"The Deer Hunter" by Justin Butts

"I went out this morning to shoot the deer that ate my cauliflower and cabbages and kohl rabi.

I sat on the porch, wrapped in a blanket, rifle across my lap, and waited for them. The deer rose in the mist of dawn like figurines in the tall grass. I watched them through the scope of the rifle for a long time, a buck and five small does.

They stood for a moment by the lake; six soft silhouettes in the mist. I did not shoot them. They faded slowly into the trees.

Part of the reason I didn’t shoot is my rifle. This gun is more suitable for big game in the lofty mountains I hunted as a young man. Perhaps this weapon would fulfill itself on a rocky ledge high above a bull elk. But it is not fitting for white-tail deer nibbling at the dew-soaked grass.

Part of the reason I didn’t shoot is the thorny truth of farming. If I destroy these deer, more will come back later and sneak into the gardens. Perhaps I should unwrap from this blanket, put down the rifle, and devise new and cleverer methods to foil my wily predators.

Or, I could shoot these deer and keep shooting deer until none come back. However, looking through the scope of the rifle, I could not calculate how many cabbages are worth the blood of this family trying to survive in the forest of my farm.

Part of the reason I didn’t shoot was the stillness of the lake. The glowing pane of water held every glistening shade of dawn; green, blue, purple, yellow, gray, white. The stand of oaks on the far shore hung upside down in the water, balanced upon itself. The branches were still; the ducks in the reflection of branches were still; the fish in the golden silence beneath perfectly still.

I felt the eyes of all the animals of the forest reflected in the luminous water, to see what I would do. The eyes shining at me were innocent and soft. I could not bear to shatter the stillness of our morning in the recoil of a merciless act.

I did not shoot the deer because they rose in the mist of dawn like figurines in the tall grass. They stood perfectly still, upside down, in the glowing water."
Justin Butts is a local Rockport farmer and business owner.

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