Kill the deer, but please go without me

By Robert McCartney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 20, 2010; 9:33 PM

Perched uncomfortably on a small metal seat attached to a tree 15 feet above the ground in a patch of suburban woods Thursday, I was just starting to think that this second attempt to personally witness a deer's demise was going to be another bust.

So far, squirrels and a fox were the only animals that I and my companion, bowhunter Gregg Brown, had seen. We were in the center of a small grove surrounded by spacious homes in McLean just outside the Beltway shortly after dawn. Brown was sitting three feet above me on another side of the tree. Both of us wore camouflage from hats to ankles.

Then the deer walked up, appearing suddenly on our left. A button buck, a male too young to have grown antlers. As it ambled by, about 10 yards from the tree's base, Brown quietly stood, picked up his Mathews-brand bow from a stand and prepared to shoot a green-feathered arrow.

I paid close attention so I could remember every detail. My wait was about to pay off. I was going to see the worthy cause of suburban deer control in action.

It didn't happen. The deer veered away from the tree. Brown sat down.

"No clear shot. Branches in the way," he whispered. "If he'd turned right instead of left, we would have had a different situation."

Although I missed a chance to see a kill, I learned something in those few seconds about myself. In the brief interval between seeing the deer and its disappearance into the trees, I felt an unexpected surge of sympathy for the animal.

Even after a total of about three hours of chilly anticipation, including during a previous outing when no deer appeared, I found myself in that moment hoping that Brown wouldn't shoot. I was suddenly distressed by the vivid prospect that I was about to see the deer take an arrow through its lungs, run haltingly for 40 yards or so and die.

The fact, which I hadn't appreciated before, is that I lack a hunter's temperament. This was my first time going after anything bigger than fish, and it wasn't appealing.

I'm not anti-hunting. It's a sport with millennia of tradition. I would be a hypocrite to oppose it, given how much I relish eating steak and bacon.

The cold truth is that while I'm quite comfortable being at the top of the food chain, I prefer that somebody else spill the blood necessary to keep me there.

When I later described my reaction to Brown, he nodded, smiled slightly and said, "It's not for everybody."

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