Friday, October 17, 2008

Hunting Season

When you live in Montana , you are a lot closer to the food source in many ways. Of course on Cape Cod, there you are, next to the ocean and the (slowly vanishing ) seafood that New England has been famous for. But out here, we're close to the wheat, the hay that feeds the beef, and the beef itself.

There are more cattle in Montana than people, as every citizen here knows. I pass by fields full of black Angus everyday, destined to land on the plates of hungry Americans. Further, hunting as a way to stock the freezer is a tradition seen as a right if not a necessity. Any of the deer that come and eat on my front lawn or back yard could be in someone's freezer tomorrow- it's bow season. And next week, general hunting begins, with guns. Already I hear the target practice happening all around the neighborhood. The boys have just taken their week long safety class at Bigfork High, three hours a night for five nights, culminating in real target practice. The class was packed with dedicated young hunters. Anyone born before 1985 doesn't have to take the class to go hunting. So watch out for the old guys, they've not been thoroughly drilled on all the ways a gun can hurt you when you don't want it to. But my husband Jim, a newcomer and a gun virgin, decided to take the class. He learned a lot about many types of guns, bullets, magazines, and mishaps. And he is in awe of the dedication of these boys to learn so they can hunt.

This is the normal way of life out here. Licensed hunters draw for "tags" to go after so many deer, elk, and antelope. It's very easy to get a tag for a deer, not so easy to get one for elk or antelope. You must pay $5 to get into the Super Tag lottery, where eight lucky hunters will win a license to hunt moose, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, antelope, bison or mountian lion in any hunting district in Montana. You are seen as a criminal (and you are one) if you shoot these animals without a tag, unless it is in self defense.

Am I hunting yet? No. It is a very expensive, technical and grueling thing to do, and I'm no Sarah Palin. I'd rather buy my venison already steaked out down at the grocery store. But I see the guys getting ready, I see the ads in the newspapers for all manner of hunting stuff. . . not only guns (you don't see many ads for guns in the local papers of Cape Cod, but you sure do here), but special camo clothing, camo four-wheelers with rifle mounts, camo tents, and you can probably get camo ammo. Camo cars and trucks. Camo boats, and camo make-up for your face and hands. As I said, hunting has gotten very expensive.

The game sometimes just walks up to you even if you're not all decked out in camo. I have deer here that get pretty close, and turkeys that preen by looking at themselves in my shiny bumper in the driveway, and rabbits that live in my hay barn. I've come to realize that the supermarket way of hunting for food has really separated us from the work it takes to bring home a meal. My grandmother taught my mother how to cut off a chickens head, pluck it, dress it and cook it. I've never learned that. My grandfather went hunting for deer. My father didn't. I didn't. My grandfather raised a few pigs for pork chops. I never have, although my brother Bud in Wellfleet tried it. His kids got very attached to Miss Piggy, though, and refused to eat her once she ended up in the freezer. It's probably good for me to be here in Montana; I've learned how removed I've been from my food, buying it in chilled plastic. As I said, I have the knowledge, and that's good enough for me. I don't want the real experience of hunting, but I understand it. It is authentic, it is survival for many. A woman who works at the bank tells me she eats no meat bought in the supermarket- she eats elk and deer hunted, dressed and frozen by her husband. "There are no antibiotics in my dinner, I can tell you that," she says.

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