Editors Blog

Dan Schmidt: Our Prey Deserves Our Respect

Trail Camera Photo of Big Buck

by Daniel E. Schmidt

Maybe it’s just me, but it appears we as hunters have stepped off our path.

It wasn’t a sharply defined turned, but rather a gentle meandering that occurred over the course of several generations. As a whole, we don’t truly appreciate the animals we kill. Maybe we’re spoiled by today’s record deer herds. Maybe our comfortable lifestyles have detached our souls from all things wild.

Maybe we just don’t care.

Minimally, all deer hunters should be thankful for a venison bounty. Most of us are. However, how many of us truly respect the deer we kill?

How many of us stand in quiet deliberation over a fallen whitetail? How many take a moment to ponder our own existence?

This isn’t about religion. It’s about respect.

Canada’s Cree Indians were especially reverent to slain animals. In fact, their entire hunting tradition was built on elaborate rules honoring slain creatures. A hunter’s post-hunt behavior was at the top of the list.

Hunters were forbidden from over-celebrating their kills. In fact, even unintentional boasts of a hunter’s prowess were thought to insult animal spirits and bring bad luck.

Hunters in American tribes followed similar rules, and they made sure the remains of every deer were respected. It was customary for many tribes to prop a buck’s head — and antlers — in the crotch of a tree so the buck’s “spirit” could watch sunrises and sunsets. They also believed this reassured other animals that they needn’t be afraid of yielding their bodies to humans. Other tribes were careful to utilize the entire animal, including every scrap of meat from the carcass.

I use these examples not to advocate pantheism — the belief that all things are God — but to illustrate how far modern man is detached from the earth. I don’t believe taking photos of dead deer or getting a buck’s head mounted is irreverent. If anything, those acts honor the animals. However, we can rest assured the Cree never placed sunglasses on deer heads, hung a buck’s testicles in a tree or bragged about how they “stuck” a doe. Furthermore, I doubt an American Indian ever partially skinned a fawn, then — out of pure laziness — cut out the backstraps and left the rest to rot.

One of my college professors once told me that irreverence toward dead creatures is common among people who are anxious about their own mortality. He also said it often takes but one reminder to trigger the necessary guilt to right one’s internal compass.

Looking at today’s world makes me wonder if primitive hunters possessed a far greater understanding of the natural world than their modern counterparts.

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