Not quite two weeks ago, I sat in the back of my station wagon at sunrise, held a battery-powered breast pump to my chest and watched as a New York City-based writer tiptoed through the sagebrush with a shotgun as she followed fresh rabbit tracks in the snow.
It wasn’t exactly how I’d pictured my return from maternity leave.
The writer, Molly Young, had flown to Bend to go rabbit hunting with me and then write about it for Elle magazine.
Perhaps the only thing stranger than Elle covering hunting is the fact that I, of all people, had been asked to help teach this woman how to hunt.
See, I’ve written a book — which comes out this summer — detailing my transformation from animal-loving city gal into unlikely huntress.
Two years after I moved to Central Oregon from New York City, I suddenly decided to pull on camouflage and pick up a gun. My reasons were complicated.
The short explanation is that I wanted to better understand the traditions of the rural communities I was writing about.
I also wanted to learn more about where my food comes from and how humans fit into the ecosystem.
That was about five years ago, which in hunting terms makes me a neophyte.
Until two weeks ago, I’d done very little rabbit hunting — none in Central Oregon.
Yet Molly was on a tight deadline, and the time of year didn’t leave us many options. Rabbits are just one of a few species that may be hunted year-round here. They also happen to be tasty.
Hunting is something that you can’t learn on YouTube or in a book. You have to get out there, preferably under someone’s wing. For people like Molly and me, who grew up in cities with parents who don’t hunt, mentors can be hard to come by. Some of the people who have taught me the most about hunting were strangers generous enough to share their hard-earned knowledge.
So I was eager to return the favor by passing along whatever I could to Molly.
I was also curious to see if I know enough to teach someone else how to hunt.
If the outcome was any indication, I don’t: Neither of us shot a rabbit.
It was an all-too-appropriate introduction for Molly. As any hunter knows, coming home empty-handed is a big part of the sport.
Luckily, we found more than our share of consolation prizes.
One of my favorite things about hunting is how it forces me to look anew at even the most familiar landscapes.
Where I once saw a sterile, gray swath of Bureau of Land Management desert, I now see unmistakable signs that the land throbs with life.
We saw holes that are surely the front doors to porcupine dens.
We noticed owl pellets in the sand, with clean white rodent bones protruding from the gray fluff. A few minutes later, the owl that had likely scattered those pellets swooped overhead.
We followed coyote and antelope tracks and watched chipmunks scurry across the ground.
We found a mule deer antler under one juniper tree and half of a dead kangaroo mouse under another.
We saw quite a few cottontails darting through the bitterbrush, too, though we never got a shot off in time to bring one home for supper.
Of course, the long hours spent hiking at dawn and dusk meant a big, sudden adjustment for my newborn son — and my husband caring for him — at home (although my days in the office last week felt short and easy by comparison).
For me, it’s hard to imagine a more pleasant way to emerge from three months spent mostly indoors. It reminded me, yet again, of how lucky I am to live in the High Desert — and get to write about it.
It’s good to be back.
Interested in learning how hunting relates to a land ethic?
Why Hunt? A Guide for Lovers of Nature, Local Food, and Outdoor Recreation examines hunting through the lens of conservation. Individuals from diverse backgrounds share their motivations for and pathways to hunting, and how participation has deepened their land ethic.