Friday, October 10, 2008

Why I Bowhunt

Last summer at the birding festival in North Dakota, someone asked me why I hunt. I think my response was probably pretty lame, but it got me to thinking and now I'm going to try and give you an explanation, in words and pictures, how I can be a nature lover and hunter at the same time. I know plenty of people who enjoy nature without having to be a hunter, but I feel bad for someone who's a hunter and yet doesn't fully appreciate or enjoy nature while they're out hunting.

Hunting with a bow and arrow is so completely different than hunting with a gun. First of all, the deer season starts in September (usually around the peak of fall songbird migration), when the weather is still beautiful and I can enjoy being outside. The season lasts until the end of December, so there's no pressure to shoot the first deer you see like there is during the 6 days of shotgun season. Another reason is that there are no other buck-crazy hunters out there with guns blasting away at practically anything brown and furry, so I never fear for my life or Mr. Johnson's while we're out bowhunting.

The nice thing about bowhunting is that you're all dressed in camouflage, so once you're where you need to be, you become part of the landscape (i.e., invisible to birds and wildlife). So I get to see cool things like this little doe snacking out in the hayfield and squinting into the late afternoon sunshine. Did you even know deer could squint? (me either until I took this picture)

I got the chance to see eye-to-eye with this little buck. He could see my hands moving as I took the picture, but he didn't know what I was, so no fear on his part.

I got to see this little buck right under my tree--he never even knew I was there!

And he crossed farther into the field maybe 10 yards from my treestand. This would have been an easy shot for me with a bow, but I prefer to let this little guy grow up. And that's a choice I can make as a bowhunter because I know there are bigger bucks (and does) out there that would provide a lot more meat for my freezer.

Bowhunting in the fall allows me to spend time outside on gorgeous days like this.
Bowhunting forces me to physically challenge myself and makes me so thankful that I have good health. It's not quite as easy as it used to me, but I can still haul my 50-year-old body 15 feet up that little ladder attached to the left tree to the treestand (right arrow is pointing to it).

Once I get up into my treestand, I get to enjoy this view. Definitely worth the hike and climb, don't you think?

From my treestand, I can look down on beautifully colored leaves on my tree.

And when I'm not watching for deer, I can watch Eastern Bluebirds, checking out evening roosting spots in natural cavities of a nearby dead tree (this is something I have never seen before!)

And because I'm in the tree at bird level, I can get a photo of a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet -- at his level -- for the nanosecond that he sat still before flitting out of my camera range just 10 feet in front of me.

I can watch Eastern Wild Turkeys going about their business across the pasture.
And I can watch another little buck enjoying some sweet alfalfa in the same pasture.

And in addition to wildlife, I get to have a little fun with the cattle out here too--in the daytime..... .....and after dark. I enjoy cattle because they are so goofy and curious.

Bowhunting takes a huge amount of time, dedication and practice to be successful. I practice target shooting every day and concentrate on hitting the target inside a 3-inch circle. I feel it's my personal responsibility to not to take any shot where there's a chance I could injure, but not kill a deer. I actually bowhunted for 3 years before I shot my first deer 2 years ago. For me, shooting a deer is the hardest part of the bowhunting experience. While I'm happy that I'm able to provide food for us, I actually have to kill an animal myself in order to do this. So I'm always aware of my responsbility to the animal to try and make its death as quick as possible. (Reading Catherine Friend's book "The Compassionate Carnivore" made me even more mindful of this responsibility.)

So there you have it.....why I bowhunt. Not because I enjoy killing animals, but because I love nature and I get the chance to be a part of it for many enjoyable hours each year. We have an overabundance of deer in this area, so I know I'm not doing any harm to their population and we will have a freezer full of great tasting, organic, free-range venison that was harvested with skill, appreciation and respect.

And if you need anymore convincing, I enjoy bowhunting specifically for moments like this (shown in the video below) when I get to see and learn more about deer in their natural environment. These are things a person normally wouldn't have the chance to experience unless they're able to spend lots of hours out in the woods. "Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away."


Jayne said...

I think that's a wonderful explanation Ruthie. I am not at all sure I could do it, but what matters is how we hunt, and your explanation makes me wish all hunters were like you and Mr. Johnson.

KGMom said...

I think the only people who could criticize humane hunters, which you are, would be people who are complete vegans.
Evolutionarily it is clear humans are omnivores--so meat eating is part of our heritage.
I don't hunt, but I do eat meat. The truth is I do not know how humanely the animals I eat were treated before they were killed.
Nor do I know how they were killed. When I was growing up, I lived on a mission station that was self-contained, so we slaughtered the animals we ate--primarily oxen, pigs, and chickens. I watched the cows and pigs be shot, then strung up and processed. I watched chickens have their heads chopped off, then be plucked.
So I do appreciate your explanation of why you hunt.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful explanation of why you bow hunt, not only with the bow and arrow but with the camera too. Your views of your surronding terrerority are breath taking and everyone is oblivious to your being there. I'm surprised you didn't have a little squirrel chittering at you wondering why you are at his level. Thanks for taking us along hunting, it is a very meaningful trip.

Julie said...

