As we round into the third week of November the Ozarks is enjoying blissful days of low-70 degree temperatures and generally sunny skies. The winds have been gusting steadily all week long and have finally blown in a good soaking. I view the weather from the perspective of a gardener, homesteader, and naturalist and this week’s weather has afforded my husband and I the perfect opportunity to check our fence lines and enjoy a hearty hike in the woods. But now that the official hunting season has begun, we will spend the next two weeks a little closer to the house.
It seems to me that people either love hunting or hate it. I suppose that puts me in the neutral corner. I grew up fishing and my brothers and father were occasional hunters. My husband grew up with a tradition of hunting and trapping. His father and grandfather were his teachers and mentors. The memories of those precious times spent with the men in his life are etched forever in the man that he has become. Yet, since we have been married, he has hunted only once or twice. On those rare occasions, I always helped by cleaning and processing the meat.
Once I participated in a hunt from start to finish. I did everything but pull the trigger. It was a learning experience – one that also touched my heart. Killing a wild animal isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do, but done right and for the right reason, it provides organic meat for the table while also serving as a reminder of the workings of nature. I believe that most hunters understand that without quality habitat, there is no game to hunt. As a result, most become conservationists and naturalists. Unfortunately, not all hunters are respectful of nature, or of personal property.
Nineteen years ago, Dean and I lived in the Ozarks of northwestern Arkansas. We lived along a highway where we shared yard boundaries with the neighbors to either side. These borders were marked only by thin borders of trees and shrubs. One day I was poking around the hedge of dogwoods lining our driveway a mere 40 feet from our front door. I had been intent upon my task for almost an hour, mostly looking down at the ground, when I stood up to stretch.
As I raised my face towards the sky, my eyes locked upon a figure in the tree directly above me. In a fraction of a second my mind registered a very well-camouflaged man dressed in woodland fatigues, holding a rifle and looking directly at me. Another fraction of a second brought the realization that he had been sitting in the tree above me for the better part of an hour. He looked directly into my eyes, yet said nothing and moved not an inch. He didn’t even blink. The hair on my neck stood up. Suddenly, I felt like I was his prey. Without a word, I turn and ran to the house to tell Dean about the strange man in our trees.
It turned out that our neighbor had told him that he could hunt the clearing on her side of the boundary, but both she and he failed to inform us that someone would be hunting less than forty feet from our front door. Needless to say the hunter was unceremoniously removed from the tree and sent on his way with a few choice suggestions. Alas, that was not to be the end of our hair-raising experience with stray hunters.
Since moving to Missouri almost 13 years ago, there have been two occasions in which Dean and I have had close encounters with stray bullets from hunters trespassing on our property. It is not a nice feeling to have a bullet whiz past your skull so close that you can hear it cleave the air. I have found that it pays to know your neighbors so you can ask if someone will be hunting their land during the season.
So after experiences like that, why am I so neutral about hunting? Mostly because hunting affords families the opportunity to share quality time together, especially during the youth-only season and hunting is also the best way to manage deer populations. But primarily I am not opposed to hunting because wild game is a nutritious and natural source of protein. For many families, having a relatively cheap supply of meat on hand during the winter months is a godsend, especially during these hard economic times. Hunters who prefer the sport more than the meal can donate their deer to the Share the Harvest program, which processes the meat and distributes it to food pantries where it is given free of charge to families in need. This program resolves one of my major issues with trophy hunting.
We don’t allow people to hunt on our property because we are against hunting in general. We simply don’t want anyone back there shooting guns unless it’s us. Because of that, our property has become a refuge for wildlife year-round. Just yesterday – at the height of deer season – I looked out of my window and saw a magnificent ten-point buck standing chest deep in the tall golden grass not 30 yards from the house. He stood tall and proud, antlered head erect, scenting the air. I ran to get my camera for a good shot.
A Journey of Seasons is a beautifully recounted story of life on a rural Missouri homestead. Based on the changing landscape of the seasons and filled with nature notes, botanical musings, back-woods wisdom and just a pinch of hillbilly humor, noted author, naturalist and organic gardener, Jill Henderson, spins a story of delight and enchantment. This is one journey you don’t want to miss!