I spent all of last week hunting, and for the first time in several years my father and I managed to kill animals, two deer. Although I've been hunting big game on and off (more off than on) since I was fourteen years old, this is the first year that I was indisputably responsible for a kill. When I was younger, my father and I hunted side-by-side and we both fired at an animal at once, making it questionable whether I was ever responsible for a kill.
This year I experienced something I don't really remember from years past, although I know it was present in some form or other - the absolute understanding of the connection between meat and death. Intellectually I've always known this, but it's something different to see a wild animal standing on a hillside, vibrant and alive, and then to kill and butcher it personally and reduce it to a hundred pounds of neatly wrapped packages sitting in a freezer.
A lot of people might think that this might turn one off of hunting, or of eating meat, but the experience has been different for me this year. It feels more like I'm finally taking responsibility for all of the cattle and chickens and pigs that have been slaughtered in assembly-line fashion to feed me over the years. I have a deep respect for the animals' life I took, a respect that is intimately tied to the hard work of dragging a carcass up out of a canyon, the days of effort to butcher the animal with care to waste as little as humanly possible.
Hunting for one's meat, or raising it, seems much more right than passing off the difficult work to others. It does not allow one to become disassociated with the responsibility for death, with a basic and animalistic aspect of our human nature. Religion casts us as spiritual beings, and I think that in doing so it diminishes our respect and sense of responsibility for our natural world much in the same way that shrink-wrapped meat in the grocery store diminishes our sense of respect and responsibility for the deaths of the livestock that feed us.