I hunted and harvested a mule deer buck this October. I field dressed it and packed it out, first by dragging, and then by quartering and carrying it on my back. This deer is the first I’ve taken in a long time.
I’ve felt anxious about harvesting an animal in these last three years. And the longer I’ve felt scared, the harder it’s been to push myself to try. I’ve stopped myself every chance I’ve had to take a shot. The opportunities have been good, responsible and safe. But again and again, I just couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger.
I’ve been hunting for six years, since 2014. I had unusual success in the beginning. I was fortunate to take more large game animals in three seasons than any amateur has a right to expect. This was in large part due to W.’s dedicated mentorship and the community I found myself in, some luck and some patience. But regardless of why I’ve been successful, if I’m hunting and harvesting, I can consider myself a hunter… right?
Maybe, maybe not.
I’ve never felt like a real hunter. I don’t feel comfortable identifying as a hunter, either (blog name notwithstanding). I often feel out of place in this cross-section of hunting and wild food. Some reasons are obvious. I didn’t play in the woods as a kid or get into mischief. I didn’t camp or hike with my family. I grew up studying and receiving academic awards. I like data and spreadsheets. I read a lot for fun. I’m also an East Asian minority. Outdoor adventuring and hunting aren’t part of my cultural heritage. I’m an adult beginner. Plus, I’m a woman. And an ex-vegan. And some of my reasons are personal, too.
All things considered, I’m probably a lot of things that aren’t well-represented in hunting media. It makes sense that sometimes I feel like I don’t belong. And at some level, I bring this self-doubt on myself by having a public blog, too.
Aside from all that, it isn’t surprising that I feel anxiety as a hunter. I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life, personally and professionally. It follows that this mental health issue would bleed into my hobbies, too. But even if the anxiety could be expected, it sucked. It still sucks.
Or, I could be overthinking this. I might have still felt unsure and afraid, even if I looked and lived just like Steven Rinella or Hank Shaw, both of whom I admire. Struggling with anxiety is extremely common in the general population. But I can’t separate my fears from personal factors, though I’d prefer to.
To clarify, I don’t think it’s inherently wrong for me to question myself or my motivations. Killing and eating an animal merits this work. It’s right to think hard about harvesting an animal before acting. And it’s right to consider the consequences and morality of that choice. But that is not the kind of worry or stress I am referring to.
It’s becoming common knowledge that struggling with uncertainty and ambiguity is normal. I certainly struggle with it. There is much to be worried about this year, beyond my shallow fears specific to hunting. I know I’m not the first person to feel scared. But I don’t hear about hunting-specific anxieties often. I just hope that sharing this experience will help normalize feelings like these for others like me.
Frankly, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel confident calling myself a hunter. I don’t think any achievement or experience could change this. I’ve certainly shown myself that being elbow-deep in deer intestine isn’t enough. But maybe this is okay for me right now. It’ll have to be.
I have struggled with my anxiety and my fear for a long time, in many aspects of my life. And I will continue to struggle with them. But at least, right now, I am certain that harvesting this mule deer felt right for me. I am grateful for the privilege of accessing these resources. I am thankful to be able to share this wild food with my friends and family. I am relieved to feel this moment of surety, no matter what the future holds.
Deep thoughts are normal after taking a life. That’s the nature of hunting. And I am glad, so glad of this.
This post was published on October 20, 2020.