Great post! I've always kind of had a bad view on bow hunting because of the fear of hunters who aren't taking their time like you and just injure the deer.
Beautiful pictures, but I'm wondering if the blue birds were looking for food. They like insects (as I'm sure you know).

RuthieJ said...

Hi Jayne,
I wish a lot of hunters were more conscientious too, for sure there wouldn't be as many hunting accidents!

Thanks Donna. I know there is a lot of strong anti-hunting sentiment out there too. Fortunately, I've never encountered it personally. I think as a woman hunter I have a totally different perspective and interpretation of hunting. I'd like to think that's better, but it still leads to what the anti-hunters protest: the death of a living animal.
Your description of life at the mission station sounds very similar to what Catherine Friend talks about in her book. Please read the book if you get a's an eye-opener!

Hi Mom,
I had a couple squirrels upset with me on Saturday morning when I filmed that video, but you know squirrels--they usually don't sit around long enough to have their picture taken!

Hi Julie,
I practice shooting at a 30-yard target, but haven't been able to achieve consistent accuracy. In most of the areas I hunt, the deer would be within a 10 yard range--a distance at which all of my practice shots are consistently within a circle 3" across. I'd rather have the freezer go empty than take a bad shot and injure an animal.
Now I wonder too if the bluebirds weren't looking for food--I never thought of that, but it certainly could be the case.

Red said...

Excellent post Ruthie. I do appreciate hunters who hunt for the meat and for the love of nature. I don't appreciate the drunken fools who shoot at anything and everything, but I knew you weren't one of those!

You have some fortitude too. I know I couldn't do it because I get squeamish with the idea of merely fishing.

Debbie said...

Ruthie, I think your explanation is a very good one. I come from a family of hunters, from rabbits to deer with bow and gun. All the hunters in my family are also nature lovers, having an appreication and love of the outdoors and for God's creatures. I have hunted in years, but I sure enjoy the meat shared by other hunters.

Trixie said...

Hi Ruthie!

Not that I didn't get it before, but I now have a deeper understanding. You wrote that beautifully. Thank you for putting it into words. Wow!

Meggie said...

While I'm not a hunter, I repect your perspective, Ruthie. We are over run by white tails here in PA...see them dead on the side of the road frequently. The population needs to be controlled. I can only hope that most hunters share your wholesome and responsible attitude.

Mary C said...

Ruthie, you actually have cattle grazing in the same area where you hunt? Are they what is considered free range or something like that? I love your ruby-crowned kinglet.

barefoot gardener said...

Wonderful post, Ruthie! I think you did a fabulous job of explaining what a true hunter should be.

Mary said...


No one could say it better than you. I completely get it. You're so in touch with nature there and obviously love what you do. Your photos made me smile and the I rarely see live deer.


Anonymous said...

Come to Duluth and hunt in my backyard. We have deer and to many of them!

Mike H.

RuthieJ said...

Thanks Red. I've only been a bowhunter for about 7 years. It's definitely an acquired skill. I used to sit on that stand and watch the time till I could go home. Now I can sit out there and lots of times just hate to go home. It's very calming for me to just have the quiet time in the woods.

Thanks Debbie, sounds like you know first-hand about the experiences I've shared here too.

Thanks Trixie. I think bowhunting may not be something that a lot of women would enjoy, but for me it's nice to have hunting as an excuse to go sit in the woods for hours.

Hi Meggie,
We have many deer that are car-killed here too. I hate seeing that and people just don't watch out for them either. As a bowhunter, I can get 1 regular tag and 4 management tags--so I could get a total of 5 deer each season. But 2 will feed us well for a year and for a lot of people, venison is definitely an "acquired taste."

Hi Mary C,
The pasture where the cattle are is over 100 acres. The landowner leaves them out there for the summer to eat the grass, but because there's so much space there, the cattle, turkeys, deer, skunks, raccoons, etc. are all able to co-exist (plus there are lots of trees, so it's also an excellent place for birding!)

Thanks Barefoot. I've been thinking about it for a while and and glad I finally put it all down into words.

Thanks Mary. I know some people have really strong feelings about hunting (for AND against). When I worked at WBU, I had to be really careful about mentioning that I was a hunter.

Sounds good Mike! I could set up a blind out by your bird feeders or maybe just use your garden shed as a blind?? I think my bowhunting permit is good for the whole state.

Susan Gets Native said...

Girl, you got it.

I come from a long line of deer hunters and I'm proud to say that they share your philosophy of how and why to hunt deer.
I dread gun season every year because it is just so ****ing loud.
My brother makes a KILLER deer/buffalo breakfast sausage. Maybe I can steal some and share in WV. That's IF he gets a deer this year.
He enjoys the out-a-doors, too, but he sucks at bird ID. He swore he saw a great gray owl last year. I said, "I didn't know you went north!". He said, "North? No, I was in the back of Mom's property". He actually saw a barred owl. What a dork.
He would probably think your kinglet was a hummingbird.
: )

RuthieJ said...

Hey Susan,
I hope you can get some of that deer/buffalo breakfast sausage to share with us in WV. If I get a deer, I'll try making some jerky to bring along too.

Windyridge said...

This is exactly why I bow hunt. And it's warmer so I'm more comfortable! Wonderful photos!