It is officially deer hunting season in Michigan, and has been since October 1. This opportunity to fill one’s freezer with tasty meat and one’s man cave with trophies will continue until January 1, continuing apace with all the requisite regulations that protect and promote safe sportsmanship and stewardship of the wild.
And boy oh boy are there regulations. Buying tags comes with this year’s book of rules, and you’d better familiarize yourself with them. You can always use bows and crossbows, but there’s a shorter period of time to use firearms. Then the type of firearm used depends on where you will be hunting. There are maps detailing the “rifle line,” and a season where muzzle loaders (which are much more complicated to care for an use and therefore are more sporting) supersede shotguns and rifles.
I have three tags. One of them is restricted to bagging a buck with at least 4 points of at least an inch long on at least one side of the head. Another can be used on either a buck of any size or a doe. The last is only for a doe. You must attach the tag immediately upon harvest, even before your field dressing.
You may not conceal or destroy the sex of an animal in transportation. You may not travel with a loaded weapon. You must wear orange during the firearm seasons. You may establish a non-permanent blind in a state forest, but must remove it by a certain date. There is a “quiet period” just before opening day (November 15) where weapons may not be fired at all—so get your sights set before then. You may not use dogs. You may use feed plots, but not bait piles. Private property has a few exceptions, but not many.
Any violation of the rules are subjected to fines, confiscation of equipment, and even bans from hunting for several years.
I want to be clear on this: while I find the rules bloated, confusing, and the result of overly complicated bureaucracy, I think they are important. At least, I think rules like this are important. A season, a limit, and general safety are good rules to have because without them hunting would be dangerous and destructive. You’d have reckless hicks shooting too many animals, sensitive areas spreading disease, or unexperienced snobs killing for pleasure and not for food. Remember the four S’s of deer hunting: safe, sustainable, sporting, and savory.
I’m gonna add two more: spiritual and sanctuary.
I hunt deer not just because it is a massive adrenaline rush when that perfect shot presents itself. Neither do I hunt just because gutting, skinning, and butchering a deer is about the manliest thing I do all year. I hunt deer because in spite of all the rules and restrictions (to say nothing about all the gear and preparation needed), the actual experience casts the hunter into the organized chaos of wilderness where he observes the paradoxical peace of knowing his own insignificance to the world (and yet) his significance to God.
You awaken before the birds do. It is dark—pitch dark. Frost crunches underfoot as you trudge to the blind by the thin circle of a red headlamp. Layers of thick clothing make you sweat, but you’ll be thankful later. You silently close the door to the blind, or secure the harness to the stand, or hunker amongst the brush. Then you wait. Perfectly motionless. Enclosed in darkness. The only sound is your heart beating. The occasional swish of a leaf sounds like an ocean wave; a stick dropping sounds like a cannon. The overly restricted and complicated world may exist somewhere, but here it is just you and God and the wild.
Eventually, almost imperceptibly, your eyes pick up dark blue. Then the first bird chirps. Then the dark blue becomes light blue. Then a yearling tiptoes by, stopping within 20 yards to nibble on some acorns. Too small. You watch, admiring his auburn coat, his twitching tail, his jittery ears. You are in love first with the wonder of his being, then with the thought of his fried tenderloins a year or two from now. He starts, looking sharply backwards, as if reading your hungry mind. Then he bolts, bounding spryly over the bush with a dexterity that only God could ordain. You shift your eyes without moving your head, and you see what startled him: the boss. The big man. The one who fancies himself king of the forest. As you slowly aim your weapon for the harvest, you fight the temptation to think that you are the king, because you know better. In all this wood, amongst all this flora, you are but one fauna. And while you may fancy yourself in control, you know the truth: God is hunting you.
And no matter the rules you set up, no matter the restrictions you establish in your heart, God will find you. He will bring your false control of your life to ruin, he will draw you back into harmony with himself, and he will loose your tongue to the praise of his glory. So reckless is his love for you, he would even get himself killed in the process, and feed you with his own flesh and blood.
Therein lies the paradox: the broken world is blood and guts. And yet within and because of the blood and guts you find your hope, your salvation, your peace. Happy hunting.