Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/10/2011 (2130 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Facing the Hunter
Reflections on a Misunderstood Way of Life
By David Adams Richards
Doubleday Canada, 224 pages, $30
Unless you're an avid reader of the author's Governor General's Award-winning fiction, it's not until the very last sentence that you learn where his title comes from. It's an enigmatic choice.
But then this is an enigmatic piece of non-fiction. In this era of animal activism and embattled Atlantic sealers, one might expect a spirited intellectual defence by the New Brunswick-bred David Adams Richards of his beloved yet "misunderstood way of life."
But there's little of that in this slim volume, and what there is is personal and repetitious.
Rather, this is a defence by storytelling: story after New Brunswick hunting story, as if told to mates around a campfire in a rambling stream of consciousness.
This vivid immersion in Richards' woodland passion does rub off, assuming you're game to wade through thickets of hunter-speak.
Even a vegan if compelled to eat meat to survive might prefer the conscientious way of hunting practised by Richards and the hunters he respects to stalking factory-farmed animal parts at the supermarket.
It's a hunt, Richards insists, that takes no pleasure in taking life; that would rather miss bagging that elusive 20-point buck if it might turn out to be the female of the species with dependent young or if that risky long shot might wound without killing, condemning the prey to a slow and painful death.
It's a hunter's code that commits to "hunting the wounded down" (to quote a title of a Richards novel) even if it takes days, so the animal doesn't suffer and the meat isn't wasted.
Richards' problem -- and he's wounded and dangerous about it -- is that ignorant city-slickers, including fellow literati, look at conscientious hunters like himself and see a stereotype: the redneck taking potshots between swigs of beer, the trophy hunter with a heart of stone. But Richards despises hunters like these and tells a few stories at their expense.
Poor man: it's as if urban cultural warriors are preying on endangered woodland sportsmen.
But Richards doesn't draw that ironic parallel. Indeed, there's little facing of the hunter in the mirror here.
Not even when recalling his earliest boyhood kills does Richards describe his emotions when sighting his prey, pulling the trigger and watching an innocent die by his hand.
There is only a parenthetic aside where he confesses to once killing a doe: "I never felt good about it, and I mention it because I never felt good about it." Instead, it's always fast-forward to "dressing" (cutting and gutting) the prey or tracking it, if wounded.
But this is glossed over, too. Not a word about what it's like to finish off a gasping deer, not a whiff of ripped open belly and steaming entrails or the pathos of a great carcass hauled from its woodland home.
But Richards does face the supermarket hunter -- with relish. Three times he throws down the gauntlet: "those who eat meat should be morally obligated to kill at least once in their lives that which they eat."
He doesn't mean fire a captive bolt into the skull of a cow or pig, hoist its unconscious body, slash its throat, bleed it, saw and chop it.
Nor does he suggest that urban meat-eaters (like Richards himself, a 60-year-old Torontonian now, he thinks his hunting days may be over) be morally obligated to witness how their shrink-wrapped prey are raised (the battery cages, the sow stalls, the feedlots) and shipped to slaughter (the densely crowded truck rides without food, water, heat or AC, sometimes lasting days, sometimes deadly in themselves).
But that kind of reality check might be too disturbing even for a hunter to face.
Winnipeg writer and editor Syd Baumel is the creator of eatkind.net and a vegan hunter of faux meats.