I JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND…

My horse, Lakota, lives at 50-acre boarding stable in Pennsylvania that has about 90 horses. It is nestled in a 1711-acre state park that surrounds the facility on three sides, and a wonderful place to ride, hike or just hang out with the horses. Sometimes Lakota and I both walk and enjoy the woods, views and wildlife. The two most common species of wild life are wild turkey and deer. Both are abundant and not too shy – probably from their frequent exposure to the many human visitors to the park. The best way to see them is to leave the trail and ride or hike through the woods.

On a recent warm and sunny afternoon in late October, when the trees had just passed their peak fall colors, I was riding with my friend Rheanna in one of the back woods on the west side of the park. We emerged from the woods into a field that was bordered by woods on three sides and a cornfield that had yet to be harvested. The grass was long and lush, and Lakota was letting me know that he wanted to stop and eat, so we slid off our horses to let them graze.

We had been riding our horses bareback with just their halters and lead ropes, so we secured the lead ropes around the halters so the horses would not step on them as they grazed. Then we sat on a grassy slope enjoying the peace and quiet of a beautiful fall day while our horses munched on grass that was too good to worry about them wandering off towards home. My dog Nina had gone on the ride with us and began exploring the area.

As we sat there a young buck emerged from the woods and was watching us intently. Then he started to approach us. He would walk a few steps toward us. Stop, stare, and then walk a few steps closer. He seemed curious, either about us or the horses, or both. He got to about 100 feet from us before he noticed Nina, who was wandering off, unaware of the deer. At that point the young buck became more interested in Nina and started following her. Neither Rheanna nor I had ever seen a deer follow a dog, so we were captivated by the scene that was playing out in front of us. 

I managed to get a couple of photos of the deer following Nina and one of Nina when she realized the deer was following her. At that point there was about a 15-second face-off between Nina and the buck. Nina is a rather timid dog for 75 lbs, and has been chased by all types of animals, including chickens and cats, so I was most curious as to how she would react to the deer. Evidently she decided that the deer wanted to play, and she playfully approached the deer, that decided retreat was the best policy – end of show.

One day each year around the end of November, the state park allows a deer hunt. On that day, approximately 125 hunters invade the park and shoot as many deer as they can find. Also on that day, the boarding facility keeps all the horses in their stalls, because too many hunters, when they are in their killing mode, shoot first and then claim it looked like a deer. The park sponsors the hunt to keep down the deer population, although my personal opinion is that it is the hunter population that is the real threat. Obviously the owners of the stable share that opinion.

The day after the hunt, I went out to see Lakota. Some horse owner friends of mine were standing around the back of a horse trailer. I walked over to them to see what was going on. I was told that Josh had “bagged a nice buck” the day before and it was in the trailer. I watched as they dragged out the buck and stretched it out on the grass. It was obvious that I was the only non-hunter there, because everyone kept saying things like, “What a magnificent animal,” and “Beautiful buck.” People were shaking Josh’s hand and patting him on the back. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, because I like Josh. But I was thinking that the buck looked awfully familiar. In fact I was almost convinced it was the buck that had approached us a month earlier and had followed Nina. It was probably approaching Josh out of curiosity when he so courageously shot it.

I wanted to ask a few questions of these hunters and admirers of this kill. My first question was, “If it’s such a magnificent animal, why did you kill it?”  I didn’t ask that of course, because making enemies is not going to help. I also wanted to say, “I hope none of you think my horse is a ‘magnificent animal’ because I don’t want you to shoot it.” I kept my mouth shut and quietly walked away from this group of dead animal admirers. But it got me to thinking about humans as a species. I’d seen similar behavior in Vietnam where the dead that were being admired were humans.

Culture & socialization can have a nasty influence on people. Josh was raised on a farm by a father who I also like, but who hunts, and who controls the population of barn cats by crushing the newly born female kittens with the heel of his boot. So can I blame Josh for wanting to kill animals, or blame his dad, who had a similar up bringing?  No. And I don’t. Likewise in Vietnam, or any combat situation, the culture and socialization of the situation eventually leads to behaviors that appear reprehensible to those who were not exposed, but seemed normal to those who were deeply involved at the time. How else can we explain the brutality at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib Prison – brutality and killing that went on there for decades before U.S. forces arrived.

But I keep thinking about that young buck, and how magnificent it looked standing in the field. Why anyone would want to kill it is still beyond my understanding. So much for civilization. Apparently we are not all that far evolved – and if we are, then perhaps we are evolving in the wrong direction. And if anyone starts quoting crap from the bible about us being the superior species, I’ll kill ‘em.