by Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
The first sounds of rifle shots ringing across the hills and hollows marks the end mushroom hunting season and puts a temporary damper on my beloved woodland walks. For the next few weeks, Dean and I will stick a little closer to the house than we are accustomed to. When we do dare to venture beyond our protective ridge, we’ll be sure to wear plenty of brightly colored clothing to avoid being accidentally shot at – something Dean and I are all too familiar with.
Years ago, Dean and I lived in the Ozarks of northwestern Arkansas. Like most of our neighbors, we had 20 wooded acres to call our own. But because everyone in the area built their house right up on the highway for easy access, the parcels were much deeper than they were wide. Our front yards were divided only by narrow borders of mixed trees and shrubs. So it was that one bright morning in November found me cleaning up trash along the border between our property and the neighbor to the east, which was a scant 40 feet from our front door. I had been intent upon my task for almost an hour, before I stood up to stretch a bit.
As I raised my face towards the sky, arms stretched above my head, my eyes locked upon a dark 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 high-powered rifle and looking directly into my eyes. In that moment it dawned on me that he had been sitting in that tree, just above my head, for over an hour and made no sign of his presence. Indeed, even as he sat looking at me, this stranger said not a word or moved an inch. He didn’t even blink. Suddenly I felt like prey. The hair on my neck stood up and my heart pounded in my chest. Without a word of my own, I turned and fairly ran to the house to tell Dean about the strange man in our trees.
It turned out that our elderly neighbor had told the camouflaged man that he could hunt the clearing on her side of the boundary line, but both she and he had failed to inform us that someone would be hunting from a tree on our property not less than forty feet from our front door. Needless to say Dean removed the man unceremoniously from the tree and sent him on his way with a few choice suggestions. Alas, that was not to be the end of our hair-raising experience with stray hunters in the Ozarks.
It seems to me that people either love hunting or hate it. But despite my hair-raising experiences, I stand firmly in the corner that supports hunting. I grew up fishing and target shooting, and my Dad and brothers hunted from time to time. One time, my dad and a buddy of his went hunting wild boar in the depths of Honey Island Swamp. Dad cam home with an enormous boar and a wild story to go along with that night’s supper.
My husband also grew up with a family tradition of hunting and trapping. His father and grandfather were his teachers and mentors. And 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 happily participated by helping process the meat that would feed us all winter long.
Killing a wild animal is not always an easy thing to do. But done right and for the right reasons, hunting serves many purposes. Obviously, the primary reason to hunt is to obtain a good source of naturally organic meat for the table at a very affordable price. Yet, the hunting experience teaches young and old alike about life and death, need and sacrifice, patience and persistence. And the woods and rivers and lakes around which we hunt serve as classrooms where one can learn to respect and protect the laws of nature. I believe that most hunters understand that without quality habitat there is no game to hunt. And most of the hunters I have ever known have been devout conservationists and naturalists. Of course, there’s always a few selfish and ignorant hunters that don’t respect nature or the personal property of others.
We moved to Missouri not long after the incident in Arkansas, but that didn’t stop us from encountering our fair share of frightening encounters with trespassing hunters and their stray bullets. Trust me when I say that it is not a comforting feeling to have a bullet whiz past your skull so close that you can hear it whistle. Over the years, I have found that it pays to know your neighbors well enough to ask to be warned when someone will be hunting their land during the season.
And while I’m not a big fan of trophy hunting, those who prefer the sport more than the meal now have an opportunity to help others in need by donating some or all of their venison to the Share the Harvest program run by the Missouri Department of Conservation. This innovative project helps hunters who don’t want some or all of their game by helping out with some (or all) of the cost of processing and then ensuring the meat is distributed to individuals and families in need.
Because of our previous close encounters, we don’t allow anyone to hunt on our place. Every fall, we make sure that all of our property boundaries are clearly marked with purple paint, purple No Hunting ribbons, and signs that clearly state “No Hunting/No Trespassing”. We also make it a point to keep in touch with our neighbors, so everyone knows what to expect. These days our property has become a refuge for wildlife year-round. Just the other day, we watched as a young three-point buck ran back and forth across the hillside, scenting the air for females in heat. He eventually came right up to the back of the house and stood looking at us as we watched him through the windows. He may not make it past the hunters surrounding our 40 acres, but as long as he’s on my land, he’s safe from everything but my camera!
© 2014 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
A Journey of Seasons
A Year in the Ozarks High Country
Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.