand.
Wild animals in nature are always aware of their surroundings and the possibility of predators. Their flight-or-fight is always on alert. That is the reality of their environment. The human notion that if a one runs into a lion in Africa or a bear in the Pacific NW, it’s going to be able to feel remorse for attacking you is ludicrous. Ultimately, we too are animals, but with the ability of reason & rationalization. Both sides of the hunter vs hunted have a chance to win. The hunted animal can flee or attack and the hunter chooses when is the perfect opportunity to take a clean ethical quick kill shot. It’s not a free-for-all in the woods.
My last point would be to all those who commented on the original post, as I’d like to see how many of them would admit that they are actually omnivores and eat meat too, even if on occasion? It would seem that they prefer to get their meat from either their grocery store butcher or from their local farmer and let them do the dirty work of killing their food versus taking their own responsibility for what they choose to eat. I do know that the original poster is a vegetarian and I totally respect that. Yes, there is less blood on a vegetarian’s hands than those of a meat eater. It should be known that animals die so other’s can eat, even if you choose to eat veggies. They just might be smaller animals like field mice, rabbits, moles, etc. They can get chewed up in a tractor or a combine as a farmer is clearing a field (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=97836&page=1). In his book, The Mindful Carnivore, author Tovar Cerulli mentions:
“In my latter days as a vegan, I was shocked to learn how many whitetails are killed by farmers. Considering that deer were being shot to bring us tofu, how vegetarian were our stir-fries? Considering that they were even being shot to bring us greens and strawberries from the organic farm just down the road, how vegetarian were any of our meals?” (http://www.tovarcerulli.com/2011/03/deer-part-of-every-stew-every-salad-every-stir-fry/)

This too is a fact of nature, so as you see it’s not that there are a shortage of complete morons in this world there are those who consider and accept the ramifications of their actions for sourcing their own food and realize it is more complicated issue than just a quip on Facebook.

On the range…finally

The great fervor of new activities and interests sparks not only my imagination but is a constant assault on my being. The decision to arrive to archery with the intention of bowhunting has been a journey. My obsession with eating quality food, the environmental impact of our current food production model has slowly led me to this point. I come from a family of non-hunters and I think when I shared this news specifically with my mother there was a hint of mild disbelief that I have what it takes to kill. She might be right and only I will know in that exact moment when I’m face to face with a wild game animal if I can release an arrow into flight. My father is one of those who thinks all wild animals taste ‘gamey’ so if and when the time comes for me to serve up some venison to him, I just won’t tell him and hope that I prepared the meat in the best way possible.

Two weeks ago I picked up my first ever bow, a Mission Riot. It’s the step up from the Craze yet fully adjustable in both the draw length and draw weight, so if my son ever decides that archery is something he wants to pursue when he gets older I can pass this along to him. A week after I brought my Riot home I headed out with my good friend, who is a bow hunter, to the range to begin the tuning and sighting in process on my bow. We set up on the range and I focused in on the 20yd target and started releasing arrows. My groupings for the most part where close together, but not dead center, so we started making adjustments…then the Cascadian rains started falling. We stayed out on the range for a bit longer, as thats the real conditions I may face in the field. Once I was throughly soaked I packed up and headed home to the family to celebrate my birthday.

Some things I learned on the range:
1. I expected my right arm, which is my draw arm to be more tired than my left and in fact my left arm, bow holding arm, was more fatigued. Near the end of my practice session my 20 yard pin was really floating around and I found myself just waiting for the pin to cross over the bullseye and then I released the arrow. Which I now realize is not smart, so I will be working on that when I’m on the range.
2. I struggle to see the arrow in flight, and in my state lighted nocks are illegal in a hunting situation. Therefore I want to learn to follow through with my arrows without the illuminated nock. Any tips on how to ‘see’ the arrow in flight is welcomed.
3. The point of trigger release is unexpected and surprising to me. I’m betting that it’s like driving a stick shift the first time, it’ll just take time with the bow to find that moment when the arrow is fired. I just need to put more time in on the range.
4. Finding the proper mechanics of holding the bow, lining up to my anchor point and releasing the trigger is still awkward and surprising, but a rush too, so I realize that this is just going to take time on the range. I’m in a period of knowledge and learning and this is all very exciting.

I’m lucky that there are about 5 ranges within a 45min drive of my home, so over time I’m sure I’ll go to check them all out and see what other shooting situations I can put myself into. In the meantime, I am going to spend my attention on 20 yards and more specifically my mechanics and fundamentals of shooting.

The Mindful Carnivore Review

“Hunting brings us into close contact with land and animals. Approached with humility, such contact can help us recall our place in the natural world, reminding us to celebrate all those lives intertwined with ours. Approached with arrogance, it only alienates us further.”

The mere act of eating flesh can be a difficult choice for many. The decision is rife with emotions and rationalizations and any individual who puts any thought into their food chain and ultimately its source is forced to deal with the conflict. Author, Tovar Cerulli, shares his personal experience how he chose to tackle this dilemma head on in his newly released book The Mindful Carnivore. As a devout vegan for a decade he now finds himself stalking the woods in search of his own grass fed organic meat for his family’s dinner table.

