I have a house that needs cleaning, planters that need mulching and a book that needs writing, but none of these got done last week.
Instead, I was cleaning my rifle, counting my ammunition and sharpening my favorite knife. I had them with me on Saturday morning, before it was anywhere close to warm or light, when I hiked out to a place known to my family and friends. By 10 a.m., my hands were bloody.
It's hunting season, you see. Gun deer season, to be exact, and it wasn't the first time I pulled the trigger on an animal that I find just as cute, just as noble as anybody.
I'm a Progressive Who Hunts. Not in the Teddy Roosevelt kind of way. You'll find no taxidermy in my house, no photos of me sitting proudly astride a corpse with a rifle and a grin. I have no desire to shoot exotic species on wild, distant continents.
But I hunt, and for that I am often misunderstood: by some of my fellow progressives, who are disconcerted to discover that this tweedy Ph.D. likes to spend a few days each year freezing his bony arse off in a tree stand; and by some conservatives, who have somehow been convinced that the left wing of the Democratic Party is just biding its time until we can confiscate American guns and melt them down into Subarus and espresso machines.
So, if I'm way on the left, and if killing deer doesn't make me feel like more of a man, and if pictures of me in hunting garb are never going to surface during my presidential campaign, why do I hunt?
Reason #1: Nutrition. Although I'm married to a vegetarian, I enjoy having meat as a part of my diet. But I believe that factory farming and factory ranching are unsustainable, unethical and just kind of gross. We can't afford fancy grass-fed, humanely raised and harvested organic beef, but we can afford a weekend with family and some shells for the 30.06 that my grandfather gave to my dad, and that my dad gave to me.
Not Reason #2: Tradition. While I was raised hunting and fishing, and have fond memories of deer camp in my home state of Oregon, arguments based on the supposed inherent value of tradition make me nervous. I love some traditions - stories of previous hunts, cold beer when shooting is done for the day, the right to habeas corpus - but valuing tradition merely for its own sake is at the very heart of conservative ideologies, which lead to the kind of unexamined discrimination that progressives fight to overcome.
Reason #3: Ecology. Overpopulated deer herds across the Midwest and Northeast pose a severe ecological threat. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin's deer population is about 70% over goal. All these deer must eat, and deer browsing can cause long-term changes to the variety of plant species in the forests. In addition, the threat of chronic wasting disease is real, and it is accelerated by overpopulated herds.
And no, nature will not return to its natural balance if we simply didn't hunt: The predators have been killed off so that your dumb Yorkshire terrier can run around an oversized yard without getting eaten by coyotes, and so that you can continue to enjoy artificially cheap cheeseburgers.
Not Reason #4: Authenticity. I don't think that killing animals constitutes a unique human experience, nor do I believe that it brings me "closer to nature" (actually, I'm never sure exactly what that means).
I don't bowhunt, because I don't think it's particularly humane. A stabbed deer bleeds to death slowly, at least compared to the 10 or 15 steps my lung-shot deer will take before expiring, and notions of "fairness" in the hunt are laughable. Do you sneak up on your sack of boneless chicken breasts in the grocery store? Of course not.
Reason #5: Honesty. I don't particularly enjoy the actual killing part. I love sitting in the woods, I love eating venison, and I love listening to those stories and drinking that beer and butchering carcasses with Rich, Mary, Mike, Ross, Terry, Pat, Liz and Mary Pat. I do not get a particular thrill from shooting a living thing.
But anyone who eats meat should know that what they are consuming was once alive. Just once, stick your hands up the chest cavity of a deer, cut its esophagus and remove the viscera. Breathe deeply, and there is no more fantasy that meat comes into the world shrink-wrapped.
Neoconservatives think that reporting their fantasies as facts will make their fantasies come true. Hunters know that facts are stubborn, and that consumption is an action with a sometimes bloody history. Progressives should support Wisconsin's venerable culture of hunting, and conservatives should know that politically progressive hunters continue to be a part of that great culture, as we always have been.
Matthew Stratton earned that Ph.D. at UW-Madison. He teaches American literature at Ohio University.