Why I don’t “Kill” Animals

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Article contributed by Field Staff Writer H. Utley.

As a hunter, yes, I do kill animals, but that is not how I think about it. After a recent trip hunting for whitetail deer on Anticosti Island in Canada, I discovered a distinction between the way that I talk about hunting and the way that others around me talk about hunting. I think it is safe to say that at one point or another in every hunter’s life they have been asked, “Did you catch anything?” I usually chuckle and explain that I did not “catch” anything but I did “harvest” or “shoot” a/an ______ (insert animal here).

The other question that I got a lot when I returned from Canada was, “So, did you kill anything?” I was surprised at how much this question caught me off guard. It usually takes me a moment before I can answer because, while the answer was “Yes”, the spirit of the answer was, “It is not that simple.”

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An animal did lose its life, but there was no malice on my part and I did not just wake up one morning and “Kill it.” I woke up VERY early one morning, checked my equipment, put on my backpack, hiked through the woods, stalked quietly, sat uncomfortably, and was fortunate enough to see a deer. I then had to fight a mental battle. Was this doe mature enough? Was I close enough? Could I get closer? Wait for the right shot, don’t rush, and squeeze the trigger smoothly.

The deer jolted and my heart sank. We waited 10 agonizing minutes. This is a wait that is heavy on a hunter’s heart, like nothing I can explain. After searching in vain for another gut-wrenching 10 minutes, I spotted her fur. I will never forget the emotion that I had in that moment, it was pure joy.

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This is the point that I would like to clarify and where the distinction comes into play between, “Did you kill something” and “Did you have a successful hunt?” I was not joyful that the deer was dead. I was happy that my hard work, skill, and patience had resulted in a successful harvest. I was joyful that the deer did not suffer in its last moments and that we would be successful in honoring and respecting her life by harvesting the meat.

In any successful hunt that I have ever had I have never once thought the word “Kill.” As much as it may seem contradictory, the word kill is just not really a part of my hunting vocabulary, at least not in the spirit that a non-hunter would use it.

To me, killing seems so final, but harvesting an animal never begins or ends with “The kill.” Any animal that I harvest has a life long after my shot. A successful hunt feeds my family and friends and ensures a healthy, managed population.

I often struggle to convey the complex emotions that I get when I am hunting regardless if I am successful or not. I am not sure that there is a mutually accessible vocabulary for hunters and non-hunters alike, but I do hope that as a community we can work to show people that their words do not mean the same thing to us.

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I am sure that in the years to come, I will be faced with many more misunderstandings and confusion. I feel fortunate that hunting has made me a strong and confident individual. I do my research and I take the time to understand the benefits of hunting and what it means to the wilderness. I feel that as a community we have the tools to educate others in a responsible and respectful manner using the vocabulary at our disposal.

It is so wonderful that hunting has become more popular in recent years and as it continues to grow more people will have a better understanding of the mind of the hunter. Until that time, I will just have to continue to laugh at the image in my head when someone asks “did you catch a deer?”

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