Confession of an Episcopal hunter

Covey of quailTonight my son and I had quail for dinner.  I marinated the birds in olive oil and rosemary, added a dash of lime juice, and baked at 425 degrees.  We ate like kings.

These quail were wild birds.  I shot them myself during an afternoon with Dr. Jill Carroll, tromping across several hundred acres of South Texas grass fields—a glorious piece of God’s good creation.

I’m a hunter.  I haven’t always been.  I was raised in rural Arkansas, where during duck season it was not unusual for high school classmates to arrive at the opening bell sleepy-eyed in coveralls after having already spent two hours in a duck blind.  Many boys had killed their first deer by age eight.  (Indeed, I have several Arkansas nephews who have accomplished exactly that feat.)  I went duck hunting once or twice as a boy.  It was always frigid outside, and the ducks always seemed too high in the air to shoot.  I was cured of hunting by the time I reached sixth grade.

But then in 2007 I moved to Roanoke, Virginia, and soon my good friend and parishioner, Robert Brailsford, invited me to dove hunt with him.  On Labor Day weekend, we drove to a cut corn field in Franklin County, and in the span of four hours I was hooked.  (It helped that I hit the first bird at which I took aim, which was—so far—the highlight of my hunting career.)

I loved all of it: The camaraderie; the extended time outdoors without email or cell phone, time in which to pray and count one’s blessings; the excitement when a flight of birds crossed the field; and the respect I felt for the canny dove that knew when to veer and dip to avoid being hit (in my case, most of the dove).Quail hunt, January 2012

I dove hunted each fall after that.  Then in 2012 another friend and parishioner, Chris Moore, took me quail and pheasant hunting, which had the added benefit of constant movement.  I returned from that hunt with the realization that I was no longer someone who enjoyed hunting; I’d become a hunter.

The country rock band Drive-By Truckers talk about “the duality of the Southern thing.”  I experience that sometimes-conflicted conundrum in many different manifestations, including when I reflect upon my identity as a hunter.  On the one hand, I am a progressive-leaning Episcopal priest who advocates reasonable gun control, the stewardship of God’s earth, the good care of God’s creatures, and peaceable living.  On the other hand, I am a shotgun-owning wing shooter who admittedly thrills when I hit my mark.

Quail hunt, October 2013 (Texas)I navigate “the duality of the Southern thing” in this case—and I offer this as explanation, not as excuse—by acknowledging that I am a carnivore.  I consume meat, including the birds I hunt.  And after viewing the films “Fast Food Nation” and “Food, Inc.,” I trust with confidence that the birds I kill and consume have lived as God hopes and intends compared to the mass-produced, bioengineered, engorged chickens, cows, and pigs that are conveniently packaged in cellophane at Kroger and HEB.  It seems to me there is integrity in being vegan; there is integrity in buying one’s meat from free range, grass-feed farmers; and there is integrity in being a hunter who eats what he shoots and doesn’t shoot more than he will eat.

I will admit that I experience intermittent ambivalence about hunting.  But then again, I’m fond of saying (and I believe) that doubt is first-cousin of faith, while certainty is faith’s opposite.  And it is surely true that in the field I feel as close to God as I do anywhere but the sacred space of the church.

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5 thoughts on “Confession of an Episcopal hunter

  1. Barkley, I loved reading your story. The opening day of dove season is so exciting. Nothing better then to be with your friends hunting and shooting birds. I am always as excited just to be in the country and take in all of God’s beautiful creatures and surroundings. I spend half of the time talking to my friends and just enjoying the first days of fall on the farm. Richard

  2. I am so happy to read this post! And to see this picture of you with the quail you shot that day on my lease. Indeed, it’s a “southern thing” but also a spiritual thing. Thank you for expressing this sentiment so eloquently.

  3. Richard has always been a hunter and says he feels closest to God in the woods. He has always been an advocate of reasonable gun control. Love reading.

  4. I’ll never forget when Bill and I were dating, he told me to read a collection of short stories by William Faulkner, so I could appreciate his passion for hunting. Thanks for sharing your personal reflections on hunting and your love of the great outdoors. We all have a responsibility to be good stewards of God’s earth and its living creatures. We still miss you here in Roanoke!

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