I returned to my home state of Wisconsin recently after a brief trip out east to Maine. I talked with hunters there, hunters who have nothing to fear when consuming their venison, ducks, geese, turkeys, or moose. They were friendly, impressed by a woman who loves to bow hunt and eat what she kills. They had heard of Wisconsin's problems with Chronic Wasting Disease and the West Nile Virus and of the most recent discovery, Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (the EHD virus, revealed by lab tests as the culprit for a small number of dead deer found in Southwestern Wisconsin). I spoke to another traveler, a deer hunter from the Twin Cities in Minnesota, also concerned about CWD in his state. They all had one question for me: "What are you going to do this year?" I had the same answer for all of them, simply, "I will hunt." On all of their faces I received the same questioning look in return. "Really?" was the most common response.
You see, I love to bow hunt. I love to be in the woods at dawn, stepping quietly through the woods undetected. I'll curse when snorted at, but then smile because of my encounter. I love to feel the cool October thermals as they lift upwards in the early morning light and disappear above the brown oak leaves still clinging to their branches. I relish the surge of adrenaline that pumps through my body when I sight a deer approaching. I revel in the excitement and the self-control I must exert to prepare for a close shot with my bow and marvel at the beauty of the Wisconsin woods and the whitetail, its muscles rippling under tanned skin, tail flicking, jaws crunching on the fallen white oak acorns. I love deer, admire and respect all wild animals, and want them to stay healthy. An overpopulation of deer won't help them stay healthy, so yes, I will hunt.
I imagine this year will be like the others in some respects. If I'm in the right place at the right time, I'll release a huge breath after my arrow reaches its mark, completing the circle of life with a quick and successful kill. With head bowed, I'll offer my thanks, and touch the ground, our earth, in respect for what she's given us. Then, I'll field dress my deer.
This year, though, I'll take extra precautions, using gloves up to my elbows, and I'll proceed more slowly to avoid contact with the spinal cord, spleen and lymph nodes. I'll avoid cutting bone and be more careful removing the internal organs. I'll clean my knife with a solution of bleach and water when done. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to get my deer tested, or I may purchase a CWD test kit if the kits are available and I'm assured they're accurate. Then I'll take my deer to the processor to have it cut up and packaged. I'll place my venison in the freezer and wait. This year I'll wait for reports, test results, DNR hearings, and more reports. Then we'll move on and cook and consume our venison like we have for years now, like we hope to do for years to come.
We've followed the news and DNR proceedings for months now. We've talked with other hunters, other outdoor men and women, friends and family about all these diseases, these worries and concerns, the possible hazards to our health and to our economy. We're all acutely aware of the problems we face ahead, the problems this has brought to our state and to the future of hunting.
But for right now, for the upcoming weekends in October and November, for this Fall of 2002 hunting season, I just want to hunt, to enjoy myself in the outdoors and experience the thrill of the hunt. I will find peace and solace in the quiet of the woods and hope to hang a deer from the old red oak out back of our cabin, relax beside the warmth of a crackling fire in the evening, and savor the hunting season.
© October 2002