By Jack Kredell
Once my grandfather reached the peak of his hunting prowess, sometime in his late 50s, he became more and more reluctant to hunt. It seemed odd that a man who had killed a deer or elk almost every year since he was a teenager would suddenly lose interest in hunting. Was it apathy? It didn’t seem likely.
At the end of a yoga class a few weeks ago, we were instructed during shavasana, or corpse pose, to let our mind wander freely. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, exhaled, and let my mind go blank. I soon found myself on a ridge top looking through binoculars at the 8-point I would shoot a few minutes later. I raised my gun but found the shot too difficult to take standing, so I began slowly to crouch, letting my left elbow come to a rest on my left thigh. Here I breathed, exhaled, and pulled the trigger. For the first time since killing that deer, I recalled the physical violence of the gun going off, the way it popped and bucked deep into my shoulder, the half-moon gash on my forehead from the impact of the scope.
That one was so much more violent than the first two, but not because I couldn’t handle the recoil. It was violent because I felt I knew this deer better than the first two. Finding this deer had been a little different. For the first time, I had stalked a deer and entered its world completely undetected. I had plenty of time to decide not take this animal’s life. I almost felt his equal, and I didn’t want the experience to end. Killing him felt like an act of betrayal.
When you’re first starting out, getting a shot at a deer occurs when your world and their world suddenly and fortunately (for you) collide. That moment of chance is where most hunting takes place. Throw in the pressure you put on yourself to get a deer, and you can understand why people routinely miss or wound deer. That moment is fleeting (you think), and so you take the shot. The difference between this kind of hunting and the hunting where I felt I had slipped into the buck’s world is that in the former, the trigger pulls you while in the latter, you pull the trigger.
It was then, during this vision on the yoga mat, that I understood my grandfather’s waning desire to hunt. Simply put, hunting had become too intimate for him. His ego was no longer part of his practice. He was more aware than ever of death and dying, both for himself and for others. He had practiced the art of still hunting his entire life, and by middle age, he had no problem entering an animal’s world. The labor it now took to get within range of a deer required neither evidence nor reward. But it wasn’t the satisfaction in knowing he could kill the deer that prevented him from doing it. For the first time in 50 years of hunting, he knew he actually couldn’t.