I was not born into a hunting family nor did I seek it in my youth. Rather, after regular invitations from Eastern Shore friends over many years I finally said yes. After a difficult divorce, I could not stand the thought of sitting indoors alone all winter, and the invitations were from some of my closest and most esteemed friends.
For the last almost two decades, I have hunted and truly loved every minute of it. I don’t hunt for the kill. I don’t even hunt for the hunting. I hunt to get outside, to get closer to nature, to be alone, and to enjoy time with good friends. I also eat everything I kill. Even more importantly, I greatly value the connection between healthy table fare, our beautiful Eastern Shore landscape, and our shared tradition of hunting and harvest from the land.
Last week for 3.5 hours alone in a deer stand 15 feet off the ground I watched birds – lots of birds – sometimes using my phone apps for song ID or scanning migrating hawks for cool species. I also saw a flock of 13 turkeys jousting and canoodling right under my feet. I meditated. I watched bees running back and forth feverishly, saw nice fall colors, was concerned with the many Spotted Lantern Flies, and watched a pair of squirrels hiding nuts. I even had time to read an essay by my favorite author Brian Doyle. If you have not experienced extended stillness in nature, I highly encourage it.
For the record I killed a large doe at dusk that day. I don’t like the killing part – but feel ok about it when it is quick – and especially with deer – as they are terribly hard on our natural areas and communities here on the Shore. Our mix of farm, forest and suburban lawns are perfect for White-tailed Deer and their numbers are roughly 100 times more than 100 years ago. Their high numbers are not just a risk to rural driving, farmer’s crops and backyard vegetables, but also to our shared ecology. Maryland has 344 endangered species, most of them plants, and deer browsing is the first or second most critical threat to these plant species.
Not all hunters are conservationists like Aldo Leopold and I understand poaching or mixing alcohol and hunting are challenges. The club where I hunt adheres tightly to all regulations and the highest ethical standards.
Hunting is a deeply personal decision and all sides of this debate should be respected. Personally, I’m in and glad to be outdoors in the Fall and Winter on the Eastern Shore.
Rob Etgen retired in 2021 after a 40 year career in conservation – the last 31 years as President of Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. In retirement Rob is enjoying family and working on global and local sustainability issues with Council Fire consulting out of Annapolis.