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11/06/07 1:36PM By Deborah Luskin
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Deborah Luskin, commentator
(HOST) Hunting season is not just a Vermont tradition. According to commentator Deborah Luskin, hunting is a primal force of nature.

(LUSKIN) I'm not a hunter. I tried it once, with a camera, only to discover I'm a farmer at heart. Nevertheless, I welcome hunting as part of the rhythm of nature, like autumn leaves.

I'm not a hunter, but I have friends who are. They rise in the dark to enter the woods like pale shadows, slipping behind trees to wait for deer.

I also have friends who wrinkle their noses at the very idea of hunting, and speak of hunting and hunters with great disdain. When I tell them about my friend who only eats meat he takes from the woods, I see a flicker of doubt cross these nay-sayers' eyes as they calculate the morality of buying meat from the market, neatly cellophane-wrapped. Is that really better? I ask.

I'm not pulled to the woods the way some are, but I've witnessed the spell hunting casts. I've seen clean-cut, ordinary fellows stop shaving in September, grow silent in October, and go feral by Opening Day. There's something about tracking deer through the woods, pitting themselves against nature in nature, that sets these hunters right, even if, at the end of two weeks, they haven't shot a deer. I imagine it's a bit how I feel if I don't get outdoors in the course of a day, but stronger, as if these hunters haven't had the wild as thoroughly bred out of them.

I'm not a hunter, but I appreciate hunting for good management of the herd. I've seen deer starving in late March as the snow shrinks and they come down from their yards searching the valleys for browse. I've seen mangled deer too weak to outrun neighborhood dogs, and deer too famished to cross a road before an on-coming car.

In the twenty-odd years I've lived here, I've seen woodland habitat usurped by humans for homes and shopping malls. Under these circumstances, it seems only humane to cull the herd.

I'm not a hunter, but I like to listen to the stories of those who are. My neighbor, who doesn't usually say much, waxes eloquent in season.

"How'd it go this morning?" I ask him when I see him in his red-checked shirt.

His eyes light up, "I saw a six-pointer," he says, "But I couldn't get a good bead on him."

He continues with details of landscape and wind and sightlines, and I nod, recognizing his passion for something I don't really understand. I marvel at this whole field of knowledge of deer behavior and the way of the woods not because I'm especially interested in how deer think, but because I am fascinated by humans, and hunting is deeply human.

I'm not a hunter, but I like being outside. My husband's not a hunter either, but he likes walking in the woods. I urge him to stick to the roads for this brief, potentially deadly time. It's not so much that I worry a hunter will mistake him for a deer, but more because I think that for these few days something primal takes over, and hunters need the woods to themselves.

Deborah Luskin teaches writing and literature to non-traditional students in hospitals, libraries and prisons throughout Vermont.

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