COLUMN: "Hunting for Other"

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this ran as my essay on a recent episode of “Between You and Me” on KAXE.

Hunting for ‘Other’
By Aaron J. Brown

In my family the word “hunting” means something very specific: hunting deer with rifles in November at a family owned cabin and land collectively known as “the shack.” The very words “the shack” are a northern Minnesota cliché. Many people talk about their “shack.” I don’t need to cough up many adjectives for you to conjure a picture. Smell the inside of an old man’s shoe. That’s what the shack smells like. Look at the furniture strewn about at the end of an estate sale. That’s the décor. Imagine the five worst sounds that the human body can naturally make. Prepare yourself for those noises. Feel the surface of a 50-year-old wooden picnic table that’s been left out in the woods. That’s what you’ll be sleeping on. I’m not speaking metaphorically. That’s where you’ll be sleeping if you go there. Bring your own pillow and gun.

But the rifle season for deer is just one of scores of opportunities for law abiding citizens in the world’s largest and most affluent democracy to shoot, butcher, cook and eat wild animals. Personally, I’ve made it a policy to never shoot an unarmed animal. If Bambi pulls a shiv on me I’ll pop a cap in Bambi, but until then I prefer my meat to come from unknown places by unknown methods. That’s what capitalism intends and in this instance that suits me fine. Still, I can’t help but feel out of place in a world like Northern Minnesota when the only hunting experience I can offer is the kind of hunting that goes into finding just the right accessory for my 1939-themed home office. I live both in and out of my culture, which is just another way of telling you to buy my heartfelt memoir. Again, the season of clichés.

Nevertheless, for many, these early days of fall provide ample opportunity to hunt deer with arrows, to shoot small game like rabbits, squirrels, woodcocks and grouse. You’ve still got time to shoot a bear, a crow or an early Canada goose. That’s why I always show up to places late. When you’re early, someone might shoot you. In a few weeks, the moose, pheasant, waterfowl and turkey hunts begin. All manner of God’s creatures will soon be hanging upside down from a makeshift crucifix in someone’s yard. But don’t worry. This time, no crusades. And sometime next month everyone gets a bag full of jerky.

States like Minnesota have noticed that fewer people are hunting. At the same time, populations of many animals, especially deer, have dramatically increased. That’s why you can take part in early hunting seasons and even “Take-a-Kid-Hunting Weekend” next Saturday. If the adults won’t shoot the excess deer, perhaps the children will. American budgetary policies are based on many of the same principles. Is the downturn in the number of hunters a bad omen for the future of Minnesota outdoorsyism? I’d contend that some element of hunting will always continue, if not for recreational purposes than for the food and population control measures that concern the residents of rural areas. And if there’s any doubt that people will abandon country living then I’d ask you to check the census data. Northern Minnesotans are, by Census Bureau standards anyway, pouring out of towns into the rural townships where gunshots will be heard regularly now until Thanksgiving.

I may not be a hunter of deer, or of partridge, bears or moose, or of squirrels, crows or turkeys, but I still appreciate the feel of a crisp autumn day, the sounds of rustling in the woods and the endless drama of people figuring out how to live alongside animals, and each other. And also guns.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com. His book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” is out now.

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