As a warning I’ll try to keep this post from getting too graphic or too heavy, but this has been on my mind much of the day.
Last night was a funny night…funny strange, not funny like a joke. It might have been the half-moon or it might have been the turn of (long overdue) warm weather we’re experiencing here, but the raccoons were seemingly going berserk in
last night. Cambridge
I had one of my last indoor soccer games last night, and when I pulled into the parking lot at the sports dome a big, fat, healthy-looking raccoon sat up on its haunches and watched me park me car. Even though I could not shake the feeling that this particular raccoon was judging my park job, I’ve seen raccoons before so I moved quickly on to my game. A couple of hours later, after my game and after some obligatory post-match conversation I left for home. While I was waiting at a red light, a different, smaller raccoon crossed the road, anthropomorphically, at the crosswalk. I did not observe if it looked both ways first. I saw a third raccoon (more on this in a second) and then finally encountered a fourth as it sauntered up the gravel shoulder of the main road near my home. I hadn’t seen four raccoons in the last six months, and here were four of them on one ten minute span of driving. Skews the percentages a wee bit, I must say.
But back to the third raccoon.
I encountered this little fellow on a major three lane stretch of road, specifically Highway 401 just west of the Hespeler Road off ramp. When I saw this animal it was about 40 yards ahead of me and already crossing from my lane (the right hand lane) into the centre lane. This particular raccoon met his demise quite immediately under the right front tire of an eighteen wheeler that was travelling at over 100km/h. I don’t think it is too inaccurate or graphic to say that this raccoon met his end by literally exploding. No twitching, no writhing, and I presume no pain whatsoever. Just a puff of fur and red moisture. No time to swerve and no need to stop, as it was obvious that this specimen was beyond reprieve.
This instantly struck a nerve with me and I felt a weird mixture of remorse, sadness, and a briefly retching nausea at this scene. It all happened so quickly that it was, in a word, shocking. One second the animal was alive, microseconds later it was not. Simple as that. Moments later, while still in my mind, the feelings had basically subsided. BUt maybe it was this event that made me keenly aware of the fourth raccoon closer to my home.
I related this tale last night to my wife and today to a co-worker. While my wife just grimaced and made a sympathetic noise for the untimely end of this particular little ex-raccoon, my co-worker could not understand why this bothered me for even a second…when I pressed her on why she thought I was some sort of remorse-free monster, she said that I kill animals all the time so she just thought I had become numb to dealing with death.
Far from it.
I’m paraphrasing, but a hunter more qualified than I once wrote that they always felt a little bit sad and conflicted when they were successful in killing an animal. They hinted that it was an act that forced the hunter to deal with the reality of killing for their food; a reality that was miles removed from what most experience when they buy the nice, clean stuff wrapped in plastic on a Styrofoam tray. This particular writer embraced the introspection that those feelings forced him to deal with, and argued that those feelings were as much a part of the hunt as the pursuit, the kill, and the memories. I could not (literally) have said it better myself.
Any animal, whether it is road-killed, hunted, or processed at an industrial facility for mass consumption has a life with some value; it is certainly valuable at the very least to that specific animal, which is why respect for the resource, and an effort to minimize suffering in the act of harvesting should always be the primary concerns of a hunter. Dicey shot? Maybe don’t try it. Not sure if it’s a legal animal. Again, why risk the shot? Have a limit already sitting at home in the freezer? How badly do you need more? These are all ultimately questions that can only be answered by hunters in the moment, but it is certainly at least worth pondering them now.
And what of my original point, what of raccoon number three? Well this really bothered me for a couple of reasons. First, the utter pointlessness of this raccoon’s death. Second, the split second nature of actually seeing anything’s life instantly (and messily) doused out before one’s eyes is troubling (and if it ever stops being disturbing for me, please make sure someone commits me). Third, the response of my co-worker, who is a perfectly normal woman with no formal opposition to hunting, seemed to indicate that instead of non-hunters thinking first about the hunting community as conservationists, or of a group upholding their family and cultural traditions, the first thought was (while not malicious) of us as remorseless killers.
I suppose it is all too easy for those don’t participate in hunting, or have no positive exposure to the pastime, or even those with a moral opposition to hunting at large (which is fine, I have my own moral oppositions to some things as well) to caricaturize us all as gun-toting lunatics with a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality, as takers with no respect for the natural world, or as a bunch of rural reactionaries that are one national crisis away from starting a militia. Sadly, some in the hunting community, by their actions and the way they describe their hunting experiences, do nothing to dispel this kind of slander.
So the next time someone says to you “I don’t know how you could shoot that animal” or “I think being in the woods would be fun, but I just don’t think I could pull the trigger” don’t get offended, and don’t go into a chest-slappingly macho diatribe about how the world has lost touch with the natural order of predator and prey (these are responses I have seen in the past…luckily from no one in my directly associated hunting group) and just smile, say something perfunctory like “I guess we’re all different” and then maybe explain to them in an honest, humble way how it really is for you.
They might come around, they might not. But at least they dealt with a civil, polite member of the hunting community that treats the game with the respect that it deserves while simultaneously acknowledging the spectre of death that is ultimately inherent in successful hunting with reverence. Let’s try to not treat the act of killing as an act of self-definition.
Hopefully that is the example that they’ll think of first the next time the meet a hunter.