OT: Provisional forms of “all will be well”

As background — cut to the three asterisks if you’re looking for the actual post:

Gun season opened in Wisconsin yesterday as the sun came up. That’s as opposed to bow season, for those not in the know, and the target of the hunt is the white-tailed deer population, which can be described as “thriving” and / or “out of control.” This post is not a plaidoyer on behalf of hunting as anyone’s preferred practice of deer herd management. But as long as homo sapiens wants to stay in Wisconsin, the herd will need to be managed (and it can be argued convincingly that the current overpopulation, as a consequence of which people and deer die every year when they collide on motorways during the rut, results from undermanagement). Homo sapiens eradicated the white-tail’s natural predators (wolves, coyotes, bears) in most of the state a century ago or more, and efforts to allow the expansion of the timber wolf population in the northern part of the state have met with controversy insofar as homo sapiens often don’t care to live with wolves — who are territorial, hunt in groups over areas as wide as seventy miles, and if they encounter dogs, will kill them. The jury is apparently still out on whether the increased number of wolves Up North are significantly reducing deer herd populations, but in response to increasing levels of wolf depredation, attempts are being made to delist the timber wolf from the federal Endangered Species Act. No wildlife management unit in Wisconsin prohibits the hunt on the grounds of an insufficient population — the only places not open are military bases, some state parks, an island that’s a nature reserve, and Native American reservations where residents have their own rules governing deer harvest. In the southern part of the state, the penetration of chronic wasting disease means that hunters can get additional permits for antlerless deer.

In my immediate family, my father, sister-in-law and brother hunt, in part for the meat, which we eat, in part to fill crop damage permits, issued in situations where deer populations cause more than $1,000 of crop damage, and the harvest of which beyond the first kill per hunter, as required by law, is donated to neighboring families and local charities. They have collected trophies if they kill a specimen with a particularly impressive rack, but that’s not the primary reason for them to hunt; a box in my parents’ basement holds racks of deer long eaten, but whose antlers no one ever got around to taking to a taxidermist. My father no doubt remembers hunting with his father when the harvest made up an important part of their family’s winter preparations. They also — quite frankly — enjoy the hunt as a social and an aesthetic experience.

Hunting, with all of its traditions and its hazards, some of which, despite the protestations of sportsmen, I agree are absolutely unacceptable, is a widely accepted environmental and social practice where I come from. Despite the role outdoorsmanship has played in my life, I agree strongly that automatic acceptance should be questioned. Almost every year, a handful of hunters or bystanders are needlessly killed by hunters, some of them inexperienced children. And while I’m less concerned about the deer, I understand the viewpoints of those who worry about them, too. I didn’t put pictures of dead deer in this post out of courtesy to the tenderhearted, but the death of an animal — even when every part of the animal is put to some use — is also a death.

What I’m writing about today is how my dad feels, though, and thus I beg license for not exploring the unavoidable moral controversies.


Wisconsin deer hunters. Not my family, but the clothes and posture are exactly right.

My cell rang too early this morning. It’s my dad. My dad never calls. Too peripatetic to sit still for a phone call most of the time, even now. And his conversation topics are so heavily concrete that it’s hard for us to have a conversation outside of a specific, very delimited issue (Time to water the pumpkins? Yup. And so on).

“Guess what, honey? We got seven deer — on opening day!”

I’m still in a haze, a bit. In my mind, I see them hanging from the frontloader of a tractor in one of the outbuildings on the farm (where my father grew up, where my brother’s family now lives), aging and waiting for processing. I remember all the pictures of hanging deer we found when we cleaned out my grandparents’ house, a whole history of twentieth-century amateur black-and-white, and then color, photography, written in the figures of proud men standing next to hanging carcasses with shy, barely suppressed grins on their faces. They look happier in some of those pictures than they did in their wedding photos — for which, admittedly, the photographer probably didn’t always allow them to smile.

