COMING INTO MANHOOD by Brenda Looney
It's October and many men are hitting the woods for hunting season. While I am sure there are some women hunters, this phenomenon seems to be mostly a male sport. At our house, my son has already been out hunting small game and has plenty of squirrel in the freezer to prove it. I'm still trying to understand what motivates men to want to participate in this activity.
My introduction to hunting season began back in 1985. My son was 8 years old and was invited along with my husband to join other family members to go up into the woods in Michigan and hunt for small game. David was so excited. This trip was his first time to be with the men and to be able to shoot a gun. For an 8 year old boy, this was a dream come true. He had spent hours watching every hunting program on television and read everything he could find on hunting. They spent the weekend in the woods camping out and many squirrels were killed, cleaned and eaten. This was a family time for all the men of the 'Looney' clan to gather. David had such a good time and was hooked on the sport of hunting.
The years passed and each fall the annual ritual continued of going hunting with his uncles and cousins. David bought all kinds of hunting magazines. I'd pass by his room late at night and smile thinking he was actually doing his homework....but alas, he was instead pouring over some hunting manual. When he turned 12 he took his hunters safety course and then the serious hunting began. He was ready. He had studied and knew just what to do and was up for the challenge and test of his skills.
It was bow season, and David and his dad were going hunting for deer. He waltzed into the family room in his hunter's uniform. On his head he had a camouflage hat with netting drawn down over his face. He had on a camouflage shirt and pants and even his boots were camouflage. He smelled kind of funny and I found out he had tried out his pine tree cologne. He was also taking along some fox urine. I didn't even know they made fox urine. I briefly wondered how they made it. :-) He explained to me that he didn't want the deer to smell him coming. I thought this was going a bit too far....but what do I know? I could see the gleam in his eyes and hear the excitement in his voice. Before leaving he had to watch the "How to field dress a deer" video we had rented ..... just one more time. I think he had watched it a dozen or more times already. I hugged him good-bye and wished him luck. Who was this person standing in front of me dressed to kill? Somehow, I sensed that my son was changing before my eyes.
Two days later I received a phone call from my son. I could tell from his voice that he was excited. "I got one Mom. I got a deer." I couldn't believe it. This 12 year old boy had got a deer his first time out with his new bow. I listened as he told the whole story of how he took the deer down and all the details of tracking it and field dressing it. He detailed how his father cooked the heart and liver almost immediately and they ate it with gusto. I was rather grossed out by this ritual but kept my judgment to myself. He was so proud and wanted me to be also. I congratulated him and told him I was happy for him and looked forward to seeing his deer.
I lied. I dreaded the thought of that dead deer coming home with him. I cleared out the freezer to make room for the venison, and realized I didn't have a clue on how to cook it, nor was I sure I even wanted to. Within hours, they pulled up in the driveway. I walked out and David had jumped up into the bed of the truck and was holding up the front end of the deer by the head and posing for pictures taken by my husband. He had blood all over his clothes. I choked back the gasp that was caught in my throat. I was sorry for the deer, and the glee on my son's face was incomprehensible to me. What is this joy? Where was my sensitive, caring, loving little boy? I didn't recognize my son who was proudly smiling for pictures and showing off this dead deer to all his friends who came by. I came to the conclusion that hunting is a man thing that I cannot share and will never fully comprehend.
Off to the butchers the deer went, but the head was sent to the taxidermist for mounting. I really didn't want to have to look at that deer, but David was so proud and excited I couldn't object. After the deer head came home, David put it right over his bed. There is a huge mirror on the wall there so that instead of seeing one deer head, I'd see two every time I entered his room. I felt like it was staring at me and I hated it. It stayed up for years, but when I had his room painted, I finally took it down and told him when he gets his own house he can put it up there. I'd put my time in with that deer and wanted to reclaim my peaceful decor again.
There is no way to explain hunting so that I can ever understand it. It must be a primal trait ingrained in all males that is in their genes dating back to prehistoric cave man days. I am grateful to know that my son is capable of being self-sufficient and can hunt for his own food if every Krogers in the country closes by some remote chance. I've kidded with him and asked him if he'd ever consider hunting for cows. He just laughs at me. After all, I'm a female and how can I understand his need to hunt.
The hunting is not part of any financial economic plan. I shudder to think of all the money spent on magazines, books, videos, clothes, guns, ammo, fox urine, tree stands, camouflage chair seats, bows, arrows, targets, blinds, gas driving up north, butchering fees and taxidermy fees. That deer roast meal probably cost hundreds of dollars if one were to figure it all out. No, it's not the money. It's the sport and the enjoyment of spending time alone out in the woods. It may be raining or freezing cold. The fingers may be numb and the legs cramped from sitting in one position for hours. The thrill and excitement felt when that deer comes walking by is unmeasured by any other experience. The heart pounds and the blood courses though your body in a rush. The snap decision to be made. The assessment of whether or not to take aim and shoot.......All this makes the preparation, money, time and effort worth it.
It is explained to me that there is also a reverence and appreciation for this animal who has lost it's life. Nothing is taken that can't be used. All efforts are made to have a 'clean' kill so the animal's death is swift. The only way I can make this right in my mind is knowing that the deer populations here is so great that if the hunters didn't take them out they would die of starvation which is a slow, horrible death. Knowing that makes me feel somewhat more accepting of this hunting ritual.
I do believe it is a rite of passage also for a young boy to go through. The woods that were once enjoyed for camping and family times transforms into a school for growing into manhood. Instead of having Mom there to turn to, the young boy is on his own. He has a lot of time in which to commune with nature and think about his life, and which direction he's going. The quiet, peacefulness is embraced. The shear beauty of the autumn leaves and oftentimes new fallen snow, leaves an imprint on the soul. Gone are the days of childhood and childish things are put aside. Hunting is serious and grown up and involves deep feelings for life and death and survival.
My son went into the woods a boy that day and came home much further down life's path to being a man.
For My Son, David
May the good Lord be with you down every road you roam. And may sunshine and happiness surround you when you're far from home. And may you grow to be proud, dignified and true. And do unto others as you'd have done to you. Be courageous and be brave. And in my heart you'll always stay-forever young. Forever young.
May good fortune be with you. May your guiding light be strong. Build a stairway to Heaven with a prince or a vagabond. And may you never love in vain and in my heart you will remain-forever young, forever young, forever young, forever young.
And when you finally fly away I'll be hoping that I served you well. For all the wisdom of a lifetime, no one can ever tell. But whatever road you choose, I'm right behind you. Win or lose. Forever young, forever young, forever young, forever young.
lyrics from Forever Young by Rod Stewart
~~~~~"And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children. And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His
might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
by Kahlil Gibran
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