Ed Colby: Be careful when the hunt is on | AspenTimes.com

Ed Colby: Be careful when the hunt is on

After he shot off his big toe, Dad lost all interest in guns. He lived to fish, but he never took me hunting.

When I came of age I bought an army surplus British .303 rifle and went forth into the hills above Loveland to hunt. I had no idea how, really. I walked in the woods for a while. When I heard shots, I sat down by a clearing, thinking a deer might come by. I learned this hunting technique from reading Outdoor Life magazine.

After a time I heard rustling in the brush, and a deer emerged at the far edge of the opening. When I fired, the animal instantly dropped. Euphoric, I ran to it. It lay struggling in the grass. It looked at me wild-eyed in helpless terror. A wave of revulsion and remorse swept over me, but like any terrorist, I pushed my emotions aside and did what I came to do.

It was only after that second shot that I realized, to my dismay, that I had killed a fawn. Not a spotted fawn, like Bambi, but a yearling fawn ? one that had probably been born in the spring of the previous year. She was at least as big as a German shepherd. Yet when I aimed at her, she didn’t look like a fawn at all. She just looked like a deer.

As I gutted my kill, I tried to convince myself that I’d shot a small doe. Over and over I told myself that. This self-deception worked until I got back to the car with my prize. There another hunter congratulated me. “Nice little fawn,” he said.

My shame and humiliation were not yet complete. When my mother saw the tiny carcass hanging in our garage, she recoiled in horror. “It’s a baby,” she gasped. “How could you?” ? then, “Get it out of here.”

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I no longer hunt, but I don’t mind if you do. Hunters exhibit a certain moral toughness. They accept that eating meat means killing. They understand that the natural world is not Disneyland.

I refer to hunters who harvest animals for food, not “sportsmen” who collect heads or amuse themselves by shooting prairie dogs. The former act out humankind’s oldest provider instinct, while the latter are merely wanton.

I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the rednecks from Alabama and Kentucky and Texas who come out here every fall. I don’t exactly understand why they can’t just shoot a deer back home, but I suppose this must all be pretty exciting. They get together with their buddies, sleep in tents in the Rocky Mountains, drink whisky, play cards, and maybe they get lucky and kill an elk. Hopefully nobody has a heart attack or gets lost or stranded in a snowstorm. As long as a healthy number of animals remain when the season ends, I don’t see the harm. The herds need thinning so that deer and elk don’t suffer the ultimate cruelty ? starvation.

Plus, hunting provides jobs and income in rural areas that would wither and die if somebody didn’t come to town now and then with a wad of cash. Plenty of farmers who would go broke just raising hay manage to survive with hunting-lease income.

If you want to feel sorry for animals, feel sorry for chickens raised in crowded little cages. Feel sorry for calves force-fed milk and butchered for veal. Pity pigs “produced” on factory farms. These animals have in common that they live in deprivation before we kill and eat them. The deer and elk at least roam wild and free. They fight and mate and raise their young. One day they die, as we all must. It could be a mountain lion, a pack of coyotes, a car, starvation, disease. Or a hunter.

You say you’re a vegetarian? Then nothing I say will convince you. You also show moral courage, though of a different kind. My hat’s off. As for the rest of you, I recommend that you hunt. With luck you’ll discover intimately what few people truly comprehend, and a T-bone on the grill will never look the same. But when you finally place your quarry in your sights and you’re about to squeeze the trigger, please, do yourself a favor.

Make dead sure it’s not a fawn.

[Beekeeper and ski patroller Ed Colby’s column runs on Tuesdays. His e-mail address is esc@sopris.net]