I’ve always considered myself an exceptionally lucky husband. On top of being a fantastic mother, a hard worker, and my best friend, I have a wife that loves to camp, backpack, and explore the great outdoors almost as much as I do. However, where our similar interests have always come to a halt is hunting and fishing.
Mary enjoys exploring the banks and swimming in a river, but could care less about what’s lurking beneath, waiting for a fly. She equally loves big strenuous backpacking trips, but the magical sound of a bull elk screaming just over the ridge only causes a quick pause and maybe a statement along the lines of “that was neat.” Nonetheless, this has never bothered me. We have plenty of great times together and I’m perfectly happy pursuing game all on my own. Still, here and there, I’ve dropped hints through the years about us hunting together sometime. Until just the other day, she’s shown zero interest. I’m not sure what changed her mind; probably a little pouting on my part, but she agreed to go dove hunting with me. We went as a family and while there were plentiful opportunities and even a few birds put in the bag, only one of them mattered to me: Mary’s first dove.
I interviewed Mary about her first hunting experience that explores the thoughts and emotions that come with the seriousness of killing of her first animal. While I am acting on the part of the interviewer, I’m also her husband. Therefore, we both agreed to try and keep this as unbiased and impartial as possible. I wrote the questions and she answered them on her own.
Please take a moment and introduce yourself. Let us know where you’re from, your background, what do you do for a living, and anything else that comes to mind?
My name is Mary Cravens. I’m originally from Missouri, but my husband, Mike, and I came to Arizona almost ten years ago to explore, hike, and get to know the state. The plan was to stay for just two years but, as many can relate, plans changed and we’re still here. For my profession, I’m a nurse at a heart hospital and I can truthfully say that caring for my patients is my favorite part of the job. I’m also a yoga teacher and I hold a bachelor’s degree in biology. However, my biggest passion in life is being a mother to my two children.
Did anyone in your family hunt or was hunting a part of your childhood?
While my brothers fished (and not seriously), no one really hunted in my family. Since I was from Missouri, where hunting is commonplace, I often heard of people doing it but no one close to me ever engaged in it. I saw my brother clean a fish from time to time but that was as close as I ever got to hunting.
Let’s just go back 10 years ago. If someone had asked you what your thoughts were on hunting, how would you have answered?
I don’t think I really had too many thoughts on it back then. I remember it as something that some guys I knew liked to do together in a group (a.k.a. deer camp) but it didn’t really come across as a thoughtful event at all. It was more a reason to get together and have a good time. Nor was it something that I ever knew people to use as a way to procure meat to feed their family.
When and who introduced you to hunting?
The first person to introduce me to hunting, how I view it now, was my husband, Mike. Before him, I didn’t really know any serious hunters. While he has always hunted, he got distracted for a while in the earlier years of our dating/marriage with wildlife photography, traveling, backpacking, and the like. He jumped back into hunting just four years ago when we settled into a more stationary lifestyle.
What are your thoughts on hunting now?
I have a much deeper understanding of hunting now. Securing enough meat to feed a family takes a lot of work! I now recognize this effort, the connection to the animal, and the meals that they provide as something my husband and other hunters take a great deal of pride in and have reverence for. I never understood and, admittedly, still struggle with the idea of someone hanging a deer head in their living room. It always seemed like a mockery of the animal to me. Now, I see it as adoration of the animal that once lived and a lasting reminder of the food it provided for my family.
Locally sourced, sustainably, and ethically raised meat is of interest to a lot of people these days. What does this mean to you and how does hunting relate in your eyes?
I love that people are thinking about, and care about, where their meat comes from. I feel like we have a real disconnect from our food and where it comes from. When you invest the effort into a hunt, engage with the animal personally, and take the life yourself, it becomes impossible to ignore the ramifications of your actions and you’re not going to waste one bit of that animal.
I believe most hunters want to cause as little suffering as possible and strive for a quick clean kill. Under these circumstances, I would much rather consume an animal that has lived a natural life in the wild than an animal that was bred in captivity, lived a short life in confined and uncomfortable spaces, just to be led to slaughter in the end. What a horrible existence.
I should point out that I am aware of, and appreciative of, the fact that there are much more ethical domestic meat producers available to those who seek them out. Still, the unfortunate fate of those animals who are produced en masse to feed the populous is nothing short of ugly and unfortunate. All living things get just one precious life to live and, if I am going to eat meat, I want to support eating animals that have had a chance to live a natural and full life. While this lifestyle might not be for everyone, I feel good knowing the meat my family eats is not only better for our health by being low in fat, rich in nutrients, and lacking antibiotics or any added hormones but also contributes to the conservation of wildlife and the places they live.
This might be a hard question. Obviously, hunting requires the taking of a living things life, what makes you OK with that?
Okay certainly isn’t how I feel about it. While I did take my first life on purpose recently, I still struggled with it and might always struggle with it. However, I am not vegan and if I am going to consume meat, maybe a part of me wants to feel that pain that comes with taking a life. I don’t know if I feel like a hypocrite or what. I just feel like that if I’m going to continue to consume meat, I need to truly know the entire experience, from start to finish.
When most people take their first animal there is a moment of sadness. Can you explain your feelings around this experience, and ultimately how you feel now looking back on it?
I didn’t want to hold the dove at first. I found that to be a very sad experience, it’s lifeless small body in my hands. I took its only life. That was a very heavy and bad feeling. I remember exactly how it felt, limp and warm, in my hands. I value life and love to help people and animals. Doing the exact opposite of this felt very off and against my nature. Still, while I felt sad to have taken the doves life, I also realized I had been indirectly doing this my entire life simply by eating meat. While I can rationalize the experience through reason, and don’t expect to carry this weight too long, the seriousness that comes with taking a life at your own hands demands to be recognized.
Did your experience hunting make you feel more connected to the ecosystems you live in?
Honest answer, no. If I do this more often, possibly. However, family camps, hikes, and playing outdoors all the time already has me feeling connected. I’m already a curious person who loves to explore the outdoors. Heck, I even get a kick out of the birds in my own yard! Therefore, I already feel immersed in the ecosystem. I am also already very aware that I, or no one for that matter, is separate from the ecosystem but rather part of it.
Now that you’ve had this experience, do you think you’ll continue hunting?
Maybe, I really love to get outdoors and away from everyone else. I love backpacking. I love doing things that push me mentally. I really enjoyed the pursuit of an animal. There are so many things I think I could love about a week-long elk or deer hunt. However, I think I would struggle more taking the life of a mammal. Their eyes just say so much! I am not sure if I could pull the trigger. While I know the dove values its life just as much as an elk, I can’t help but think that would be a much larger hurdle to get over.
Let’s pretend your husband is of the go-getter type of personality and is now already making plans to put you in for a cow elk tag and a deer tag every year. Would you entertain that as an idea?
Only if he agrees to go to yoga with me weekly. Or, at least a week-long yoga retreat.