Updated: Jul 14, 2022
“What’d that turkey ever do to you?” It wasn’t an unexpected question really, I guess… I mean, I knew her parents and they weren’t outdoors-people. Actually, I had taught both of them in my English 101 class when they were freshmen in college and I was a graduate assistant finishing out my master’s in English. Even though they came from a town of less than 15,000 people, neither was raised by hunting or fishing parents. Now here was their daughter, continuing on the family legacy of not understanding why we hunters do what we do. We were sitting at the ball field while her dad was coaching my youngest son’s baseball team. A few innings had brought on boredom and I started surfing around on Facebook. I came across a video showing a turkey hunt, and I showed her how majestic and beautiful a strutting tom is, replete with the ability to change the color of its head in splendorous red, white and blue. “But they’re gonna kill it…” she half-wailed, refusing to look at it any more. “Yeah, that’s what you do with turkeys,” I replied. “And deer. And all game animals.” Yes. We kill things. It’s what we do.
“Why?” is a hard question to answer, I suppose. For some, it’s purely to help sustain their families. To supplement their ever-burgeoning grocery bill. That’s a plus, for sure. I mean, take me for example. My family was featured on NBC’s syndicated TV show “America Now” a few years back because we haven’t bought red meat from a store in over 20 years. Think about that: I’ve been fortunate enough to be so successful as a pure bowhunter that we haven’t had to buy beef of any kind from a grocery store in over 20 years … and we basically have red meat of some sort -- in some form or fashion -- every single day of the year. I’m a meat eater, plain and simple – so we go through a lot. Yet, that’s not why I hunt. I believe in eating what you kill. It’s how Dad raised me, and what he taught. It’s shameful to waste something that could be eaten. Now, to clarify, I’m talking about things that can and should be eaten. I don’t want any confusion later on when you find out that I’m a hard-core trapper. No, I don’t eat coyote. I have eaten bobcat, and it’s delectable. Surprised? You shouldn’t be; people rave over what wonderful table fare mountain lion is. But coyotes still need to be managed, irrespective of whether they can provide a meal or not. To wantonly waste what’s considered edible though is a different matter. So I eat what I kill, but it’s not why I kill. I’ve been blessed in my life. I struggled at first financially. It’s what you often do when you’re the first person in your family to try to break the mold. To not be a factory worker or farmhand. I went to college, almost on a whim. Really, it was because only Hardee’s had called twice to offer a job after high school, and I didn’t see that as a career. So I went to college. It didn’t take long for bills to start piling up and money to run short. I turned back to hunting to help put some food on the table. But a few measly rabbits and a plate-full of crappie only go so far. I thumbed through the Arkansas Conservation Code book looking at all the game animals one could hunt and landed on whitetail deer. We didn’t have deer where I grew up in the Missouri Bootheel. Surely one of those could feed me for a few months! I went to Walmart that night and found a used bow hanging on the rack in the sporting goods section, and talked the manager into selling it to me for an even further discounted price. So, yes – at one time, I did take to the field in pursuit of food. But that was years ago, and I don’t need a single thing I kill these days to help offset the grocery bill. I continue to hunt because I yearn for it. I need to be out there, taking my place in the food chain. To help participate in the struggle of life and death. I kill because I crave it. It would be easy to relegate it to something my father instilled in me, and about continuing on a part of him and the love he gave me for the outdoors. But I’m not sure he “gave” me anything, if I were being honest. He got me a job at the local factory one summer too and I didn’t care for that too much, proving that just because Dad got me started in something didn’t mean I was going to love it. But when he took me frogging one summer night before I had even turned 10 years old, and I turned deathly sick and started puking after about two miles of paddling with about umpteen more miles ahead of us -- and we had to get out and walk home as the local river was at its closest point to our home it was going to be and forego the rest of the trip -- Dad was “afraid he’d ruined me.” His words. But he couldn’t. No force was great enough to keep me from falling in love with the outdoors. Yes, he exposed me to it. Yes, he facilitated the love affair. But he didn’t “give” it to me. I greatly enjoyed rabbit hunting and frogging growing up in the Missouri Bootheel. It was the most prevalent game animals we had to pursue, I guess. But if I have a chance, I’d rather pursue something I can “match wits” with. I think that’s why my trophy room is full of 5-year-old public-land bucks and older. I love going up against wild turkeys because they beat me more often than I beat them. The show they put on when I finally finesse one in close enough? That’s a bonus. So there’s all that wrapped up in, too. Matching wits. Admiring the many nuances of nature. Soaking in the beauty and serenity of being in the wild. But at the end of it all, I still enjoy killing. I love applying just enough tension to my release and then allowing my shoulder muscles to take over, squeezing them together towards my spine before the release simply lets go of the energy it had been holding back under my command, driving my arrow straight toward and through my target. For those who say they don’t enjoy the killing, I wonder if they’re being disingenuous. Perhaps there are some that don’t. Perhaps there are many who don’t. But I’ll be honest with you… I do.