Thursday, December 29, 2005


Suddenly everyone is a hunter. I can't read an article about some hedge fund jerk without it mentioning halfway through the article that the guy is an avid hunter. Bow hunting for elk seems to be the preferred avocation for these big game honchos. (I guess hunters, as well as the hunted, move in flocks and herds.) I know guys who have never handled a gun before the age of thirty-eight, except for the toy cap gun that they got for Christmas when they were seven years old; now they dress up in new Ed Bauer duds on the weekend and head off to the wilds to kill something.

The "wilds" nowadays ain't exactly wild. These Elmer Fudds "rough it" at hunting lodges or clubs in Upstate New York or remote New Jersey. These lodges are more like posh dining rooms at some fancy country club. You start off the hunting excursion with bloodies, mimosas, beef tenderloin and scrambled eggs, all prepared by a chef on the premises. And the "hunt" typically involves a "release" of birds--ducks, quail, pheasants--that have been penned on the property and are ready to fly right over the hunters' heads. The released birds can number in the hundreds; the sky is black with them. You can close your eyes and aim your gun in the air and be sure of shooting down a bird or two. Hired help stands ready to reload your shotgun after you've pelted the bird-filled sky. After awhile, the "chuck wagon" comes by and you can take a break with a fine cognac, a Cuban cigar, or just a plain Krispy-Kreme doughnut and coffee. The hired help who flushed the birds out, loaded and reloaded your gun, take care of retrieving the birds. Meanwhile, you need to rest your weary trigger finger, so you retire to the comfort of the lodge for a lunch of venison medallions washed down with a Grand Cru bordeaux.

Some of these manque hunters think this is fun. But the primary point of all this is not to have fun. The point is to walk around in Ed Baurer, with a newly purchased Berreta shotgun that costs thousands of dollars. A pack of retrievers and bird dogs add to the ambience. In short, the primary point is to feel like you are landed gentry, to feel like you belong in one of those cheesy hunting scene paintings in a Steak and Ale restaurant. After having made a large amount of dough, the nouveau riche have nothing else to pursue but class.

You know it's getting bad when people like Madonna take up hunting. A few months ago, I saw a photo spread of her in one of those scented magazines that my wife buys. She was photographed traipsing about one of the estates that she owns in the English countryside. She was ridiculously attired in jodhpurs and tweed hunting jacket and, with a straight face, posing as an English aristocrat. We're talking about a gal who grew up in Detroit with the last name Ciccione. "I loved my bespoke outfits and everything," said Lady M. "It was so much fun. That all changed when a bird dropped in front of me that I'd shot. It wasn't dead. It got up, and it was really suffering...I realized I had a kind of bloodlust, was manically shooting things and trying to kill as many birds as possible." Yeah, okay... we wouldn't want a couple of drops of bird blood to get on your hunting jacket. Pity the poor animals who are being wounded by amateurs and poseurs who don't know how to shot properly.

I never got into hunting. The fact that my mom was a founding member of the local Animal Protection Society proved to be a hindrance to my pursuit of animal killing. But I did have a grandmother who lived way out in the sticks. She was a tough old bird who had outlived two husbands, a modern-day pioneer woman who raised cattle, lived from her vegetable garden and smoked her own hogs. She loved to hunt and fish. She took me squirrel hunting one early Fall morning. She handed me a 410 shotgun and we trudged about in the damp woods for an hour or so before I finally managed to blow a squirrel out of a tree. We bagged it, and later I helped Mimaw, as we called her, skin, gut, and clean the two or three squirrels that we had killed. She then rolled the dressed carcasses in flour and threw them into a greasy frying plan. We ate them with scrambled eggs. I'll never forget when Mimaw got the cooked head of one of the squirrels, squeezed the tenderized skull until it pooped open and sucked the brains right out. "A real delicacy," she said to me.

Now that, my friends, is real hunting.

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