Wednesday, February 29, 2012

This Is My Life Now

You know those moments in your life when you suddenly pause and think, "This is my life now. This is what I've become"? Sometimes they happen at peak moments, when you're flying high and feeling good because you confronted a fear, or learned a new skill, or had a great meal with friends. Others happen when you've had better days, and you find yourself yelling at the cat for meowing too loudly in her need for affection or swearing at the dog for moving in for a cuddle against your legs (I'm speaking completely personally here; this very mortal lady isn't up for any sort of sainthood).

I had one of those "So, here I am" moments this past weekend. I've mentioned here before my interest in learning, with a group of amazing local ladies, to hunt. We met a few weeks ago and shared our motivation in acquiring this skill. For everyone, it came down to a desire to provide for our families, and our domestic pets, what we feel is the most choice, abundant, renewable, and sustainable animal protein we can procure.

To that end, we discussed the three components towards achieving this goal that we would all need to pursue (except for Jess; she grew up in northern Pennsylvania in a hunting family and will serve as our amazing, respectful, seasoned, knowledgeable mentor huntress. Plus, she's just an all-around righteous lady whose company I benefit from every time I'm with her). These arenas, in order of acquisition, are: marksmanship, learning to hunt, and field dressing/butchering/storing our kill.

In order to determine what sort of weapon we'll ultimately decide is the best "fit" for us individually, we had to try them on for size, as it were. Before Saturday, I'd never fired a weapon. In fact, I'd never even so much as held a firearm before. Actually, before Saturday, aside from the occasional kitchen knife or meat cleaver, I'd never so much as even touched a lethal weapon of any sort.

I'm sure a good number of you readers have, yourselves, disarmed a firearm before. With the interest growing in hunting, as well as their continued use in home and personal protection, many people are familiar with using firearms these days. For me, though, the decision to even consider giving hunting a go was a huge, profound, utterly transformative one. Until not that long ago, I didn't even eat animal protein. And I certainly wanted nothing to do with guns.

I discussed here my return to meat-eating, and the impact it has had on me physically. Choosing to explore the use of firearms has profoundly affected me mentally. I've long lived in fear of guns, given the way they are depicted in films and their mention in the news and print media. As my friend Walter recently wrote, though, at the end of the day, a gun is simply a tool. What we do with it is up to us.

When I first fired on Saturday, at the private hunting range of a friend-of-a-friend, my reaction felt strange, detached. I told my companions that it felt incredibly unnatural, in the same sort of way learning to drive a car feels unnatural. Admittedly, that first firing happened with a .243 that had its barrel propped up with a bipod and its butt resting against a sandbag. I fixed the scope on the target, switched off the safety, took a deep breath, exhaled, and pulled the trigger. I walked away with the feeling of having dialed it in, like it hadn't been as tactile as I'd imagined it would be.

Later, however, when I held a .30-06 and felt its full heft in my arms as I stood there, in high winds, with frigid fingers and toes, the magnitude of what I was doing fully engulfed me. "If I sneeze, and move this thing the wrong way, and it goes off, people could die" was my first thought. My second thought was, "I'm holding a loaded gun. I'm holding a loaded gun. I'm holding a loaded gun." I found the target in the scope, fired, and felt the impact from the weapon immediately, in my shoulder (lightly) and my left wrist (intensely), with which I was holding the barrel up.

This is my life now. A former vegan, who used to go to non-violent rallies and demonstrations is now learning the ancient pursuit of hunting for food, with a gun. This was simply the first step. Once I'm there, in the woods, with a living, sentient creature in my line of sight, I'll see how it goes. At this point, I can certainly say, though, without any hesitation that killing my own food will make me more appreciative of all of the life and blood and soil and grime and dung and absolute, sheer unparalleled beauty that pulses through every creature on this planet.

Any of you out there hunters yourselves? If so, got any pearls of wisdom you care to share? I'd be ever so grateful to hear them.

