Hunting your own dinner

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First aired on Q (05/07/12)

For most of her life, journalist Lily Raff McCaulou was against hunting. Like her parents, and many other urbanites who grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, she saw it as a cruel sport and felt hunters were trying to satiate a lust for blood.

But when her reporting career took her from big cities to rural Bend, Oregon, she found herself in an exotic new land. Nearly everyone hunted, for sport and for food. Like any good journalist, she wanted to learn more about her community, even if it meant immersing herself in hunting. Much to her surprise, she liked it. Deeper still, her views about hunting, ethically and environmentally, have evolved quite dramatically since moving to Oregon. She's chronicled her transition from urban anti-hunter to shotgun-carrier in her new memoir Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner.

lily-hunter-150.jpg"[Hunters] just really weren't what I had thought," McCaulou told Q host Jian Ghomeshi during a recent  interview. "They just surprised me. They seemed much more caring about the animals that they hunted and much more thoughtful."

Before moving to Oregon, McCaulou had never handled a gun before, much less killed anything. She didn't like firearms. Having grown up near Washington, she remembered constant news reports about gun violence, often involving children. Which is why she found it kind of surreal that she ended up taking her first gun safety course with local children.

"I'm already terrified of guns but then I have to watch children handle them," she said. But she left the class feeling more reassured than dismayed. The children, she said, took the guns seriously and handled them responsibly.

After having learned how to use her gun, McCaulou went on her first proper hunting trip with a group of other women. As they were hunting for pheasant, she remembers feeling extremely anxious about the shotgun in her hands and whether she could actually take the life of an animal. The moment of truth came when she spotted a pheasant and opened fire. She had made her first kill.

"It felt incredible. It really felt pure. Like euphoria to me. It was just this amazing rush of excitement and pride and relief, and I know this word gets overused a lot, but it was empowering. I didn't believe I had it in me to do that. It shocked me."

call-of-mild.jpgWhat was also a little surprising to her, a city girl who had always looked down on hunting, was how she didn't feel much guilt afterwards. McCaulou still has mixed feelings about guns (she's doesn't support the NRA), but her attitude about hunting has changed. She recalls taking her pheasant home and working hard to prepare a wonderful meal for some of her family. She felt pride at what she had done and wanted to share this. Hunting had made her more mindful of where her food came from and made her more respectful in how she treated the meat. The experience forced her to confront one of her biggest assumptions: that hunting was cruel and unnecessary, especially when most people can buy meat from a grocery store. But are the chickens that come from the factory farms better off than the ones who live in the wild before they're killed?

"[Before hunting] I would go and buy meat from the supermarket and eat that and I very  rarely stopped to think about what that chicken's life was like and what I was doing by taking its life, even indirectly."

McCaulou believes there is a strong case to be made that hunting for meat is a better environmental practice than factory-farmed animals. Many hunters are involved in conservation efforts, she says, because they want to ensure the land they hunt on is in good shape for successive generations.

"When you hunt you become involved in the eco system on a very different level."

Hunting is now a skill she has that she can pass on to her young son, if he wants to get involved, she said. But maybe she won't show him Bambi. The classic Disney film, full of cute, frolicking, talking woodland creatures, paints a pretty unrealistic picture of what life is like in the forest, and portrays hunters in a particularly villainous light. Animals are constantly faced with death and hardship, even without humans, she argues. Still, she never forgets doe-eyed Bambi when she's in the forest with her shotgun.

"Bambi is always there. Bambi is always with me."

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