I missed the Saturday opening of the firearms season on deer for the first time in more than 50 years, because I couldn’t convince them to let me out of the cardiac unit at the hospital, where they had me penned up because of an erratic heartbeat. The night before I’d passed out in a local restaurant.

The hospital’s cardiologist said I passed out because my heartbeat had gotten too slow. I told him that could be easily remedied if he’d let me out of there to deer hunt. No luck. They kept me until Sunday.

Apparently my spark plug is not working as well as it used to, not a serious problem, something that can be remedied with an occasional jump start — what they call a pacemaker. While I await the insertion of a chip to monitor those troublesome heartbeats — the first step toward that pacemaker — I am, finally, in the woods, searching for my big buck. If I see him, a slow heart beat won’t be a problem!

Deer hunting is quiet, comforting, cleansing for the mind and body, good for the heart. I’ve been known to nap in the woods during deer season. I often haul out a book and read for a while in my tree stand, until the final hour of the hunting day approaches. That’s the time to pay attention, the time to anticipate the arrival of deer.

Anticipation that a deer may appear at any moment is the very best part of the hunt, and I do a lot of anticipating. My first afternoon in the stand, a button buck spent 30 minutes dining all around me. Too small to shoot, he was nonetheless very entertaining.

The deer population has definitely rebounded in this neck of the woods. In a favorite woodlot in a nearby town, I saw seven deer, all together in a group, one morning last week. That was thrilling!

I find, at the age of 65, after shooting many deer over the years, including my share of big bucks, I am no longer eager to do so. Last year, I passed up more than 24 opportunities in the regular firearms season, then had two misfires and one missed shot during December’s muzzleloading season. Earlier in my life, I would have been despondent about those misses. These days, there are only smiles on my face.

One hunting season, this newspaper printed a letter criticizing the paper for printing photographs of young hunters with their deer.

“Children should not be taught that it is their privilege to hunt and kill. If killing a defenseless animal for ‘sport’ is your bonding time with a child, you may want to take a look at the negative impact this may have on your child. In time, it will destroy the child’s ability to show empathy for wildlife,” wrote this man.

I’m sure glad Dad didn’t think this way when I was growing up. He raised me to be a Maine sportsman, and my times spent hunting and fishing with Dad are my most memorable childhood experiences. Fortunately, we’re still doing that today, in our 53rd year of hunting together, a very special privilege.

I am living proof that hunting does not destroy the “ability to show empathy for wildlife.” I love the critters in the forest, all of them, and spend thousands of hours every year watching them. A few I shoot and eat, respectful of them and what they contribute to my life and my table. I am not a killer; I am a hunter. And I do understand the difference.

Regretfully, there is no way to convey this to those who believe hunting is, as that letter writer reported, “shameful.” Yet we have so much in common. “For me,” he wrote, “the sighting of a deer is a marvel of God’s existence.” Me too!

About 10 p.m. the other night, a doe and fawn were eating grass on our front lawn, approaching within 10 feet of the wall and window separating us. I watched them for 10 minutes, captivated. I have no interest in shooting them. They seemed to know that. They stared back at me unafraid.

Perhaps this is the answer. I know when to shoot and when not to shoot. I do not kill indiscriminately, but only with purpose, with legal right, with respect for the animal. Perhaps this is what God would expect. I can only hope so. Because I won’t stop hunting until my heart stops beating.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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