Protein at a crossroads

I've never thought of deer or any game animal as cheap food.

They have always come with an expense of sweat, sometimes tears and most definitely time. It was all worth it, of course.

But as Sam Eifling tells us in "Shoot Locally," harvesting a deer that matures in the wild produces a much smaller carbon footprint than raising a cow for slaughter. If Bubba does it close to home, taking a deer to eat is far more eco-friendly than Bubba stopping at the grocery store for beefsteak and chicken legs.

Some of us have known that for years, although we may not have known it in the way it is presented in that story.

Now we are approaching a crossroads.

For the last couple of years, we've wondered and debated over the worry that someone would take our guns or allow the antis to outlaw our pastimes.

Obviously, they are legitimate concerns. Our new president isn't even in office yet, and his proposals on taxing ammunition are a threat not to be taken lightly among sportsmen.

Sarah Palin made a huge gaffe being interviewed in front of a guy butchering a turkey moments after she pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey in her home state of Alaska. I say "huge," because that is how the media portray it — she is all of sudden cruel and insensitive.

(No one ever wondered just how those turkeys get to the market in the first place?)

I'm reminded of Aldo Leopold's quote: "There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace."

We are firmly locked in a society that believes protein just jumps into a package and shows up at the local grocery counter. In our efforts to tame the land and every living animal out there, we've over-tamed and over-sensitized ourselves.

The saving grace to all those concerns is within the basis of Eifling's story: Hunters have always been the forefathers of conservation and environmentalism. Long before the green movement even had a trademark color, we were about as green as you could get.

The thing is, of all those movements, the green culture actually seems to be gaining ground, and it's certainly something that sportsmen can stand with, if not embrace as their own.

If you like free-range chicken, then you'll love free-range deer, rabbit and especially turkeys.

Not only does hunting and eating game make perfect sense, managing that game through the tenets of hunting can be shown to be more imperative than ever before.

The ground we hunt on is a good example. Countless acres have been conserved by hunters in the last century, offsetting the even more countless acres of asphalt and development that has created a wide carbon footprint.

But if we ceased to hunt and manage the game on that ground, all the benefits the forest provides would be severely diminished.

You only have to see the impacts an overpopulated deer herd has on its own environment to get a good grasp of that. In that scenario, deer can become four-legged bulldozers, placing them on the other side of the green movement.

Take a look at all of the cities around the country hiring sharpshooters and having special hunts to knock back a deer herd. Between trying to drive safely at night and growing a garden, those folks have had enough.

Those of us who love to wrap our teeth around some free-range venison are up for the challenge. We just need to meet other challenges differently.

That is where the crossroads comes in. During the course of time, when the conservation/environmental movement started gaining legs, despite the fact hunters were fathers of those movements, we allowed ultra-radicals to hijack those causes. As hunters we can't continue to allow that to happen. Not this time.

While most of us feel we shouldn't have to justify our existence, we are at a point where it's becoming more vital to explain our actions.

Too many of those around us have never considered that a turkey had to die for their Thanksgiving dinner.