The bow hunter’s dilemma

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to

Dear Nicole,
I bow hunt for deer. Last year, while I was on stand 20 feet up in a tree, a female hiker came sprinting through the woods. Before I could say anything, she ran right underneath my tree and squatted (I assume to pee). I averted my eyes. Awkward to say the least. I did not make a sound while all this was going on. Should I have said anything? I also carry toilet paper in my backpack to aid in tracking deer. Should I have offered her some?
Confidentially Yours,

Dear Hunter:
First of all, I dearly wish you were here in person to explain the statement, “I also carry toilet paper in my backpack to aid in tracking deer.” How does that work? Do you toss a roll onto a stag’s antlers, like a carnival game, and then follow the roll in hopes it will lead to his harem of does? Do you season the roll with eau de mown grass, and leave it lying around in the woods, in the hopes it will attract a cervine herd? Having never been a hunter, I want to know. How very tantalizing.

Regarding your actual question: Generally it is considered déclassé to interrupt someone who is responding urgently to the call of nature — especially if the call is so urgent that they don’t notice a deer stand directly overhead. (Also, gender plays a role in this — the most awkward arrangement of genders in these circumstances is probably a male telling a female he can see what she’s doing.)

However, context is everything. The hiker is in the Great Outdoors and could relieve herself pretty much anywhere, while you are stuck in one particular tree. Once the hiker — however innocently — “marks” the area with human scent, that will have a negative effect on your chances of getting a deer. Not just for those few moments while she is squatting beneath your stand, but probably for the rest of your cold, lonely, uncomfortable tenure in the tree, given that a deer’s sense of smell is even more acute than a dog’s. By not asking her to relieve herself elsewhere, you probably guaranteed yourself a bootless day out with your bow, just for the sake of avoiding a potential passing embarrassment. You are certainly free to sabotage yourself that way, but this isn’t Regency England and acts of secret decency are not trending. Under the circumstances, you absolutely get a pass if you decide to call out to her and ask her to take her business elsewhere.

In fact, it could be argued that alerting her to your presence is the only truly decent course to take. There are a number of complications that could arise from your not letting her know you’re there. If she looks up and sees a hunter (even just a bow hunter who is averting his eyes), she will feel at least as awkward as you already do, if not alarmed. Even if she doesn’t realize at the time what’s going on, this is Martha’s Vineyard, so there’s a good chance that eventually she will hear that her uncle’s plumber’s apprentice’s best friend was bow-hunting last Thursday when suddenly, a female hiker…etc… and she’ll realize, after the fact, that it was probably her, and she will be overcome with a ludicrous semi-embarrassment that she’ll never be able to put to rest. For the rest of her life, she might shudder briefly whenever venison is mentioned. You can pre-empt all such misfortunes by just calling out to her (faster than she can drop trow, ideally) and politely ask her to move along.

I don’t know if you should offer her any toilet paper, though. I suppose it depends on how badly you need it for deer-tracking.
That’s my take.