The slow-coming arrival of winter cheers those looking forward to use of their snow machines, skiing, ice fishing, etc. Spring is a favored time by others as long-awaited relief from shoveling snow and hard frozen ground. Summer has many admirers looking to spend the long days under a balmy sun made more tolerable with sunscreen and bug dope. I’ve enjoyed them all, from sliding down hills until I turned into childhood wrapped in iced woolens, to the first jump in the chilly lake, to frying in sunny delight on a sandy beach. Every one of those is, one way or another, a joy and pleasure. If you think back, can you find enjoyment simpler or more pure than that of a twelve-year-old peeling off an icy wet sock to wiggle bare pink toes on a cozy piece of carpet? There is a form of happiness we forget as we age and develop tastes of a more advanced nature.

My that’s good stuff, but for pleasure these days I look to the annual season of hunting to cheer the inner galleries of my spirit. The arrival of the glowing orange-clad Bambi killers raises my mood to an exuberant “YES!” I have never hunted or killed a single deer other than one with a Ford Country Squire and another with a titanic old Pontiac. Those were good deaths, messy and costly, of course, and sadly too quickly over to savor in proper enjoyment. I take more solace in the efforts of the nervous rifle man or woman putting a hole somewhere on target, just enough damage for Bambi to leave a trail. I could feel sorry for the wounded deer. As a kid that sort of skill represented real hunting ability to back up mere marksmanship.

In my teens (perhaps presciently so) I volunteered to turn deer slayer to bring home some venison to the family larder. Mom said no. We ate only real meat in our house. Real meat had to come from a store that wrapped and labeled it beef, pork, or poultry. In a rare mood, Mother might allow spring lamb. Lamb was at the far extreme of acceptance in our family. The mention of mutton would raise a culinary monologue of no interest to anyone not collecting tales of food prejudice. Before I slithered into my teens, venison had somehow made it into the mutton category of rejection from which there was no appeal.

The rebel in the house, I was of a mind to give venison a chance. A sample of deer sausage was almost enough to turn me from revolution onto a conservative course of food habits. In an end-run around parental blocking, I accepted an invitation to a venison dinner at a friend’s home. When it came to eating, I was a reliably willing volunteer. I told Mom we were having spaghetti. I soon wished we were. Venison must be one of those acquired tastes, or, as Mother would say, “You have to know how to cook it and I have no plans to learn.” The potatoes, onions, and peas were OK and the pie was quite excellent. But there, nearly ruining the good portions of the meal, lay venison like a rock of indigestion in my gut. It sat there for what seemed days while other foods flowed around it. It took a week to get free of the physical effect. The indigestible memory of the inedible hung on, never to leave. I decided I could try deer hunting regardless as a way to prove my manhood and add to my Christian charity by donating my kill to a needy family I didn’t like or held a grudge against. I decided friends don’t give friends venison.

The boy who invited me to a feast of venison was the same who considered me as a hunting companion. It’s possible my gagging at the table and sly maneuvers to shove hunks of gristly substance into my shoes sent a signal that I wasn’t cut out for his way of life. I knew I could shoot one. I knew with even more certainty I could write a poem about a deer. If only he’d asked for that, I’d have shone bright as noon. But having to swallow that nasty, stringy, strong-flavored flesh needed stronger stuff than I was made of. I had to settle for 30/30 prowess with paper targets. Mother simply snorted, “Good,” Father used his usual “Don’t look at me” expression. I would not kill a deer because mere desire to do so doesn’t do much to shed blood.

I still have not and do not plan to hunt deer. No animal rights or similar attitude prevents me. It’s just that I don’t personally need to shoot Bambi and can find considerable pleasure in cheering on the ranks of deer slayers to do their duty. A cry rises naturally from my lips: “Add mine to yours and take two!” I say this in good conscience because I know by spring Bambi will be starving, because while some may find these doe-eyed creatures beautiful to look at, I can’t for the world see them as much more than white-tailed vermin or especially tall rats with antlers. Clumped in numbers along the north shore, deer are a destructive plague that in starvation eat down to the bare frozen earth as they slowly leave the realm of life to become shrivelled packets of skin and bone found like abandoned parcels along almost every few hundred feet of shore.

The deer around here wait to see what I plant before planning their menu. If I plant it, they will devour it. Deer-resistant is a food group for these four-legged eating machines. At times I’ve felt so vexed I’ve been known to mouth Stonewall Jackson’s remark “Kill ’em, kill ’em all!” But that sentiment sounds extreme, so I prefer a cheery “Happy Hunting” with subtext hissed under my breath.