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The photograph showed up on a Facebook page the other day, posted by a family friend who was celebrating a significant event: atop a dead deer stood a 2-year-old boy. We mention this only because the conqueror was younger than his prize.
Soon we may see a family album with an infant holding antlers, because at this time of the year, such trophy shots are almost as numerous as the number of deer we spot while driving along.
We know families who revel in the sport and the food-harvesting aspects of killing deer. We understand the biology, zoology, agricultural and frontier spirit of the sport.
Still, an image of a 2-year-old and a carcass causes us to pause and shake our heads.
You have read no doubt the stunning – and I would suggest fearsome – statistics about the number of deer in Shelby County.
They are stunning because of how this great migration of deer has found our native lands to be such a wonderful base for their lives, just as we humans have.
They are fearsome because you can’t drive anywhere at daybreak or dusk without the constant terror that one of these majestic and graceful creatures will spring from nowhere and assume that your vehicle is not an object to be feared but another hurdle to be cleared.
Surely you have been like me, driving along a wayward country road in the evening, when your lights turned across the path and cast the terrifying shadow of a deer in the middle of the road.
If you were like me, you were able to maneuver your vehicle enough so that the frozen deer could return to darkness alive and not become my hood ornament.
You did all of this on reflex and without breathing.
Seldom a day goes by now that I don’t hear someone’s story of a near collision, a startling encounter or, worst, the metal-bending, blood-spilling tragedy of impact.
My wife breathlessly told the story the other day of how she stopped her car in the middle of a neighborhood street and chased a large buck form the center of the road, because she knew at any instant another car could come along and not see the animal in time.
She’s a hero to both a deer and a driver.
I have never been a hunter – my only two shots fired from a true weapon were shotgun blasts at clay pigeons; yes, I broke them both – but I come from a long line of men dedicated to the sport.
I have walked along with people shooting at squirrels and birds. I’ve tasted some of the spoils of their work. I have seen the trophies mounted on walls.
I understand all of that.
I also have, despite my penchant for recreational activities that include balls, wandered fields and forests for decades.
And until I returned from my prodigal in Florida, I had never seen so much as a deer track in Shelby County, much less the actual animal.
The irony is that in a suburban Orlando neighborhood where I lived for 10 years, I saw deer many times, running along the golf course, playing chase in the green spaces and rarely but occasionally crossing the street. Thankfully the speed limit was 25.
When my family moved down the street to a new house in 2007, my wife and I were greeted on arrival for our first moments of moving by a family of deer walking up the drive and around the house, which we saw as sort of welcome wagon from Mother Nature.
This neighborhood, we should note, abutted a wildlife refuge that also featured those big ugly lizards Floridians rally around and some large and fearsome-looking black bears. We saw those, too.
But the deer there are like the residents: Smaller and not in need of much of a winter coat.
They were like little pixies that spiced up a walk, a drive or sunset on the patio.
But here in God’s Country, these images of wonder are, we recognize, a problem.
There isn’t enough land for the number of them to coexist with the rest of us, and we understand that there must be hunters to thin the herds each year, take their meat and trophies and try to reduce the threat to our cars, some of our crops and an infestation of those awful, stinging flies.
Citizens have fought off animals for thousands of years, and this is just a small aspect that remains a part of our lives.
If you read this and ascertain that any syllable is a condemnation of deer hunting, let me be clear that my point is not to castigate but to illuminate. Your choices belong to you, and mine belong to me.
There is no compelling reason to my way of thinking to engaging in a public debate. I respect your choice to hunt.
And I also know this.
The sports editor of the paper in Covington, Ga., inspired by the trophy-taking pictures that were rolling into his office, recently wrote a column about how much he hated deer hunting.
He stated his case plainly as his own opinion, not that of the newspaper.
The next day, callers wanted to make the sports editor their next trophy. They effigated him in a way they might a public official.
His publisher, an avid deer hunter, didn’t much care for the column or the reaction of his friends.
His editor, not having read the column before publication, felt blindsided and didn’t much care for the reaction of his publisher.
The sports editor, as you can imagine, was left out to dry like a freshly trimmed hide from a carcass.
My skin is too old to be valuable for any purpose,
But I’d like to keep it for one more day.