The stars were dispersed throughout the luminous sky, the full moon the only other sign of light amidst the crisp autumn air. My boots made a small clink every time I climbed another rung of the cold, metal ladder, my grandfather’s 270 Winchester slung over my back. Once at the top, I slid into the worn, rusty chair that overlooked a vast field of pines and waited for my dad to join me. Spanish moss surrounded us, and as a few rays of sunlight appeared, the forest came to life.
We sat silently, skimming the dense brush for any sign of movement and listening for every snap of a twig or crunch of a leaf. Time passed in anticipation, until what we had been waiting for finally arrived. A small, graceful doe tread through the forest, crinkling the bounty of leaves that were under her feet. As she glided in and about the fallen timber, I aimed my rifle toward her and lined up the crosshairs. My heartbeat began to quicken. Trees and brush sporadically blocked the majority of her body, not providing an optimal shot. I had a moment’s doubt whether or not to shoot, yet, as I took my next breath — sweat beading across my forehead — I squeezed the trigger.
The resonant roar that followed didn’t stun me as much as the cloud of smoke rising from where the deer stood and the sight of her frantically racing deeper into the forest. Images of my past hunts — one-shot kills that cleanly took an animal’s life — stood in stark contrast to the image before me, filling me with deep regret. I had hit the doe, yet it wasn’t a fatal wound; we would need to track her. Remorseful that I didn’t heed my earlier doubt urging me to not take the shot, we descended the ladder and set out for the doe.
Blood, speckled on leaves and branches, was our guide. Tracking went by slowly; I knew the doe was in pain, and I owed it to her to relieve her of it as soon as possible. It was only when I almost stumbled on a pile of organs on the forest floor that I understood the full damage I had caused. As I looked to my right, the suffering that entailed materialized on the doe’s face — a face overwhelmed with terror. I gazed at her, a victim of my eager error, as my father fired a final shot, putting her out of the misery I had caused.
The sacredness of life, its inherent value, and the responsibility I have as a hunter when taking life, were never as apparent as they were on that day. The paradox of hunting is that amidst the taking of life, the value of life becomes so much clearer. Through my experience with the doe, I began to define my own ethical compass on hunting and my place within it, culminating in the realization that it’s always better to sacrifice the prize than to earn it through a poor decision that leads to undue suffering. This experience made starkly clear to me the consequences of the abuse of power and, therefore, taught me to be responsible when I am in a position of power, especially one that involves something as sacred as life.