A Humble Hunter Thanksgiving

November gave us kids something dead to look forward to: Dad’s deer kill. Never would we have a better chance for an eye-to-eye with a big game animal than when Dad dragged a deer home.

We were allowed to touch it. We could smell the wild muskiness of it. We could check out every detail of its fur and whiskers and antlers and hooves. Watching Dad hang the white-tailed deer gave us a chance to sense its weight. As he trimmed flesh from the carcass and metal bowls were heaped higher, we understood where venison came from. It was later when we tasted the fresh, earthy meat prepared to perfection with an accompaniment of root vegetables and squash from the fall garden harvest that Dad’s successful hunt truly hit home. We ate something wild and felt wildly excited because Dad got a deer this year and there would be many venison meals to come.

This was sustenance. This was subsistence. Whether it was squirrel or rabbit or white-tail, wild game was treated like a delicacy in our house. Even when we shared those two skinny squirrels around our table of six, I felt Dad’s pride at having put his keen hunting skills and his wild game cooking expertise to work so he could put food on the table that day. The tougher the times, the more Dad hunted whatever was “in season” at that time of year.

Equal to the benefits of Dad’s successful hunt to nourish us was the learning. Circles of life. Food chains. How the animal had lived. How it had given its life for us. Dad showed respect for each animal—even as he handled it for butchering. Through stories of his hunt, we got the idea that hunting was a sacred sport.

Reflecting on it now, I would call Dad a humble hunter. Only taking what he needed. Always grateful. Never flaunting the kill. Never wasting a bite. Continually refining his hunting and shooting skills meant that no animal would needlessly suffer. And that was the mark of a good hunter and a good man.

I have no doubt that Dad contributed to my reverence for the life and food that Nature provides. I also believe that it was Dad’s influence that made me fall in love with Tom, an ethical and humble hunter who is now my husband of 36 years. Tom gives the deer he shoots a last bite out of respect for the animal. This honors German hunting traditions that he had learned firsthand while stationed with the U.S. Army overseas and hunting with German guides there. But it also represents the kind of hunter and man he wants to be.

Preparing a meal of wild game gives us both a chance to live closer to Nature while we honor the animals that have had a good life through harvest. What a privilege to honor our family heritage—those humble hunters and wild game cooks—while we prepare our table and give thanks.