*To see more images from our firing range foray, go here.


Erin said...

Love that sign! :)

erika said...

What a week for you! You took on knitting and hunting?! Way to grab life by the reins and gallop into the sunset!

Lauren said...

What about hunting with a bow & arrow?

I know nothing about hunting, that's why I'm asking. What are the advantages/disadvantages of gun hunting? I feel like the inherent quietness of a bow & arrow would jive with me better (if I ever did get into hunting).

Liane said...

pretty intense stuff. i sometimes say i want to learn to butcher meat birds, learn to hunt, etc. but the idea is different than the actual act.
you've fired a gun now but shooting at an animal. what the hell would that be like...
i'll be thinking of you with this one.

ashley english said...

Lauren-From everything I've read, bow-hunting simply takes considerably longer to learn. That is, when you bow hunt, you must be close enough, steady enough, and skilled enough to successfully kill the animal, not wound it. The last thing I want to do is wound an animal. Bow-hunting is something I'm interested in, as a long-term goal, but for now, I'm thinking of going with guns.

Maria said...

LIKE and +1

EcoGrrl said...

People are surprised to hear i used to go target shooting & got a .22 for my 13th birthday :) cant imagine putting a bullet in a living creature though. Butchery vs using a gun, i don't know why it seems so different but like you said, it changes you to own where your food comes from, animal or vegetable.

jen said...

Good for you! I've shot lots of guns, but never hunted. I would like to some day though. I used to live really north where folks relied on hunting as a means of survival. It really showed me what a sustainable lifestyle it is. Its so grounding seeing where your meat comes from.

Meryl said...

I remember (very early in my marriage) the first time my husband and his dad invited me out to target shoot. I grew up in an "only men hunt" kind of family, so it was very empowering for me. Haven't hunted yet--more for lack of time than anything--but I think it's awesome that you're learning.

Charis in Eastern NC said...

I started hunting 4 years ago. Having been a vegetarian, I turned to hunting and meat-eating as an evolution of my beliefs about sustainability. Harvesting my first deer is one of my most vivid memories and proud moments. I was proud of myself when I graduated from grad school, but I was filled with a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I processed my first deer (with my Browning .243!). Take all of the time that you need-- from learning to shoot, to learning to can your own venison. It's all a part of the process and will unfold organically. Congratulations. It's another wonderful and humble step toward self-sufficiency. ;-)

Charis in Eastern NC said...

I started hunting 4 years ago. Having been a vegetarian, I turned to hunting and meat-eating as an evolution of my beliefs about sustainability. Harvesting my first deer is one of my most vivid memories and proud moments. I was proud of myself when I graduated from grad school, but I was filled with a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I processed my first deer (with my Browning .243!). Take all of the time that you need-- from learning to shoot, to learning to can your own venison. It's all a part of the process and will unfold organically. Congratulations. It's another wonderful and humble step toward self-sufficiency. ;-)

Yasmin said...

What a great post, Ashley! For the past year, I've given a lot of thought to hunting. It stemmed mostly from my desire to find local, sustainable food sources. I sat in a deer stand with my fiance over the holidays to get a sense of what it would be like. It requires great patience and skill and harvesting an animal provides an entirely new perspective. I've started my online hunting course! Good luck.

Meghan said...

What a great post, and good luck developing your shooting and hunting skills! I grew up hunting with my family, and eventually took up the sport of precision rifle shooting, which totally shocks people when I tell them about it now.

To avoid the shoulder and wrist pain, make sure you're totally relaxed (tough, I know, but it will help with your concentration and accuracy, too), especially in both of your shoulders, and make sure you feel completely balanced before you fire. There's a natural pocket in your shoulder/arm pit the butt of the rifle naturally fits into, but only when your elbow is down and relaxed. The soft tissue of that area helps to cradle the rifle, and so when the gun recoils your shoulder moves with it, instead of banging up against it.

