Hunting for Feminist Ethics in the Field and Stream

Britt Kidder

Tall leather boots crunch along the littering of acorns scattered across sidewalks, and coffee houses everywhere have stocked cabinets full of pumpkin-flavored syrups in anticipation of a cold northern winter. The creeks nearly hold still, reflecting a coral-hued rainbow of a million leaves soaking up their last minutes of sun.

For some, it’s time to romanticize the beauty of fall (ta-da!). For me and my husband, it’s officially time to hunt deer and restock our freezers.

While feminism and hunting may not immediately appear compatible, it’s important to question why anyone should wish to confine hunting to a singularly masculine expression  in conflict with the values of femininity/feminism. There is no conflict. Femininity is identifying as female in whatever you’re doing, and thanks to feminism, women don’t need to worry that they’re ‘sacrificing femininity’ by broadening their experiences and entering unfamiliar territory. For me and these very interesting women, that includes hunting.

Feminism, as an application, benefits everyone in any situation. Feminism belongs everywhere because of its power to examine, to balance, to include, and to improve life on earth. Life which is not a uniquely human experience. In fact, many of us regularly eat things that previously were alive.

Ever eaten a hamburger? Do you like chicken fettuccine? Will you prefer ham or turkey for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner? Each of these meals is sourced from a furry or feathered animal friend, the kind I sometimes like to eat. But instead of ignoring this truth — that death is sad but we still like meatballs with our spaghetti — I prefer to care about it and do what I can to ensure the food I eat came from an animal that enjoyed a healthy, natural life and was killed in a respectful, ethical manner.

I was brought up in a vegetarian and low-meat household with no guns, and was disgusted when I understood the meat industry’s treatment and preparation of commercial animals (and minimum-wage employees?). I started eating wild game because I saw the importance of an animal’s quality of life, and I started hunting wild game because I saw my responsibility as a consumer.

Before this year’s season opened, I did some scouting and got permission to hunt on private land not too far from town. After getting my scope mounted, I went with a couple friends to sight in my Browning X-Bolt 270 (a lightweight rife) because accurate aim is essentially important for ethical hunting. No animal should suffer because of an incompetent shot and no hunter should risk losing and wasting an animal because of a poorly sighted gun scope.

Also, no poaching. Always get permission for private land and always keep the deer tag in a pocket.

When opening day arrived, the first thing I did was rummage through the closet. Now, one strong controversy among women hunters is wardrobe; will it be the green camouflage or the pink camouflage?

I do not appreciate the commercial look of camouflage, and the gratuitous marketing of pink camouflage as a signifier of feminine-appropriateness is especially insulting. Pink is often used to mark women as the ‘other’ and if you don’t want to look like a big bottle of Pepto-Bismol then it just makes more sense to focus on the fabric quality for warmth and durability. I recommend visiting a good thrift or consignment shop and finding a pair of quality wool pants and a variety of cotton and wool tops for layering.

My favorite wool pants are Gap brand and were purchased for $10 at a consignment shop, and as I belly-crawled up a rough, freshly cut wheat hill on Friday afternoon, I appreciated the comfortable silk-lining inside my sturdy, stylish wool pants.

Belly-crawling several hundred yards up a hill with a rifle resting in both hands is not a fast method of travel, and when we finally made it to a low clump of dry grass at the top we were a little winded. We lay about 200 yards down wind from a herd of white tail deer slowly moving right to left across the next hill toward tree cover. Feeling excited and anxious, I raised up the scope to look the herd over for a clean shot.

This is where ethics come in again, because if it doesn’t feel right I won’t pull the trigger. I look for a large-bodied, healthy deer who is not caring for a fawn, then I wait for a clear shot without obstruction, without risk to surrounding deer and without directional complications like roads or houses.

I’ve noticed the men I hunt with get very excited about antlers, and their view is ‘bigger is better.’ I don’t feel that way. It’s not much of an issue for deer fattened up on wheat and bean crops, but the problem I have with trophy big game — like a 7-point elk — is the poor-tasting meat. A year’s worth of ‘gamey’ meat is enough to deter me from wanting any set of trophy antlers off an animal. And as for the specifics on antlers and record trophy animals, I couldn’t tell you because I have no interest in it. I’m belly-crawling for sustainable, ethically sourced, organic, local meat. Not a hat rack.

The author with a 2 point mule deer, October 2010.
The author with a 2 point mule deer, October 2010.

The final thrill of hunting is the collaboration and celebration that makes it so grand. It’s incredibly satisfying to meet up with old friends and share a wonderfully big dinner the night before an opening hunt, when we stay up so late that only a few of us can get up after the alarm clocks ring the next morning (an old trick to get the field to yourself). I never feel more human than when I’m sharing the harvest with comrades, and toasting our success.

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