“O yah?” My vowels revert automatically to their native length, and I’m immediately angry at them the second I notice it’s happened.  “All the tags filled already? Doesn’t that cut short all the fun?”

But I think my sister-in-law will be happy not to have her Thanksgiving dinner disrupted by hunters tromping in and out of the house, just like my grandmother would have been, the whole time she lived there. On the other hand, all that processing; it will take them most of a weekend, I bet, even if they share the work with the neighbors, who will also have their own to process.

“Your mom’s real happy!”

I’m sure she is, since she likes venison backstrap in particular. I’ll be home for Christmas and I’ll eat a small piece of pickled heart, maybe, with some pickled onion slices on a cracker or buttered bread, and think, wistfully, of standing in the farmhouse kitchen, usually late on the morning of opening day, while my grandmother directed me to do the pickling from her position at the stove, where she was busy frying her perpetual Saturday doughnuts, a ritual not to be interrupted by opening day. Pickled heart’s a family treat. The men, who especially loved it, were always extra careful to get the heart home safely when they field dressed the kill.

I’m starting to wake up now, though, and suddenly I remember what’s really at stake.

“That’s good,” I say, automatically. And then I try to put together a tactful question. Show no fear, Servetus. Keep your tone normal.

Because here’s the problem. All of my father’s medical problems suggested to me awhile ago already that certain things that require permits are really not things he should be doing. Yes, I’m that evil daughter who looked into whether she could get his drivers’ license suspended, anonymously if possible. (I couldn’t. I don’t think he should be driving, but he still, barely, fulfills all the requirements.) And, with a heavy heart, whether there was a way to prevent him from getting a hunting license. (There isn’t, yet, short of a competency hearing, which is not on the table. He’s not incompetent. I just don’t think he should be shooting.) He won marksmanship medals when he was in the service, and he loves to shoot. But he’s a leftie — and not much of his left eye is working any more. He said during the summer that he was going to practice shooting right-handed, but this frightens me just as much as the thought that he’d shoot left-handed and near-blind. What I really want to know is what my dad shot — or rather, whether he did.

“Your brother got two bucks, and your cousin used his tag for a doe and filled your brother’s last damage permit, got another pretty little doe.”

“Uhhuh,” I say, encouragingly. There’s a little silence. So finally I say it. “What about your tag?”

“Saw about twenty deer,” he said, “but nothing I really wanted to shoot at. We went in for lunch and took a nap, and then went out again in the late afternoon, but it was the last tag so I told your brother to fill it.”

“O yah?” I say. “You didn’t want to wait awhile, go out next weekend?”

“Nah, it was real nice to be out there with them in the blind, and they all wanted to be done, and ya know, I didn’t feel so comfortable, shooting with all those people out in the field. Couldn’t control where the fire was going and didn’t want to hit a hunter.”

“No,” I agree.

“OK, honey, gotta go, your mom thinks we’ll be late for church. Love you.”

“Love you too.” The call ends.

You know people keep telling me “all will be well.” Maybe they’re right.

~ by Servetus on November 21, 2011.

30 Responses to “OT: Provisional forms of “all will be well””

  1. Oh my gosh! You’re living my life! Except this surrounds me, day in, day out during the season. With 3 sons who are all avid hunters, I could write a book. SO was avid too until the boys got old enough to hunt and now he lets them bring in the meat. But the tales I could tell…just one: a month after we married, I went out w/SO for my first official hunt. We stayed in the teensy little camper all night and woke up before daylight, dressed in our hunting clothes, grabbed the guns and ammo and took off. SO suggested we climb up that live oak tree over yonder, which we did. (I still considered myself a expert tree cimber even at the age of 21!) I had no more reached the top of the tree, when we heard shots aways off. Seconds later, a bullet passed right above my head, tearing the leaves as it went by. We looked at each other, bailed out of that tree in record time and I have NEVER gone deer hunting again. Scared me into middle age!! Why someone was shooting that high has always mystified us. Cured me forever of wanting to be Annie Oakley.

