The Deer Men in My Life - Life Lessons Learned from Men Who Hunt Deer
A Whitetail Newborn Fawn
Reading Habee’s Hub about processing and aging deer meat, I found myself on an adventure into remembering the men I’ve known whose love of deer hunting framed important aspects of my life.
I got to thinking about how complex a subject deer hunting is, as it encompasses time-honored traditions, emotions, and environmentalism.
Our family is a deer hunting family; that’s the way it’s always been. The roots of the hunt in our family are grounded in 18th century Poland and 17th century America.
In contrast to our tradition, there’s the emotional aspect, where the Walt Disney anthropomorphization of a cartoon fawn touched the heartstrings of generations of people around the world who now see a baby deer only as an orphan suffering the pain of its dead mother.
Then there’s the aspect of contemporary wildlife management, where deer are displaced by human development. In some suburbanized and urbanized areas of this country, local authorities schedule controlled kills to reduce the deer population.
Let’s start at my beginning, which is my family’s heritage, and end with a dear and trusted friend’s experiences.
Learning To Be Patient
Uncle Marion was one of my mother’s younger brothers. He is gone now. When I was a teenager, he taught me to shoot with a bow and arrow and took me on deer hunts in the New Jersey woods at the hours before dawn. We’d leave home at 3 in the morning, hit a local diner for a deer hunter’s breakfast, and then travel on to one of his hunting haunts. Just before dawn, he’d find the right spot in the woods, and hunkering down with bow and arrow at hand, he would show me how not to make a sound or a movement.
At first, my mind would race with school work to be done or the niggling emotions of everything that was going on in my teenage body about boys and acceptance and, well, all those things that occupy a young girl’s mind. I’d be restless. But then, I’d look at him, at his silence that showed in his body, because there was silence in his mind. He looked to me as though he were dozing. But he wasn’t. He had silenced his thoughts and thus opened the door to perceive any change in the woods. I copied his demeanor as best I could, for hours. Never in one of our hunting trips did either he or I kill a deer, although many were within striking range. He always let me shoot the first arrow, I always missed, and the deer and its friends learned quickly to stay away from our blind.
Uncle Marion taught me not how to kill a dear, but how to be patient and silent.
A Deer Steak Recipe
I don't have Uncle Jan's recipe for his stellar steak. When I asked, all he said was, "Well, beat it up a bit then throw it in the fry pan." Words of a true chef. You might like to try this recipe for deer steak, if you are among the fortunate who have access to venison.
Learning the Lesson of the Sleeping Dog
Jan is my mother’s youngest brother. When he was young, he learned hunting, dressing, and butchering from his older brother Marion. As a grown man, he added to his considerable wild game skills when he married into a family steeped in the farming and hunting traditions of the hills and valleys of New York and Canada. Uncle Jan cooks the meanest venison steak in two countries…a melt-in-your-mouth, tender, juicy slab of meat right out of a cast iron skillet on the top of a wood-burning stove.
He’s a quiet guy, leaving talk to his older brothers and sisters and to his wife and her family. Since he doesn’t say much, it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking, or if he’s thinking at all. It’s also hard to tell if he’s listening, but he’s the kind of guy you can talk to, because he doesn’t judge. Sort of like talking to your teddy bear. But he carries with him a powerful language of the body, one which makes me wonder why he didn’t become an Elvis impersonator. He’s got the stance, the seductive smirk, and from time to time the sideburns. He is only about 7 years older than I, and in my teens, my girlfriends swooned over him.
Many years ago, I had a job where I was turned down for a promotion only because I was a woman. I told Uncle Jan about this man who had been offered a job that should have been mine, a man who was pompous and denigrating. Uncle Jan listened, then he said, “Give me the pr*ck’s name and address and I’ll take care of it.” Of course, I didn’t. Many years later, I asked Uncle Jan if he had meant what he said about doing this guy in. “Of course not,” he replied, “but that’s what you needed to hear.”
Where Uncle Marion taught me patience and silence, Uncle Jan taught me the value of informed posture. Perhaps he may have been the David that could have slayed my Goliath, but he also read me very well; he knew I wouldn’t say yes to his offer. What he gave me was the courage, evidenced by his caring for me, to fight for what was mine. Which I did, and which I won.
Yes, let sleeping dogs lie. But do your best to listen to them. They are capable of more than you can imagine.
Learning To Identify with Death
My friend Wayne keeps a loaded shotgun under his bed. He lives within the Philadelphia city limits in an exclusive neighborhood surrounded by Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park system. A quaint paved lane leads to the front door of his house which sits on two acres of property. The lane has city lights. An expected driveway leads to his house. But once you go out the back door of his house, you experience nothing but the woods of this extraordinary park system. Since the park system is public property, and his land is not defined by any notice to the contrary, he’s had episodes of prowlers and even home invasions.
Wayne is committed to the city, to his right to defend his property, and also to the necessity of protecting wildlife as it exists in places where humans have displaced it. He’s a fierce protector of animal rights, and he is also a hunter.
Wayne returned from an African safari a few years ago and invited me to share his pictures and tell me about the trip. For three hours, I was transfixed by what he said and by the pictures he shared. He hunted zebra and buffalo and more, and he has the skins to show for his efforts. But the gift he gave me in this telling was his identifying with the animal at the moment of the kill. I can not do justice to his words or thoughts, so I must simply say that he and the animal, for a brief but eternal moment, were one. In this moment, he faced his own mortality.
At the same time, he is the one who is called by animal control or the police department to put a deer out of its misery when it is hit by a car, which happens often in this congested people-dominated environment where wildlife is displaced. He does this with grace.
I learned from Wayne that there’s an acceptance to be had
about death. When you engage with the eyes of the animal who you know is near death by your hand, then you can see your own death. In that moment, you die with him.
This is a Tribute to the Deer Men in My Life
These thoughts need no videos or wonky illustrations or photos or more word plays on deer. My tribute to these men is here in my words, reflecting what lives in my heart.