It sounds like you're really lucky to be able to try out lots of different rifles - the best advice I can give is to experiment a lot until you find something that suits you (and don't forget that most of these guns are made with men in mind, so it might take awhile). I've found that women often have to 'tweak' things a lot more than men, eg spreading your legs a little further apart for better balance, using scope risers if possible so your head is more upright, etc.

I hope it starts to feel more natural for you. Good luck!

Lisa said...

For now I'll leave the hunting to my husband, but I so hear you on the This Is My Life Now front. Five years ago a good weekend would be a trip to Manhattan and a good workout was yoga class. This weekend I'm going to a quilting workshop and my workout will be lugging 50 lb bags of hog feed from the back of my pick up truck to the sheep shed. How did this happen?

Molly said...

Interesting post. I grew up in rural NC where we had hunter education/safety in high school (along with sex ed). We were even taught how to shoot rifles, shot guns, and bow and arrows. My brother hunts a lot, and I would sometimes hunt with him--mainly birds. I enjoyed hunting birds and never liked the idea of waiting all day for a deer. Birds are easier to clean too. I also liked using a shot gun more than a rifle. It felt less powerful and dangerous. But, then I had a bad experience with a shot gun and don't shoot anymore (except BB guns). Maybe I'll try to get back into it again someday.

Bill said...

I was a hunter during childhood, but gave that up during college and in my early career. Now that I have 4 kids, and as our evolution as 'locavores' continued, local meat availability came up. We live in an urban, but spacious setting that made hunting a challenge. However, I was able to introduce my kids to it after the purchase of an air rifle. They have all participated in some aspect as I've tried to keep the squirrel population in control and out of my garden. They are too small to hunt for themselves, but all have enjoyed some aspect from the stalk, to processing and eating. I'm hoping to find better access for next year's season and attempt my first deer and turkey hunt to put meat in the freezer. I've had hours of teaching time as I answer all the questions about why I would choose to hurt a squirrel that didn't do anything wrong to anatomy lessons. What a precious opportunity to connect the kids to the circle and preciousness of life!!

Anonymous said...

Have you heard of the short film "Debutante Hunters?" The title is awful, but the film itself is a beautiful glimpse into the lives of women who've grown up hunting. I think you'd be into it...I was and I've never hunted nor am I am a debutante, so that's saying something!

amanda said...

can't share any hunting tips, but man have I yelled at my cat for meowing too loudly way more now that there's a little one who's sleep I cherish!

more like me-yowling, really. and terribly incessant at times. (always the wrong times)

Em said...

This year I've been feeling the draw to hunt my own food as well. To be respectful to the animal that will feed me and my family by being there and being responsible. It didn't work out this year, but next year's deer season I will be there. Thanks for this post! so relevant!

Jenny said...

I grew up in a hunting, environmentalist family. There was a time when many thought the two couldn't go together and we were weird. It lead to some very heated conversations from folks on both fronts. I'm very glad to see the changing perspective in the last few years. Good for you for learning!

MTMama said...

I grew up in the Midwest in a family with a long tradition of least the men hunting. I was always an outdoor girl and wanted to learn to hunt as a kid. Deer hunting where I grew up was not a women's activity. I moved to Montana as an adult and found a best friend in a woman who grew up on a ranch hunting with her dad. After just tagging along for a few years, last year I killed (harvested, whatever you want to call it) my first deer. My dad was visiting and hunting with us, my husband, my friend and her dad, a rancher, were all there with me. It was a very, very powerful moment. I felt connected to a tradition. It was very much tied up in my feelings as a mother as well. There was a clear undertone of wanting to provide for my family. Pride, sadness, gratitude. Last year, my friend and I left our babies, mine just 3 months, old with our husbands and went out hunting on the ranch. We spent a beautiful afternoon ranging up and down the coulees, finally harvesting a fine buck just before sunset.

MTMama said...

sorry, first deer was 2 years ago=)

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