    Love your conversation with your dad. I’d give anything if mine were alive to chat about the boy’s hunting season. But I do understand your concerns. Thing is, I have those concerns and my guys are in their prime and a long ways from your dad’s problems. There is always something to worry about isn’t there?


    • It’s a dangerous time of year. I’m not sure early adolescents need to be shooting anymore, for instance, though it’s a beloved tradition, and I think the average hunter in Wisconsin is not shooting enough to really have his fire completely under control. In my family it’s a kind of pride thing to make a neat shot — nobody wants a gutshot deer, but even beyond that they always try for a very clean kill, but that’s harder to achieve if the only time you shoot is when you sight in your rifle. I’m glad my nieces are still too young to go.

      You’re right that there always is something to worry about.


      • And I think it’s important to stress, in my case anyway and I think your family’s too, that venison is what kept us fed in the early days of our marriage. Actually, for about 10 yrs. SO’s hunting success meant we had meat on the table! We still eat it…that’s a lie. I can’t come within a mile of the stuff after cooking it thru 2 pregnancies! But venison finds it’s way in to sausage, chile, hamburgers dishes, jerky in my DIL’s kitchens. My guys now either bring their deer in with a bow or muzzleloader. The mule deer here are huge! Believe me when I say you do NOT want to run into one. Ask me how I know….


        • My brother still bowhunts, but successful bowhunting requires a lot of time. And yeah, they are hunting for food. Neither my parents nor my brother’s family will have to buy meat this winter now. When we were little we only had beef at home for really special occasions, and pork if somebody butchered, as my grandparents had mostly retired from active farming. My parents could certainly afford meat from the store now but it makes a really big difference to my brother’s family, who would otherwise only have the hogs they butchered a few weeks ago. And my best friend’s family when I was a kid didn’t eat meat at all unless they had venison. Five kids and her father was a roofer, so not a lot of space in the budget. He had all his sons hunting the second they could get permits.

          Most people we know eat the kill but they wouldn’t have to hunt to eat, so I don’t want to set it up as some self-preservation scheme, because it’s not for the vast majority. I know a lot of people participate for the social or thrill aspects, but there are many charities set up to accept, process and distribute the harvest made by hunters who don’t want to eat their kill to needy families. Where we are in the state the deer are mostly foraging off of crops, and so the taste is very mild, not as aggressively gamy as it tastes up north where the deer are feeding on wild vegetation.

          I don’t know that eating it really excuses it as a practice, BUT it seems to be necessary if hunting is not to be perceived as simply a blood sport.


  2. Servetus, I’m a firm believer that things usually work out for the best in their own way, and it sounds like that’s what is happening with your dad.

    One of the hardest things I have ever had to do was tell my mother point blank that I didn’t think she should be driving because of her deteriorating vision (she has macular degeneration). When Dad was alive, he was content to be a passenger because Mum loved being at the wheel so much, and the car was Mum’s independence as a widow. Five years down the track she still talks about how much she misses her little car and the driving.


    • where my parents live it would create a problem if he couldn’t drive, but the kid we hired to hang around with him could drive him places. I guess he’s not driving at night any more, which is a good step. It is hard to lose freedom and I sympathize with him.


      • Mum lives in town and can use buses and taxis, plus she has good friends who will drive her places when I’m not around, but aside from the freedom, it’s the spontaneity she also misses. To just get into the car whenever she wanted and drive off. I really feel for her still, although in hindsight I wish I hadn’t been quite so blunt. Being tactless is one of my less admirable traits!


  3. You strike chords with many of us. Hunting is one issue. And perhaps unlimited freedom should not be applied. (But that is a hot topic, no more comment).

    I HOPE to drive till I’m 80. But, in mid-sixties, already monitoring myself. Reflexes still excellent. Have driven since the legal age of 16, everywhere in N.A, Europe and Jakarta (like Delhi…) and giving up that independence – would be regrettable. But. We aren’t the only persons on the road…my family have carte blanche to monitor and have the “conversation” if they think the time has come, too.


