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  • There Is No Respectful Way to Kill an Animal
  • Craig Womack (bio)

There was nothing good or clean about the last shot I fired at a doe. We had hunted the foothills the day before on the eastern slopes of the Rockies in southern Alberta. On a hilly bluff it was so windy that we'd laid our rifles down on the ground and leaped giddily in the air, coming down to earth in front of our selves—I thought of Neil Armstrong bouncing around on the moon. When we came back downhill through the draws as the light faded, there was a little snow on the ground but not enough to my liking. In the time I'd lived up there and gotten to know the stories about grizzlies well enough, I'd developed a healthy fear of bears. If it was up to me, I'd prefer hearing them snore in their dens. So I was relieved when we got back down to the prairies, out of bear country.

My hunting buddy ended up shooting a deer in a big wheat field just before dark, and I stood by while he went and got the station wagon he drove. If you shoot a deer in the middle of a thousand acres of wheat stubble as the light is failing, and you successfully track it to where it's fallen, here's a word of advice. Don't the two of you walk back to the car, even when it's close by, because you won't find the deer you shot. I'm ashamed to say we had discovered this some time before the hard way, and I can only hope the wolves got something out of it. We didn't make the same mistake twice, at least. My friend drove over, we gutted the deer, loaded it up, and headed back to Lethbridge, where we'd hang it to cool for about a week in a metal shed in my backyard and then cut it up, wrap it, and put in the freezer. On the way back home we stopped by the Hutterite colony, my friend said hello to people he knew there, and we bought some homemade bread.

It's legal to shoot does in southern Alberta, in case you're wondering, and you should. Deer are plentiful there, and some winters significant [End Page 11] numbers starve due to overpopulation, part of my justification, at the time, for killing them. That and the fact that there simply isn't anything like grilled deer tenderloins.

The next day was my turn to bring something home and use up our allotted tags. And I had a long shot at one in another wheat field. Almost on the edge of being too far but not quite. We'd already crept up on our bellies through the stubble as close as we were going to get. Any minute the wind might shift and scare them off, or they could see us when we came up on some little hump of terrain. So I scoped in the .270 rifle. Got the sights aligned for a chest shot, just behind the shoulder; I wanted to bleed her out. I took a deep breath, held it, waited for the moment when somehow everything pulls into center, and squeezed the trigger. The deer went down immediately. A good clean shot; there wasn't going to be any trailing this one. It wasn't a short walk over. When I got there the doe was not dead. She couldn't gain her feet, but she had two of them splayed in front of her, trying to pull herself up a little rise with her hooves, even if merely inches at a time. Everything in her still wanted to live even after a gunshot that ensured her death. She was so alive, desperate with possibility, dragging herself up a hill to get as far as possible away from me, against impossible odds.

My friend, who had the buck knife in his jacket pocket, cut her throat and ended it. I have some rituals, personal ones, and I did them after he'd walked out of...