When the weather starts to turn colder, most people look toward the holidays, school starting,
other things that the change of the season brings. In my family, it means the start of hunting season, which is pretty much a four and a half month rush to fill our freezers for the year. It’s tough, grueling work. If you’ve been wondering why things are sporadic on The Rational Heathen, it’s because I’ve been hunting almost every day.
Hunting is Hard Work
If you’ve never hunted for food, chances are you don’t understand the work involved in hunting. Contrary to popular belief, hunting is hard work, with not a lot of payout. In my own state, the Fish, Wildlife and Parks people put together some numbers and roughly eight to ten percent of tags get filled every year (if it is a good year). If the year is bad, you can expect seven percent or less. With such abysmal odds, it’s a wonder we ever get an animal, let alone several. To be honest with you, every year after hunting season we have unfilled tags — and not from lack of trying. Given that we’re semi-subsistence hunters, our goal is to get as many tags filled so we can eat meat year round.
Occasionally, we’re called in for game damaged hunts which helps us put meat on the table, and helps the farmer or rancher get rid of the pesky animals on his property that are destroying his crops. Even these aren’t a cakewalk. We saw one hunter on a rancher’s property who didn’t get a shot off that evening. We were unsuccessful for the first two evenings. The evening before the last day we were allowed to shoot, we managed to harvest a huge doe. The next day we spent caring for the meat, even though we had a second tag. But we look at a 50 percent conversion as a good ratio. Would I have liked to get another doe? Absolutely. But the game damage tags were only good for a few days and we had no guarantee we could’ve gotten another one. Regular season started the next day, so we had to consider that.
Hunting can drag into days where you can’t find the critters anywhere, or they’ve gone nocturnal and you have to figure out how to take them legally. Usually this requires finding the deer’s beds and hoping you can shoot them before the last legal light of the day. Most of the deer we encountered spook at 100 yards or more. To make things difficult, they change up their routines so there’s no guarantee we can find them in the same spots day after day. We’ve set ambushes for them. Some have been successful; some have been abysmal failures.
Ullr and Skadi
Neither Ullr or Skadi had been much in my mind when I was hunting until recently. The problem is that I really didn’t think I had much of a rapport with either of the hunting deities. I knew the back country well enough to know that it can get dangerous fast. I respected the land I entered as one who should understand and play by its rules. To ignore the rules of the land means you’re headed for disaster.
I remember the years when I raced in the back country (long story that) and had to deal with inclement weather, steep drop offs, and adventurous landscapes. One race I actually had a doctor show up and look at me to make sure I didn’t have frostbite after a grueling run through some of the worst weather. He remarked I was dressed well for the conditions. I had no frostbite, and in fact, was warm. This was because I respected the weather and the place. Without proper respect, one is likely to become injured, or even killed.
When I became heathen, I realized that I was in Skadi’s house when I ventured into the back country, not mine. As much as I felt close to Tyr, I should have felt close to Skadi, but didn’t. I think a large part of it was lack of trust on my part. Ullr, I’m afraid, I have little, if any, knowledge of. It’s taken awhile, and having me warm up to the goddess of the winter and the hunt (pun intended) has been difficult. I think part of it is her capricious attitude. If you don’t believe that the goddess can be capricious, just live in a place where winter weather is constant and try hunting. You’ll get the idea.
Skadi sometimes offers food. More often, she offers a beauty that is second to none. In the high country in autumn you can see the fiery glow of the tamaracks and aspen when you hunt. You can feel the kiss of her breath on your face and find clues of the creatures which inhabit her forests.
Being Grateful for the Food
Every shot we do, we try to do humanely. When we do take an animal down, we apologize to it and thank it for the meat which will sustain us. We don’t do high fives or victory dances here. Killing is a solemn event. We understand that this animal gave itself for us. I thank Skadi and the wights for allowing us to take an animal. I’ve been leaving offerings occasionally.I don’t know if they are appreciated, but I figure it’s a good idea.
Okay, So What’s the Point?
I think one of the bonuses to be a subsistence and semi-subsistence hunter is getting closer to the land and the change of seasons. We spend a lot of times outdoors. Many times we track game or look for signs. Sometimes we’re successful; many times we’re not. Sometimes I swear I can feel the goddess; other times, there is not much joy in it. Still, it’s better to hunt than not. So, hopefully I’ll be more talkative on this blog, with better news about the hunt.