    • They had seven tags for four people (four personal tags, and three crop damage) so they were within their limit — afaik nowhere in Wisconsin can anyone simply shoot a deer. It always has to be permitted. I suppose you could run a deer down with your car and claim it was an accident, but that would be a bit silly.

      We’ve had a lot of these talks — but I know how my own mind works and it’s much better if he comes to the conclusion that he needs to stop than if I tell him and / or insist.


  4. I think it sounds like your dad recognizes his limits and likely still wants to enjoy the social aspects of hunting. This makes me think about my grandpa. He had advanced emphysema & heart problems; he was very sick and we knew he didn’t have long. He decided that he wanted to go hunting with some of his sons because he was able to breathe a little better after quitting smoking cigars. They went hunting in a an area where there weren’t many hunters and my uncles and grandpa were spread out. He shot a deer and was able to gut it but needed help dragging it out. His heart gave out walking to one of my uncles. Funny thing is (I don’t know if this is true) my uncles said when they found him he was lying on his back with a smile on his face. We all knew my grandpa wasn’t well but he passed doing something he loved. So my take on the situation is: If it makes your dad happy and he’s not endangering others or himself, be happy for him. I’m sure it helps give him a sense of routine and purpose even though he knows his abilities are declining. My two cents, if it’s even worth that.


    • What a lovely story, Jael — it would be great if we could all go in that way, smiling.

      re my dad: I absolutely don’t mind if he wants to go out there — just don’t want him shooting 🙂

      But what I realized after the conversation is that he still takes really seriously what he pounded into us when he taught us to shoot, which is that you should never shoot if you don’t know where the bullet will go if you miss. I think this concern is a consequence of active military service, and it’s something that a some hunters may not be thinking of enough. His worry about that was enough to stop him shooting, which is enough for me.


  5. It’s hard when you find yourself filliing the parental role with your own parents, isn’t it? I had to tell my mom that the eye doctor recommended she give up driving after running the car into the ditch for no reason and almost backing over someone after church one day. My mom had always been very independent and I felt kind of bad donig it–but I also knew she was a danger to herself and to others.
    Actually, it turned out she felt relieved when the license was taken away. She now longer felt comfortable driving but didn’t want to “be a burden” on anyone having to transport her. It does sound as if your dad is using common sense.

    As for hunting, it’s not something Benny or I have ever been interested in (he enjoys fishing, though he rarely gets to go) but it’s very popular here for guys and gals of all ages. There are problems here as well with deer overpopulation and I know of several people who have had their vehicles badly damaged by hitting a deer. Doesn’t do the deer a lot of good, either.
    And there are people who use the venison to feed their families. Can’t argue with that.

    I do have concerns about very young kids with firearms. I have major concerns over combining liberal amounts of alcohol with loaded guns as sometimes happens here. And I really have a problem with some yahoo putting a lawn chair in the road almost smack dab in my driveway and sitting there with a gun, with people hunting after dark, and so forth. I just ask hunters to be responsible and respectful of others.


    • The alcohol issue is a *serious* problem. At times in my family, too.

      I think a lot of this has to do with context. Where my family is, most people are hunting off their own land or neighbors’ land. Everyone knows everyone else and even if somebody invites a friend or relative from far away to hunt, people know about it. I suspect more problem comes in when you have people hunting who are not from the area they are hunting. They are less connected to the responsibility of living in the community and so think less about what respectful behavior might be.


      • Ah-ha, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Many of the people who hunt here don’t live here–they come from other states, mostly Florida, and are part of hunting clubs. And some of the ones we’ve dealt with–well, let’s say I wish they had stayed home. They make me want to shout hallelujah when hunting season is over.;) We have given local people permission to hunt on our land because we know they are responsible and trustworthy people.

