When people find out that I am an avid hunter, the first thing they think about, after the shock wears off that I am a woman, is the killing. You know, being “out for blood”. I have been asked many times if I hate animals, and my reaction has typically been one of shock or confusion. If you know me personally, you know that I adore animals. Growing up we had pet dogs, cats, rabbits, pigeons, hamsters, a horse, mice, parakeets, fish, and even a tree frog at one point! All treated with incredible amounts of love, by a family of hunters.
My parents, my brother, and I have always had a soft spot for wild animals that were in need of help. My mom once rescued a fawn about to drown during a hurricane. We caught a Canadian goose one time behind our house because he was injured and took him to a rehab center. We always fed the wild songbirds, the ducks, the geese, even the deer that would come around; and we never “hunted” them because come on, how is that fair? My dad still, to this day, traps animals in his “have a heart” trap when they become a nuisance and relocates them. My housecat, Kitten, is a spoiled brat. So I guess, the short and long answer is no, I don’t hate animals at all.
To be frank, I always feel “bad” when I bag an animal in the woods. Not to say that I feel too bad, because let’s be real, the adrenaline I get in the woods when I have a successful hunt is like no other in the world. When I was a kid, I remember telling my mom I felt a little bad about it, and she kind of chuckled and said, “Sheryl, that’s normal, and that is okay.” Over time, I realized that my “bad” feeling for that animal whose life I just took, is mutual respect. A lot of this stems from when I was a kid, my parents taught both my brother and me that hunting is not simply about killing. It’s about providing our family with meat for our table. To be clear, I only hunt what I like to eat, so there is a large amount of respect when we bag an animal. Respect and gratitude for their life and also, respect for their environment.
When I sit in the woods in the dark, especially in a season like spring turkey, I get to watch the woods wake. I can only think of maybe 2 or 3 feelings that compare to sitting at the edge of the field, waiting patiently for it to be shooting light. As the darkness fades, the forest literally comes alive. Birds start to sing, little furry creatures start to make their way into the fields. It’s like watching the Animal Planet in real time. I have learned not only to respect the animals that I hunt, but to respect their environment .That environment has given me more “once in a lifetime” experiences than I care to count, and whether my hunt was successful or not was always irrelevant. I have had a turkey come so close to me, that I could have grabbed her. I have watched as a coyote stalked and took down the turkey that I was hoping to shoot that morning. I have had a skipper less than ten feet away looking at me sitting in blaze orange, trying not to breathe because I didn’t want that moment to end. I have had birds land on my hat, chipmunks crawl across my lap, even an owl who dove at me once in a treestand. I could go on and on and on.
We could all listen to Ted Talks about global warming and look at the pictures of the sea turtles with the straws in their nose. Are most people empathetic? I would imagine so. However, when you really experience nature by planting yourself into an environment where you are the only outsider, and you see these animals in the wild, it changes you. I urge you to ponder this perspective, especially as it relates to people in your life who hunt or fish. Ask them about it. Ask about their “once in a lifetime” stories, because odds are they are going to have more than one, and will always be happy to share them with you. I also urge you to consider this before you don’t introduce yourself or your children to the sport out of fear. Hunting is a part of something larger than just “killing”; it is a privilege. It is not a right. Every time I step into the woods I am grateful for that privilege.