Tovar’s tone through the entire book does not come across as preachy doctrine. To me it feels as though we are sitting by a campfire, maybe sharing in a whiskey having a  conversation about what it means to hunt and fish. He shares his personal journey with his trials and tribulations and how he reached such a decision to take up hunting while accepting the consequences associated with those decisions.

“If my existence was going to take a toll on other beings, I would rather exact that toll consciously, respectful, swiftly — and for the specific purpose of eating. I could make a deeper peace with intentional harm, with the kill I had prepared for and chosen.”

After finishing this book I was surprised as I thought it would help me to answer some of my own questions as I reflect on my omnivorous behavior. The reality is that hunting is complicated and his prose presents his own personal reflections which actually opens up further questions for myself. As I look toward the future and I take up bow hunting as what Tovar describes as ‘Adult Onset’ I wonder what my reaction will be in the field as I take the life of another living animal in the name of food. I’ve learned after reading The Mindful Carnivore that intention in the woods must be clear and to respect both the animal and your shot. Never falter on your skills and ability and be completely honest with yourself as to where your draw those lines.

For more information, please visit Tovar Cerulli’s blog: www.tovarcerulli.com

My Quest for Meat

The long downward demise of our food system is not only a disgrace, but also rather alarming. Catastrophic decisions have been made in how our nation farms both for produce and meat. The nutritional value of produce has dramatically decreased over the years due to pesticide usage. Produce and meat recalls no longer shock society and are becoming more and more normal. Hormone’s, such as RBsT, are changing how our children develop and obesity/diabetes among Americans is now reaching critical levels. None of this should be new news, I believe we are all ‘aware’ of it. Authors such as Upton Sinclair, Rachel Carson, Steven Rinella, Hank Shaw, Tovar Cerulli, Novella Carpenter and Michael Pollan have lamented on this subject over the years. The question I ask myself, is how can I affect change in my life and with my family to eat healthier and more sustainably — not just organic?

 

My thoughts on this subject have been caught in a mental wave pool since 2005. These thoughts are always near the forefront of my mind but they fluctuate back and forth and there really is no escape or outlet. The more I contemplate the status quo the greater I find a massive internal paradigm shift. I want to be mindful about what I put into my body and how I care for my body so that I can live a long healthy life with those that I love.

 

In this light, I am choosing to start bow hunting. There are numerous reasons that I’ve arrived at this decision. Those mentioned previously, but more specifically I want to be completely honest with myself as to where my meat comes from. Wild game is truly free range, and grass fed lean meat. Can I look the animal in the eyes, take his life, and then later serve him on my dinner table? I will choose which animal to harvest, and I will be responsible for placing my kill shot as merciful as possible. This is a great responsibility that I will take seriously. In bow hunting the great challenge is achieving close proximity to your target. Typically bow range is less than 50 yards requiring great skill and patience, therefore in my mind leveling the playing field. It is not the ‘thrill of the kill’ that I look forward too, if it was all about the ‘thrill of the kill’ then I probably would have a job at a slaughterhouse where I could fulfill that thrill. People may wonder how can you kill a defenseless animal? They are not defenseless, the environment of the wild and laws of nature are based on a lifecycle of predator vs prey. Comments regarding how hunting is bad seem like an oxymoron — especially if said from those who choose to get their meat from a supermarket. Those animals are defenseless; they live in jam-packed fenced pens and are force fed grains with growth hormones so they can get fat and ready for slaughter. Ultimately, the large agra-business model, puts value on getting to market as fast as possible and less on quality. Equality in the wild does not exist, as man is only king of the food chain in the supermarket.

 

Hunting provides an opportunity for humans to face mortality and realize that death is not an abstraction, but rather a condition of living. Urban life has separated us from wild places, numbed our senses to death and further distancing our understanding of food sources. Therefore, our emotional awareness and our own actions of sourcing food have been anesthetized even though the end product still supports death. The cognitive disconnect between cellophane wrapped choices at the butcher counter and the process it took for that meat to arrive to that counter should be a considered by anyone who choose to eat meat. I am choosing to have a visceral participation in the wild, not just as a tourist, but as a way to provide food for my family.

 

In this day and age, our food cost will only continue to rise. The current large agricultural model is based on food miles and with the skyrocketing price of oil it is just a given that we will be paying more for the continued decline of quality food down the road. I’m looking to try and break free from the current model and institute a sense of independence. As a man who was raised in a non-hunting household, I have not taken this decision lightly. It’s been almost 2 years of investigating, thinking and processing emotions on the ideology of hunting that I’ve come to this. I say all of this as I’m not necessarily looking for approval, maybe a bit of understanding, but more importantly I deeply believe that we should all examine and question our sources of food both individually and collectively and make thoughtful decisions on how we choose to fuel our lives and our families.