Like most deer hunters, I get a lot of questions from the non-hunting public—and sometimes even those who hunt—about why I spend the better part of the fall chasing whitetails.
Deer hunting is a deep and intense experience for me, and defining it can sometimes be difficult, if not maddening. But just a few days ago, I had some help. On a frigid December evening, with just days left of the season, I killed a beautiful doe. She came in with a half-dozen companions, stared at me in a poorly-concealed tree stand, and decided I was nothing to fear.
When she turned her head to feed in the picked cornfield I took a perfect quartering-away shot, and within seconds she was lying on her side in the snow. I felt that jump of elation that accompanies a clean kill…And later, when I knelt beside the doe and stroked her flank, that tinge of sadness that comes with taking a life. It’s serious business, this stuff of killing for meat. We don’t have to treat it as such, of course, but if we don’t I’m convinced we’re missing something vital.
Two days later, after letting the skinned carcass hang in a cooling shed, my father and I started the butchering process. As our knives worked to part meat from bone and separate fat from protein, I couldn’t help but feel a pleasant glow. The killing was over, the eating could begin. And oh…how I adore eating venison.
I’ve been lucky enough to shoot some very nice bucks over the years, and I’ve saved every one of their wonderful racks. To me, antlers are a stunning example of Nature’s art; a testament to the unique beauty of the male of the whitetail species. But they are not why I deer hunt. In fact, I shot a gorgeous buck in Oklahoma just a few years ago. Coyotes found the buck before I did, and they’d consumed nearly the entire carcass when I finally tagged the deer. Everyone on that hunt oohed and aahed at the “trophy” I’d managed to bag…but I felt a little cheated and quite sad. While I’d have the buck’s antlers forever, I hadn’t paid the ultimate form of respect to his life; eating the very muscle and sinew that had carried those antlers around for five years.
I was thinking of that buck as we trimmed and packaged the meat of that doe. No, there were no antlers to mount; the bucks I’d chased all season had given me the slip. But some of them will be around to match wits with next fall, and in the meantime, I had many meals of venison—perhaps the most important trophy of all—to anticipate.
– Scott Bestul