The deer hunter

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 OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole:
I’m a deer hunter. Twice now in the past couple of seasons, I’ve had a youngish (yearling?) doe in my sights, and I haven’t been able to shoot because I find myself wondering if it’s wrong to shoot a deer that young. I don’t want my kids accusing me of killing Bambi. How young is too young?
Confidentially yours,
Softie

Dear Softie:
Legally speaking, the answer to your question is, “There’s no such thing as too young.” As soon as a fawn is born, it qualifies as fair game. In contrast to edible marine life, the (female) deer population has virtually no regulations protecting it — nor should it. There are too many of them. The Vineyard and Nantucket have the highest density of deer in the state. The herds need to be culled. The bag limit is (I’m citing a state website here) two antlered deer per year “and as many antlerless deer as the hunter has valid antlerless deer permits” — which on the Vineyard is four per day. In other words: MassWildlife wants you to kill does. The younger a doe is brought down, the fewer offspring she produces in her lifetime, which is a nonviolent way of helping to manage the population.

But you’re a hunter so you probably knew the legal answer; you’re asking from a more subjective angle. If you — or your kids — have ever eaten lamb or veal, then it’s a romantic hypocrisy to bewail the killing of a young doe. That yearling had a much better life than almost any lamb or calf that ended up on your dinner table (yes, there is humanely raised local livestock, but the supply and price tag mean that’s not a broad-spectrum option yet). If you’re concerned about being humane (an excellent thing to be concerned about), but don’t want to give up the succulence of young mammalian flesh, stop eating lamb and veal altogether, and instead get out there and shoot more young deer.
That’s my take.
Nicole