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Confessions of a Convert

by Laura Lyster-Mensh

My parents took me on anti-war marches when I was an infant and I was a vegetarian for at least a month of my teens. At 17, I was carried off and booked at a non-violent protest. My liberal, peace-loving, anti-hunting, granola-snacking credentials are solid.

So now, how do I explain this to my daughter, whose comforter is stuffed with the down I harvested from 19 Canada geese in 1998? What do I say to my four-year-old son, who dutifully drags thrice-dead whole chukkar carcasses out of the freezer for Daddy to throw to the champion-bred Chocolate Lab who shares our home?

My husband understands. He has seen my conversion from anti-hunting graduate student to ambivalent girlfriend to supportive sportsman’s wife.

When I met Mark I was an intellectual, a Yankee, and as I mentioned, not supportive of the sporting arts. My prejudices were not remarkable or extraordinary in the society I kept. I was not, however, an anti-fur person, and if asked, I would have supported the rights of native peoples to harvest by traditional methods, and would even have been at least intellectually accepting of Appalachian campaigns against hunger that involved ‘harvesting.’ Mine was a superior sort of disapproval: hunting struck me as an unnecessary, brutal, and suspiciously macho idea.

At that point in my life, I was no longer saving stranded tadpoles or imagining the dying screams of trees. I had moved beyond a gut fear of firearms that came of never seeing them outside of the movie theater and then only carried by criminals. This was all within the ethical and moral bounds of my peers in college, my professional and learned parents, and my group of friends. I was offered little challenge to my ideas about hunting.

Somewhere in adulthood I had realized what a luxury the expensive vegetarian culture can be. I had seen the hypocrisy of leather-wearing vegans and could no longer justify a youthful, reflexive, fear of death. Yet, I held to a belief that hunting was wrong.

At some point, though, a line is crossed, and beliefs are challenged. Love often makes this possible. In my case, love made it impossible not to open my mind and my beliefs about hunting: Mark was always going to be a hunter and it was to him as ethically consistent as his other admirable moral convictions.

Mark was the gentleman and the scholar that I had always imagined as a mate. Marrying Mark not only meant accepting but also embracing the things that made him thrive and enjoy life. In a way that many modern intellectuals never need to, I confronted my beliefs head-on. It wasn’t easy.

I made a conscious decision to accept Mark’s hunting. And just as any convert, I took responsibility for educating myself about the faith and the culture of this new world. In undertaking that I also took on the new burden of being a translator, for others, of my chosen path. I knew others would misunderstand me, perhaps snub me, and certainly there would be those that would avoid me. Still, the commitment was an honest one that I am proud of and comfortable in.

I heard, in the hunters I met, the same sense of tradition that I had only attributed to distant indigenous cultures. Guns passed down in families, first-hunting anecdotes, and the cumulative weight of family histories taught me to respect a part of American culture I had discounted.

I came to understand, in time, the environmentalism of hunters. The environmentalists in my life often lived lives of low impact but little connection with the natural world they sought to save. Hunting, always a part of nature, became less an intrusion than a part of what I understood nature to be. The hunters I met, my husband among them, showed me not only their respect for nature but also their intimate understanding of it. In more practical terms, I learned the crucial and long-standing truth that hunting licenses financially support environmental preservation.
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