Rata-tat-tat, rata-tat like that
Last updated 10/31/2023 at 10:13am
You may have read articles recently implying that hunters own the entire forest this time of year because they paid for a hunting permit. You may have gotten the impression that the responsibility for keeping people (and non-targeted animals) safe during hunting season lies entirely on non-hunters.
People who like to take walks and meander along streams. People who camp and dance and listen to songbirds and write poetry in the woods, which is to say, people like me.
I think hunting is admirable and beautiful, carried out properly. As someone who eats and loves meat, I feel good about the fact that I grew up raising wide-ranging, grassfed beef. I do not have any illusions about where meat comes from.
Though I don’t hunt, some of my friends and family do. To respect one’s prey, to undergo the hardship of actually tracking and understanding a creature before taking its life — these are meaningful actions, and all omnivores might do well to undertake them. Hunting is vastly superior to buying some big-box-store beef shipped in from South America, where acres of rainforest were chopped down to make room for grazing.
However, I have seen self-styled hunters do stupid things on the Deschutes National Forest. One of them parked their trailer about a half mile from the Crossroads housing area, on a red cinder road used frequently by local dog owners, walkers, and dirt bikers, near a Sisters Trails Alliance route frequented by horseback riders.
This guy shot semi-auto into the forest right there by the trails, right there by the road, right near Crossroads. He shot without looking first. He fired off 12 rounds, and nearly killed me.
It is traditional in our society to ask what a woman was wearing when she experienced violence or near-violence. What was I wearing that day? Dude, I was wearing bright orange and red. I was not “asking for it.” Nor did I look like a deer, although in moments like that I’d sure like to have the powers of Deer Lady on “Reservation Dogs.”
Rata-tat-tat, rata-tat like that, to quote Dre and Snoop. It was scary as heck. I didn’t respond well; though I grew up out in the country, I later spent time in cities, some dangerous. Back then, if I heard gunfire, I would automatically hit the deck, roll under the bed.
I guess it’s been a long time; my instincts don’t operate the same way now. When these bullets started whizzing by me in the forest, I stood up. I stood up and hollered, loud and guttural. Never heard that voice come out of me before. The voice sounded powerful and furious.
I will not share with you the words that I shouted into the forest that day. I don’t think they’re appropriate for a family newspaper. Apparently the message got across during a brief lapse in the bang-bang-bang routine, and the supposed hunter with his rapid-fire weaponry stopped shooting blindly into the woods. My heart beating wildly, adrenaline rushing, I called the sheriff as I slinked away. When I walked down the red cinder road later, the guy’s trailer was gone.
My sense of peace, my sense of being immersed in and welcomed by the forest, the sense of healing and solace I experience on my walks in nature — that was gone too. It was pushed aside by fear. It’s been over a year, and the unease still jitters through me as I take my walks. I’d retreat to my favorite local camping spot, but I hear someone was shooting in the actual campground a few weeks ago.
It would be grand if the U.S. Forest Service would change up some of the rules around hunting, using firearms, and recreational use of the forest. It would be grand if there was a special place for peace and quiet near town, even during hunting season.
It would also be grand if our legislators would fund the U.S. Forest Service properly, instead of forcing the agency to obtain revenue from resource extraction, hunting and camping fees, etcetera. While we’re at it, wouldn’t it be grand if someone would enforce the existing rules that are supposed to protect people, animals, plants, and habitat?
And what are those rules? I can’t do my usual news reporting stuff due to a wrist injury (I’m dictating this column into my phone). So instead of in-depth interviews, here’s a quick cut-and-paste from the USFS website: “It is prohibited to shoot... In any manner or place where any person or property is exposed to injury or damage as a result of such discharge.”
In other words, by law and rule it is not my responsibility to ensure that every person with a firearm doesn’t shoot me. The responsibility lies with the person carrying the weapon.
But law and rule won’t save my life. So I’ll keep wearing red and orange (and this wild yellow safety vest I picked up on sale at Bi-Mart). I will reluctantly walk only the most obvious roads, leaving the big, off-trail bulk of the forest to hunters, because I guess they actually do own the forest this time of year, no matter what the website says.
If you’re out there with firearms on the National Forest, I hope you’ll shoot responsibly. Firing a gun is fun. Carrying an auto or semi-auto firearm makes a person feel big and strong, like they’re in a movie. I get it. I’ve done it. But it ain’t really “hunting” now, is it? Maybe it’s best left to cinder pits with safe backstops. There are plenty around here.