The Virgin Hunter

A former vegetarian explains why he went hunting this fall. By Gabriel Furshong

After maintaining a vegetarian diet for several years, I went hunting for the first time this autumn. I fired a single shot that severed the spine of a full-grown Whitetail Deer while she grazed with her fawn in a meadow of native grasses on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. My sole justification was a short prayer by the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran.

By the same power by which you are slain, I too shall be slayed. I too shall be consumed.

When I came across those words at age nineteen, I was intent on self-reliance above all else. But those two sentences forever complicated my pursuit of independence by inferring the most fundamental question facing every species on the planet: How will I eat and drink? My struggle with this simple question spurred my evolving relationship with food. This relationship involved a five-year commitment to vegetarianism, multiple experiments with a vegan diet, and most recently, hunting.

In May I accepted a job as a field organizer with the Montana Wilderness Association and moved 103 miles north of my home in Helena to live on a futon out of the field office in Choteau, Mont., population 1,781. To the west lay roughly 418,000 acres of pristine, largely roadless public lands broken into jags of mountain and belts of limestone cliff shelving in a formation that geologists have dubbed “overthrusting.” Below, stretching across the grasslands, is a band of working ranches and farms that date back generations. The men and women who live here inspired the writings of A.B. Guthrie and continue to inhabit the pages of Ivan Doig.

I fell into local habits of eating and drinking shortly after my arrival. While the drinking consists largely of beer from the Busch family, which purchases local barley, eating involves another more engaged rhythm. The local buyers’ co-op features free-range chickens and turkeys from local Hutterite colonies (a communal branch of Anabaptists similar to the Amish), grass-fed beef from nearby ranches, and a full range of vegetables from neighborhood gardens, including garlic grown by my hunting partner.

People who live this closely to the land have much to teach those of us who are twenty-five or thirty steps removed from our survival. So I decided to pay my great uncle a visit and collect my grandfather’s pre-1964 J.C. Higgins 30’06. I began by learning to shoot at paper plates with the hope of decreasing the distance between myself and the calories that give me life.

I watched the doe for a full ten minutes before I killed her. She could see me hidden in the peninsular grove of birch jutting into the meadow, yet continued graze, trusting me among the living things she’d encountered. Even the smallest twig can cause a bullet to fragment upon impact as it flies through the air, so I focused my breathing as she rounded our position. I was scared and moved more quickly than I should have, but the deer fell nevertheless and could not regain her footing.

Her death was nearly instantaneous, and when I set my hands to her warmth I knew the independence I sought six years prior was a myth. Our principal pursuit in life is the maintenance of our basic needs. I have learned above all, that this practice guides the rest.


What happened to the fawn?

I guess since you fail to mention field dressing the doe or your thoughts on the survival of her fawn after you killed it's mother, are we to assume you left the meat to rot and fawn to starve?

Maybe you should have spent that 10 minutes before you shot that doe thinking about the fawn's survival?

You are an excellent writer, though I found your story completely depressing. I could not follow your evolution from vegan/vegetarianism to killing a mother while she was actively mothering, particularly when deer-eating (or any meat eating) is unnecesary for survival (and by all scientific accounts is actually harmful for you).

I do firmly believe that if you are going to eat something that must be killed to eat, you should kill it yourself -- so I respect you for that. However, isn't not eating it at all the better choice?

Finally, what are the real chances that you will be slain and consumed?

I could not fathom this article at all, unless perhaps this magazine is owned by a hunter or participant in the meat industry and is a way of spinning how even vegans will hunt for survival. Why was this even published unless as some kind of derogatory spin on veganism?
I would suggest that you go back to being a vegan and stop killing wildlife!

I'm not sure you reduced the metaphorical distance between yourself and your meal. Could you have manufactured the tool that you used to kill the animal? You might try growing or raising your own food. Hunting is interesting but it's only peripherally about food these days.

I think the article was just too concise. There was obviously a lot of self-examination involved in this journey, but I'm not sure it was conveyed adequately to meet your critics head on. Part II in the future?

Back to the reality, folks. Those who defend animal rights, think about the paid 'assassination' of farms pigs done for you, if you are eating pork. If you are vegetarians, aren't the plants alive as well? They just do not scream when you eat them alive :)

Hunting for food is still very much a part of living in the northern rockies and Alaska.

It really comes down to sustainability, hunting for food is more sustainable in Montana than vegetarianism.

I always appreciate it when people understand that we have no choice but to live an existance of paradoxes. Owning the reality that we consume and kill in order to exist is an important aspect of living a healthy and honest life. Vegetarians cannot escape this paradox, although some choose to be blind to it.

Further, I agree that we are all eventually slain and consumed. Probably not by the sword, but instead by the forces of nature combined with unstoppable process of time.....

Hmmm...excellent writing, and I too want to hear more on this story. What comes next?

You start to take us to the core of the question of where we truly fit in the natural world...and what each must do to live sustainably.

The closer we are to producing our actual survival, each of us doing that for ourselves, is the sustainability that frees us from corporate food, a corporate culture. To simply trade one type of corporate food for another...meat vs. vegetable...I am not sure that gets us closer.

And I think it is this disconnection we virtually all live that is the root of our personal and cultural deny the implications of our survival, well, where does that get us.

You are forcing us to contemplate these things.

Anyway, this is thought provoking writing...thanks Gabriel for sharing this story and we will hope for a sequel.

There is indeed more to my story, as Angus and wheinz suggest. I'm afraid 500 words aren't enough to retrace those questionable steps with the attention they deserve.

Food involves a multiplicity of moral questions and only one of which is whether to kill. Ironically, the appeal of vegetarianism for me was the implication of that question at my every meal. The missing pieces however, were nutrition, locality, and a more proactive spiritual relationship with food.

Protein is a challenge for even the most disciplined vegetarian, and as Angus points out vegetarianism alone cannot free us from corporate food. Unfortunately, locality too often takes second seat to organic certification in the progressive dialogue on eating and drinking. In a world where the average item of food travels some 1500 miles to your plate, hunting and gardening near one's home are of vital importance.

Our ability to survive as a species will depend directly on our sensibility of that other-than-human world on which we rely, and responsible hunting is a reflection of timeless reciprocity in practical and spiritual terms.

As for the fawn, her survival and those of all whitetail deer will depend as always on the severity of winter. So, vegetarian readers of Plenty take heart, global warming is on her side.

you stupid vegetarians, the act of hunting and eating meat is the only way humans have been able to survive and evolve. if you feel hunting and eating meat is wrong go take your stupid fist and punch yourself in the stupid f***ing face. hunting is a right that all americans should practice. you idiots are probably for gun control which is another topic i hold dear to my life. the writing sucked but feel he has made a wise choice in his life and finaly saw reality in life. Vegetarians really need to learn to open their eyes to reality instead of hiding in there hobit holes.