November 19, 2009 11:16 AM
Shooting a deer is very inconvenient. I suppose it's even more inconvenient for the deer, but still.
You have to field dress the deer, drag it to the nearest clearing (which may not be near at all), get your buddies and a vehicle to help you haul it out of the woods, take it to the registration station and wait in line for the deer to be properly tagged, haul it back to the farm and hoist it off the ground to keep it from being eaten by varmints other than yourself. This all takes time away from napping in your stand.
I have not missed a gun deer season since 1992. For me and hundreds of thousands of other Wisconsin hunters it marks another year, and another opportunity to reconnect with old pals, a chance to spend time in the cold outdoors and maybe a chance to provide some venison to your family and friends. Maybe. In my 18 years of hunting I have shot precisely five deer. Most years I never pull the trigger. For those who love deer hunting, I can say I am one of you. For those who might hate it, I can offer the consolation of being pretty bad at it.
I may be the first Madison Mayor in generations who not only hunts, but will talk about it incessantly. I start thinking about deer hunting in May when I issue my first budget guidelines, because I know that at the end of that endless budget process in November, deer season will begin - the reward for all that work and the salve of solitude as compensation for all the autumn's controversies.
For years there was a protest where people would tie blaze orange-clad manikins to their bumpers and parade around the Capitol Square. In those days, it would not have been good politics for a Mayor of Madison to be a hunter - it's still not for a lot of folks. But since then our understanding of the proper role of hunting in the ecosystem and in our culture has taken hold. After all, another Madisonian, Aldo Leopold, was a hunter. And during my time working for The Nature Conservancy I learned about the damage too many deer can do to native plants, not to mention your car should you encounter one on the highway. And then there's the advent of the local foods movement and the philosophical question of confronting the reality of being a carnivore. If you eat meat, should you really shield yourself from what that means for the animal you're consuming?
But for me it's not so much about dispatching a deer. It's about the rituals. The long, quiet drive to my friend Jordy's farm north of Richland Center. The Fontana brothers' traditional pheasant casserole for lunch on opening day. The dark beer and cheese and sausage at the end of the day. The steaks Peter McKeever prepares for dinner combined with my morel sauce. The sheepshead around the kitchen table afterwards. The telling of stories from that day's hunt and the telling of stories from previous hunts that you've heard a million times over. The deep contented tiredness you feel as you ease into your cold sleeping bag when the day is done.
But mostly, deer hunting is about the silence. It's unlike anything else in our hyperkinetic lives. You go out to the woods before dawn and your goal is to sit as quiet as you can for about six hours. You take notice of everything. The slowly increasing November light like a curtain being drawn up on a stage. The chickadees flitting up around your stand at first light. You learn to distinguish between the rustling of squirrels in the leaf litter and the thumping of a deer coming your way.
I cannot count on shooting or even seeing a deer every time I go hunting. But I'm assured of long hours in the woods alone with my thoughts. And that's much more than enough.
See you next week. I've gone hunting.