A bumper sticker on a humongous truck in the parking lot reads "Gun control means using both hands." Inside the Washtenaw Farm Council building, long rows of tables are filling up with families — old men laughing at little babies, lovestruck young couples, roving groups of ten-year-olds, and lots and lots of camouflage.
None of the children are pretending to shoot each other, most likely because they know what happens when you shoot something with a gun — it's called dead, and seeing that firsthand as a child quickly takes the romance out of gunplay. I know this because I was raised with a working knowledge of firearms and respect for them. My father was a gunsmith and hunter, so I know that food comes from the earth, not the store, and that guns are not toys.
I've come to Big Rack Night, an annual event recognizing those area hunters who've bagged the white-tailed deer with the largest antlers. After a visit to the buffet table (which includes plenty of venison), I sit down for the presentations. Awards are given out in twelve categories, one each for firearm and bow hunters. There is a muzzle loader category, men's and ladies' categories, and special recognition for hunters under seventeen. The racks are scored both by total length and by the number of points — the pointy parts of the animal's antlers.
This really is a celebration of the hunting season. The award winners all come up to the front, holding their racks, and tell the stories of their hunts. Many talk about how nervous they were as the end of the season grew closer and the freezer was still empty, and how the wind was or wasn't just right and how frustrating it was to see the same deer over and over again without being in the optimal position to take aim.
The interaction of hunter and prey can be intensely personal. "We stood staring at each other before his lips curled and he took off, snorting," recounts one hunter. "He saw me and pushed the doe out of the way," says another. No one brags. No one gloats. Most folks thank their spouses for "putting up with me," and one kid thanks his buddies who, he says, "complain that I always drop 'im in the thorn apples, but they come out and help me drag him out anyway."
I have to leave before the awards are all handed out. On the way home, I think about my father. He doesn't hunt anymore, but he did tell me the prayer he said to the last big buck he'd take in this lifetime: "Thank you, Grandfather Deer. I'm sorry to hurt you, but my family is hungry."
The 2007 Big Rack Night is at the Farm Council Grounds on Saturday, February 3.
[Review published February 2007]