        The land that was part of Daddy’s farm was bought by a very nice gentleman who turned it into a quail preserve and gave guided quail hunts. Sadly, Mr. Sikes died suddenly one day out here tending to his beautiful garden, and now the land is up for sale. Since it is adjacent to our property, I can’t help but worry who might purchase it.
        I am sort of hoping one of our neighbors here will buy it.

        While we are on the subject of hunting, I have to share that we have a tradition in the newspaper here of running photos of people and their deer (along with those who catch big fish). Often it’s photos of children with their first kill with the blood smeared in their little faces. I have friends from other parts of the country who are appalled by this. It’s just part of the culture here, along with beauty pageants and football mania.
        oh, but I should emphasis we DO have electricity, running water, indoor toilets, computers, satellite TV and other modern amenities.here in Alabama–contrary to what some people think. 😉


        • LOL, angie…James Carville once referred to my state as “Pittsburgh on one side, Philadelphia on the other and Alabama in the middle.” I totally feel your pain.


          • I think of times Benny and I have visited other parts of the US and other countries and someone would ask me where I was from. They seemed shocked when i said Alabama.

            It’s almost as if they expected me to have an extra head or something. (I don’t have a really heavy southern accent, although I can suhtainly fake wun. 😉 )

            It’s not that we don’t have some inbred redneck types, we just don’t have a monopoly on them 😀


            • LOL, the accent here is still not well known in the rest of the country, much less the rest of the world. I don’t have much of one (only on certain words) but Denny’s is fairly thick. A friend of mine from California met him for the first time and twisted her brain in a knot trying to figure out where he was from before she just asked.


  6. Angie, there are many issues around hunting. At one end, there are the various Inuit, who do depend on hunting for food, and who not adapt well to another way of life. At the other end, there are seasonal recreational hunters, many of whom somehow procure likely dogs from shelters and abandon them at season’e end. I adopted one of those dogs. And there are shades between the extremes, and eventually, too I have faith (as per is Mom or Dad safe to drive at 80?) that there will be balance. “All will be well, and all be well”. Eventually.


    • Oh, fitzg, that is another big concern of mine, the treatment of hunting dogs.When a hunting camp was located not far from our house, we could hear dogs barking during the off season. No one was coming to regularly check the animals and provide food and water. We lodged some complaints and fortunately the club ended up closing.
      Carcasses left on the side of the road with the antlers cut off is another pet peeve. Obviously, they weren’t hunting for food supply.

      At least your dog got to have a happy ending. 😀


    • I’m glad you took in the dog, fitzg. 🙂


  7. And if we, as children of aging parents, don’t get involved in the driving, shooting and housing issues, someone else will…and they might not be so understanding. Case in point: 3 yrs ago, Son B was guiding a pheasant hunt for our hunting business. The group was 5 family members. He gave the mandatory “gun safey” lecture in his “LISTEN to me” tone, giving specific instructions to the older guy. Son B was apprehensive due to the hunt the year before. He was seeing signs of dementia in one of the oldest guys. Long story short, the old guy did exactly what Son B had told him NOT to do, took a stupic shot and peppered one of his friends in the process. Son B rushed him to the hospital 11 miles away where the Dr. dug out shot for 2 hrs. No major damage but Son B was NOT happy. Why had his sons not taken care of the problem BEFORE they came to the hunt? Son B ended up being the “bad guy” because he won’t allow this hunter to come back now…w/gun. Camera is ok!

    Altho, it’s easy to sit here and say that, but would I have had the courage to confront my 6’6″ ex Marine dad and tell him he could go hunting as per usual but not carry a gun?! Tough days we live in. I agree, I think your dad subtly told you his hunting days are at an end. Course, you may have to remind him. Subtly, of course. 🙂

    Dogs I could talk about all day. But I’ll spare you. Can you tell we love hunting around here? 😉


    • I’m torn on this because I do think it’s our responsibility to say when we thing certain things need to be over. On the other hand, it’s not clear that my parents would listen to *us*. We’re just their kids.


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