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Luskin: Learning To Hunt

For the past thirty-one years I’ve stayed out of the woods in November. Every rifle season during deer hunting, I’ve donned blaze orange to walk the dog on a leash. If all goes well, this will be my last November on the back roads. If all goes well, next year, I’ll be in the woods, hunting.

No one could be more surprised by this turn of events than I am. I come from a family of people who hunt for bargains and houses, people who can navigate the wilderness of highways around large urban centers, people who think “Game” means Parchesi. All three of my brothers earned merit badges for marksmanship when they were Boy Scouts, but they’ve grown into men who don’t even own nail guns. I’m the one who now owns a rifle, which I’m learning to shoot.

Traditionally, hunters grow up in or near the woods, observing the integrated connections between deer, their habits and their habitats. I grew up in the suburbs and lived in Manhattan before I moved to Vermont, so my idea of enjoying the outdoors for the past thirty years has been sticking to blazed trails and groomed tracks. For three decades, hiking and skiing have been satisfying ways to be outdoors - but no longer.

For one thing, all the beaten paths now see heavy use. Trash has joined the leaf litter and recreational enthusiasts use their cell phones everywhere. When I’m outdoors, I want to experience a less civilized side of nature. It’s this desire to know nature better that’s tugging me toward hunting. And that’s what it feels like: a strong force beyond my control, pulling me into the woods.

I have no illusions: I’m pushing sixty, a late start to accumulate enough field craft to become a successful hunter.
But at this point, “success” doesn’t necessarily mean taking a deer. I don’t know that I’ll ever acquire the necessary skills or overcome my significant ambivalence, but I do want to learn a new way to be in the woods.

Some of the most astute naturalists and conservationists I know are traditional deer hunters who know far more than just how to navigate through the forested landscape. They know how to read it, how to hear it, how to be still and observe. It’s these skills of being at home in nature that I aim to acquire by learning how to hunt deer.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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