"The Killing Game," by Joy Williams in the October Esquire, is an article so blunt, and bluntly offending, that it makes you yearn to see the indignant replies sure to pour into the offices of the magazine: bagged prey, in a sense.

The essay is about hunters, "persecutors of nature who should be prosecuted," and the ways of their grisly pastime, as they themselves describe and defend it.

It begins with the proud admission, a thought-provoking quote from the editor of Field & Stream magazine, that We kill to hunt, and not the other way around. Williams, a novelist, understands that language has meaning, especially unintended meaning, and here she reproduces a lot of hunting language, always in italics. Hunting stories, for example.

"Mike selected a deer, settled down to a steady rest, and fired. The buck was his when he squeezed the trigger. John decided to take the other buck, which had jumped up to its feet. The deer hadn't seen us and was confused by the shot echoing about in the valley. John took careful aim, fired, and took the buck. The hunt was over... ." Notice how the word "kill" is never used, and terms of soft-core pornography often are. "The big buck raised its nose to the air, curled back its lips, and tested the scent of the doe's urine. I held my breath, fought back the shivers, and jerked off a shot... ."

In a narrative heavy with sarcasm, Williams takes on state and federal wildlife agencies for aiding and abetting, at taxpayer expense, the murderers of animals. Hunters are only 7 percent of the American people, it is shocking to learn, but they hold the rest of us, and a vast governmental apparatus, wholly in thrall.

"In Florida, state monies are routinely spent on 'youth hunts,' in which kids are guided to shoot deer from stands in wildlife-management areas. The organizers of these events say that these staged hunts help youth to understand man's role in the eco-system. (Drop a doe and take your place in the ecological community, son.)

"Hunters claim (they don't actually believe it but they've learned to say it) that they're doing nonhunters a favor -- for if they didn't use wild animals, wild animals would be useless. They believe that they're just helping Mother Nature control populations (you wouldn't want those deer to die of starvation, would you? ...)"

Perhaps anticipating the reaction, Esquire runs an opposing essay by an avowed Montana predator, Rick Bass, but in his faintness of conviction he has done his kind no good. They may even want to disown him. "To not pursue the thing one wants would be a waste of one's life," he writes. "I'm scared, sometimes, that all the animals I've killed -- few as they are -- add up, and that I'm liable for them ... what I do is pray, sort of. I give heartfelt, shaky thanks to the animal as I clean it."

Winnie Through Intimidation

It's a wrinkled, old profile-writing formula to say of a person -- any person will do, really -- that he or she has two sides (usually good and evil) coexisting in the same character. But Graham Boynton found it an inevitable and perhaps even justifiable way of dealing with Winnie Mandela in his October Vanity Fair treatment of her.

Covering the bloody territory that went hugely unmentioned during Nelson and Winnie Mandela's triumphal tour of the United States last summer, Boynton lays out the evidence surrounding beatings and murders carried out by the Mandela United Football Club, actually a group of Soweto thugs loyal to the long-jailed freedom fighter's wife.

Boynton, as he interviews Winnie Mandela for this article, finds her pluck and genuine warmth toward children totally at odds with "what one knows of Winnie's reputation, of the fear she inspires, the stories of violence and torture inflicted by her henchmen. And when I broach that subject, Winnie stands up with a flourish, clasps my hand in hers, plants a firm kiss on my mouth, and sweeps grandly out of the room... . Her last words to me are 'I dismiss the allegations against me with the contempt they deserve.' "

Do the Editing Thing

"How'd you like your 747 guest-landed by Diana Ross? Your appendix guest-removed by Sir John Gielgud? Your best pal guest-fondled by Capitol Records' Promotion Department?" That's what it felt like to Spin reporter-at-large Dean Christopher when Publisher and Editor Bob Guccione Jr. turned the whole October issue over to Spike Lee. "Full control" over the contents was demanded and granted, according to Christopher's explanatory note.

The result is, as Lee predicted, "the Blackest issue they've ever had." It features a long, dirty-word-studded conversation between Lee and Eddie Murphy, in which they discuss how to bring the entertainment industry to its knees. Lee thinks Murphy, who's been a gold mine to Hollywood, ought to stop pussy-footing around and start telling the studios what to do. Also in this issue: Marion Barry, Al Sharpton, 2 Live Crew, August Wilson and Spike Lee's aspiring sister Joie.

Mother Earth Home

The folks in North Carolina who used to edit Mother Earth News and didn't cotton to the idea of moving the back-to-the-land magazine to New York (where it's in deep trouble -- but that's another story) have started their own rear-guard successor, in their view the 20-year-old magazine's legitimate heir.

BackHome is designed and produced inexpensively (and still handsomely), and it offers unadorned information, not pastoral lore. Topics covered in the first issue (August-September-October) include do-it-yourself home building, buying and maintaining an old pickup truck, killing weeds without poison, ethical investing, arranging your kitchen for recycling, frog knowledge, making rope ladders.

For a one-year subscription to BackHome, send $16 (four issues) to PO Box 370, Mountain Home, N.C. 28758.