The deer population is abundant because of a lack of predators, including the mostly male deer hunters currently in the field.
People freak at the idea of wolves or large cats being near, so culling the herds has become a human activity. There is little danger of taking too many.
Almost three months into the Iowa deer hunt, the second shotgun season begins Saturday. The other day, I found a deer hoof in a parking lot, picked it up, and tossed it into a trash bin. There are no intuitive rules for disposal of deer hooves. Meanwhile, deer hides have been piling up at the home, farm and auto supply store as hunters bring them in.
Deer licenses are issued mainly to male hunters for a personal, annual ritual. They gear up with ammunition, waterproof clothing, meat grinders, jerky seasoning, hats, and undergarments designed to wick perspiration away from the skin. Male comradery—the kind deer hunters share—is both common and rare.
My experience of the hunt is minimal. Closest I got to hunter’s comradery was hanging out with Dad’s golfing partners at the public course club house. I took everything in as they threw dice, played cards, smoked cigars and cigarettes, and waited to secure early tee times. My memory is like the stories I hear when asking hunters what they do when they hunt. Male bonding never became important for me.
I recently overheard a conversation between two teenagers that went something like this:
She: Everyone knows women are smarter than men.
He: Yeah, but you menstruate.
She: Only one day a month.
He: But still, you bleed.
I was taken aback. Maybe I haven’t spent much time with teens since ours left home. Maybe it was the inherent competitiveness. What also got to me is my concurrent reading of Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. In some of the countries depicted in the book, he would have raped her to settle the question of domination.
What line does our culture draw between commonplace banter and the realities of oppression? If there is one, it is difficult to discern. Suffice it that American cultural restraint keeps most young men from sexually assaulting women with whom they compete. At the same time, something elemental is lurking with unstated intent.
Deer hunting is acceptable social behavior with formal rules and regulations coupled with diverse, personal traditions. In some ways the annual hunt is grease on the skids of normalcy — a form of culture that can lead to civilization. I suspect the teen boy will ultimately become a deer hunter if he isn’t already.
I use fencing to protect plants I like more than deer need in an effort to coexist. Today I put out a bushel of apples for them. I am beginning to understand how to get along.
There is something appealing about the way deer hunting creates long-term relationships between hunters, and with their respective spouses. This season I’ve come to understand the blood sport more than I did — as much as I may be able.