At Leafhopper Farm, most of our meat is domestically raised on site, from chicken and ducks, to goat and sheep. In the Fall, there is a special time, for two weeks in mid October, in which I have the privilege to hunt. This ancient practice is very controversial for many today, and I wanted to take a moment to share personal experience to bring perspective to this tradition and its place in our world today.
First, it is clear that here in The United States, we allow people the privilege to hunt. It is not a right, and that’s important to remember. We as states, vote to allow hunting, and the voices in favor of hunting are fading in the face of urbanization and a decline in hunting tradition. I was not raised a hunter in my family, and did not know of any one in my family who hunted. Fishing was shared with me by my father and maternal grandfather, so I received passionate instruction in casting a lure to harvest fish from lakes in the south where I was brought up.
There are pictures of a maternal great-great grandfather who hunted deer, but I never met him. I was also not brought up around firearms, as my mother was not comfortable with them, and certainly not interested in having them in the hands of her children. When I did start learning gun safety, it was with my father, as he did have a modest collection of firearms, and wanted my brother and I to understand safety. This is something I wish all people would do, especially with children. I’m not saying put a high powered rifle into the hands of a five year old, but certainly show it to them, discuss proper handling, and explain why guns are not toys.
As a hunter education instructor for the state of Washington, I see hundreds of people coming to take our required class before getting a hunting permit. Many of our students are taking the class, not because they want to hunt, but because they think firearm safety is important, and want to learn how to be proactive in understanding guns and how to properly handle them. Our number one goal in hunter education is safety, and that’s what we teach.
Here in Washington, there is still a very healthy hunting culture, and it’s led by women! Yes, women are the fastest growing demographic to hunting, across the nation. As a woman, I celebrate this statistic, and greatly encourage my sisters to step into their huntress energy. It’s great to see women out in the woods enjoying the practice of hunting, specifically harvesting wild foods. It is like nothing else, to find food out in the wild and bring in home. There’s a pride there, and a fulfillment I have not matched in any other activity.
This year, I took the time to approach a neighbor about hunting on their land. I’ve next door for over five years, and had been watching lovely looking bucks walk through to the neighboring fields. Finally, I plucked up the courage to ask, and had a wonderful exchange with my neighbors, who are older, but used to hunt. Diana and her husband George have lived in our neighborhood the longest, having moved up Big Rock Rd. when it was still dirt in the 60s. They joke that at the time, they thought themselves sequestered far enough from Seattle to avoid the development that would come. Well, they were wrong, and now seem a little stunned at the growth still popping up around them (last year the lot directly across from them was developed).
The two were very encouraging of my endeavor to harvest a buck, and Diana (what an appropriate name!) Asked that when I was successful, she would like some of the meat and the opportunity to come work the hide of the animal with me. For those wondering, working a hide means to tan it from skin to leather, a process more often done commercially today with heavy chemical treatments. I prefer to tan hides organically, with wood ash and brains, that’s right, brains. You can also use dove soap if you’re short on brains. 😉
For three days I stalked the fields of my neighbors, looking for the right place to sit and wait, watching many does walk through, but never seeing the illusive bucks. In October, deer change their habits and shift into nocturnal activity. It’s hard to “catch” a deer out during the day, and the best time is when its raining. Luckily, this last weekend saw a lot of rain, and I was lucky enough to find my buck.
The feeling of harvesting this beautiful creature right near my own home was such an honor. Not only had I seen this deer many times, but I knew he had eaten from the land I steward, and most likely been born of does who also feast on the landscape. It’s a beautiful cycle, and one I am proud to be a part of.
This two point buck will feed me and my neighborhood of friends for the winter, allowing us a wild source of protein and rich flavor. The buck was a gift, and I spent time every day as I hunted in gratitude for the deer nation and our sacred relationship with this animal. I asked for support of ancestors, and smudged with sage to clear my spirit for the ritual of each hunt. There is intention in my quest for wild food, it’s about eating, not sport, and I think that’s important to stress in this story. Whatever buck walked out would be harvested. Many people today think hunting is about scoring a trophy, and for some hunters, that is true.
My mentors taught me hunting is a sacred act, not a show of prowess. This buck came to me and offered its self. I asked for the chance to seek wild food, and nature made an offer. It is not easy to find and harvest a deer. It takes time, patience, and a lot of luck to be honest. I happened to walk into a clearing at just the right moment to see the buck step out for a clean shot. It was close, and I was ready. Mindset is so important, to stay calm, slow, and focused. The act of taking life is sacred, weather cutting a crop or shooting a dear, the act of taking life should be intentional and direct, with humble thanks.
The deer had an honorable death to feed us. I am grateful for the chance to eat this venison, to have the experience of hunting in my own backyard. This is a freedom many will never know. Most of the rest of the world has very restrictive hunting laws, if hunting is even allowed. Public land is not often available, even here in America. The U.S. has more public land and hunting access then anywhere else in the world, and most of us never realize this fact. It’s such a blessing! This is another reason hunting is so important to me; it gives me access to land, time in the wild, and eyes in the woods. I’ve grown closer to the land and built on the relationship with my neighbors. I have a close relationship with the deer too. All of these relationships hold me in good stead.
I hope that by talking about why hunting is important, I can encourage others to take up this privilege and harvest more wild food. Another aspect of hunting is conservation. When you buy guns and ammunition, a portion of the proceeds go to the state to support conservation of land for future hunting. Hunting is the only recreational activity which funds stewardship of place on a state and national level. The money goes to buying more land for public use, restoration projects to improve habitat for the animals (not just the ones being hunted), and education to further safe hunting practices. It also funds the biologists in the field studying habitat and animal welfare. What other recreational sport can claim the same? By investing in hunting, we invest in the land, animals, and each other’s future. This is conservation, and it’s having a lasting good effect on wilderness around the country. Please join me in learning more about the benefits of hunting, and how to engage in wild food harvesting for your own larder.