Deer hunting in Maine is an artform for some, a science for others—but for most of us die-hard Maine folks it’s a tradition. For me, it’s about environmental ethics and food choices. My father never brought me out hunting. Maybe he figured it was a boys thing, or maybe he never thought to ask. Either way I’ve never shot a deer and have put a lot of time into trying this fall. Why do I hunt? That’s a complex answer. The truth is I was once against hunting, until I earned more about our food system. It comes down to hunting or store-bought meat.
For those who are anti-hunting I think you must somehow misunderstand the meaning of it. My perspective is the creature lived free, ate well and didn’t know it was over until the bang. And if you’re a good shot then it never even knew it was coming and had no suffering. Every part of the deer is used on our property, the same place it came to naturally. The muscles and some organs go to feeding our family. The deer’s bones are buried deep under the garden for calcification. Any remaining flesh and organs not used for our family’s consumption are fed to our carnivorous livestock, and the hide is saved for moccasins.
The animals responsible for bacon, pork chops, delicious Whoppers and chicken nuggets are fed antibiotics when they aren’t sick, lab-made steroids and hormones to promote marketable growth. These critters never eat green grass, get to forage for insects, or select their favorite leaves or nuts from the forest salad bar. Many stomp around in their own feces all day with no room to even turn around. Others are debeaked, locked in cages to keep them tender and never see the light of day.
Factory farmed animals are given the absolute bare minimum amount of vitamin and mineral supplements to keep them alive because they are malnutritioned by the diets provided to them. Factory farmed are raised as cheaply as possible. They are fed the lowest cost grain. Animals are born and raised in batches and live exactly long enough to result in maximum output of meat products. These animals are born into the Big Ag system, and die afraid. Their natural instincts are ignored and suppressed. A deer is free, lives as it evolved to and eats what it chooses.
Because these animals raised in mass ranches and huge buildings are fed such a poor diet and live in these conditions their bodies hold minimal nutritional content. With less valuable and lower amounts of nutrients in the meat products sent to market paired with the amount of time it takes to reach the store shelf they hold drastically less nutrient content for human consumption, especially compared to locally raised, pasture fed, free ranged and wild hunted animals. They have less taste and comparatively taste much different than animals raised on the diets they had evolved to eat.
Don’t get me wrong; if we all hunted deer for sustenance they would quickly become eradicated. There are not enough wild animals to feed 7,582,997,466 people—as of writing this article this is our world population. When considering hunting v. store-bought meat one must think rationally and see the bigger picture. To offset the demand for factory farmed meat those who can hunt ought to and those who cannot ought to make better food choices. Never forget: each purchase made is a vote for that product or commodity.
At the dawn of agriculture, about 8000 B.C., the population of the world was approximately 5 million. Over the 8,000-year period up to 1 A.D. it grew to 200 million (some estimate 300 million or even 600, suggesting how imprecise population estimates of early historical periods can be), with a growth rate of under 0.05% per year.
A tremendous change occurred with the industrial revolution: whereas it had taken all of human history until around 1800 for world population to reach one billion, the second billion was achieved in only 130 years (1930), the third billion in 30 years (1960), the fourth billion in 15 years (1974), and the fifth billion in only 13 years (1987).
- During the 20th century alone, the population in the world has grown from 1.65 billion to 6 billion.
- In 1970, there were roughly half as many people in the world as there are now.
- Because of declining growth rates, it will now take over 200 years to double again.
Our neighbors have harvested three deer from our property already this year. With the majority of our forest composed of red oak, in addition to shrubby hazelnut and the bumper crop of beech this year—deer are abundant here. Our property is posted on every border to allow our, and our neighbor’s, family to harvest what we need for the year. We follow all hunting regulations and take safety very seriously. My neighbor’s daughter shot her first buck on opening day this year and I was thrilled to be a part of her big day. When their son also shot a deer they offered the meat to us seeing as we have been busy and only had so much time to devote to hunting.
Between growing, raising and hunting for our food here it’s a chosen lifestyle which is not for everyone. Each day involves work and dedication. Each day we feed, water and check the health of our animals. They have warm, safe homes and are loved—yes we name and adore the very animals that become our dinner. We do it for the future, and to teach environmental ethics to our children and hopefully to others along the way. Some even live inside our semi-heated first floor garage in the winter months.
To me, deer are an even better food source than our livestock because of their freedom. The choice of hunting or store-bought meat is the choice between captivity or freedom. In addition to that aspect, they yield more nutritional value due to their natural forage habits and wild food choices. Industrial factory-style farms responsible for the bulk of meat in our food system are unable to afford the foods thier animals are designed to eat. Cows should eat grass, not corn. Worse than eating something that makes them sick: they are fed the parts of other cows which spurred the Mad Cow Disease epidemic. This swap to their diet causes them to be sick, and they live out their days with terrible gas and diarrhea that must be unimaginably uncomfortable—gross but true folks.
Because these bovine are sickened they are fed antibiotic-laced feed, which also helps reduce foot infections from wallowing in their own runny feces all day. This isn’t the kind of thing consumers are supposed to hear about. Because of this overly simplified, forced diet the animals don’t yield the same types of vitamin and minerals found in the foods free or small-farm raised animals eat. The antibiotics have become less able to ward off infection over time as the animals have built up resistance to the drugs. This means our antibiotics are at risk of similar plights—think about “super bug” pandemics used to evoke readers in horror novellas. So hunting or store-bought meat: the choice becomes more clear with more knowledge of Big Ag.
Endocrine disrupters have been found to leach out of literal shit-ponds from hog operations into groundwater leading to communities. In fact, factory farming in the US created 133 million tons of animal poop annually, 13-fold more than human poop in the US. In the US, puberty is happening earlier and earlier. Many unrelated studies have pointed to the food system and the diets, drugs and supplements eaten by the animals we eat. When it comes to hunting or store-bought meat the answer is very clear to me.
The animals we hunt and raise here are free of these issues. I would much rather put a face on the food I eat and know it was from a happy animal. Each animal here is cared for and handled daily. We do not call pig meat pork, cattle meat hamburger or steak, and our deer is not called venison in our home: we use the animal name here. If our kids aks what’s for dinner, the answer is deer steaks, moose burgers, pig chops or cow steaks. We reduce the pressure on the overburdened food system and teach our children values to guide them toward healthy choices and solid ethics as adults.
Before you get all weird understand that we do partake in American activities. Yes, we still eat chips and drink soda on occasion as special treats. We aren’t quakers and don’t live like the Amish. I listen to Pantera and System of a Down in the car and take trips I could do without. My oldest son is a nerdy gamer with blue hair. But we live in a way that reduces our so-called footprint—but we still have fun.
In addition to all these reasons behind my love of hunting and raising animals is how nice it is to walk in the woods and think. How often do we just sit and stare off into the wilderness these days? Not much by most folks’ standards. As time passes and I get older this has become more important to me. After an hour my senses have attuned in a way they hadn’t in a long time. Each flicker of a leaf is taken into consideration. Every white bit of stump from a fallen tree is noted. Tiny skitters of squirrels and the clawing of porcupines up trees are distinctly saved to the sound bank of not deer sounds. Before long the sun stretches through the trees at a slant and that golden hour comes when you have to decided it’s time to let go of the peacefulness of the forest and walk back into the chaos of our modern culture. So yeah— there’s that.