By Judith Menchaca Here in South Texas, we are known for our family traditions most of which are deep rooted in our history as cowboy culture. And it goes without saying that Webb County’s topography not only further nourishes our ranching traditions but it fosters a heaven for hunters of all kinds. Whether you choose the traditional white-tailed deer or mule deer, wild pigs/javalinas, bob cats, badgers, wild turkey, doves, etc., Laredo and all its’ surrounding beauty is more than enticing for the enamored. I personally can be placed among them. As a daddy’s girl, I was raised appreciating the great outdoors. There isn’t a spring break or summer that I can recall, that we didn’t spend dining around a camp fire. Although he never did understand someone’s love for the hunt, he was more the fisherman. If he were still around today, I would love to take him out to experience the world that he missed out on. I will admit I am merely a novice, but game hunting is definitely a topic that makes me feel giddy and antsy inside. I jump at the opportunity to partake. It’s quickly become a true fascination in our home as we anxiously await our next outing. I know there are those nay-sayers who just as eagerly chime in to protest the whole escapade with their arguments, which range from hunting is inhumane, it’s cruelty to animals and shows little regard for life, etc., etc. And though I’ve only recently been introduced to hunting, I will say I’ve never understood these particular opinions. Basically, hunting is defined as the literal chase to catch and kill an animal for food, sport or profit. But anyone who does it understands that it is truly so much more than that or at least it should be. For us, it is another opportunity to bond, not unlike a family game night or movie night. Except that it lasts so much longer. It really begins with the anticipation of hunt. Much like fishing, it entails a very detailed process prior to setting up that rifle to glare through the scope. It’s really more about the ritualistic events involving clearing the senderos, scoping out the grounds, noting activity and preparing and maintaining the feeders. That’s all very necessary but it’s certainly not where lies. The true joy of hunting begins with the early morning wake up call, sleepily rushing to put on layers upon layers of clothing (if you’re lucky enough to hunt in the cold rainy weather), gathering all your gear, in a rush to reach your destination before the light of dawn beats you. There is absolutely nothing on God’s great earth more enjoyable that that hour or so that you enjoy sitting quietly and focusing on everything that surrounds you. The peace that fills you from head to toe as you focus on the details in the trees and how their limbs are all so graciously entangled. The sounds of all the small critters you hear in the distance, the first to start the movement in the wee hours of the morning. A bird may tweet or a frog or cricket may chirp, that’s when you know soon the light of day will slowly begin to glow in the distance. You know that soon, this particular spot will come to life nature begins to unfold. They are sacred moments in time, far and few in between, that I can share with kids where we enjoy each other without words or actions. But together in all our stillness, we are soaking in the beauty of the environment, sharing our mutual respect for nature, enjoying the outdoors, fresh air, and each other in complete and utter silence. It’s almost a religion all in its’ own. Eventually, and if you’re in luck, the movement of the animals begins. It always starts with the javalinas and the does. They come by the tens, one group after another. So many and so much movement. And they’re beautiful to watch. It’s always fun to make the slightest of noises to watch how sensitive they are to your presence; some flinch while others are quick to bolt out of there. Then there comes to moment everyone hopes for. Somewhere in the distance, something catches your eye. Everyone freezes as you watch as intently as possible. Then you confirm, there is something moving ever so slowly. And you get a glimpse of a slow moving rack, indistinguishable from the imbroglio of branches, but the movement verifies it’s more than just a decent sized buck and you want it! Slowly, you set up your rifle praying not to make a sound. You set it down as gently as you can and begin your search through your scope, praying for that clean and perfect shot. In this moment, you swear the animals can hear your heart beating. The buck moves so slowly and so hesitantly, you know he knows you’re around but still he continues to move. Ever so cautiously, and always between the trees or in a heavy mix of does, he knows how not to expose his massive body. But then it happens, you can tell by the path he’s taking, you’re going to get your shot. He’s moving slowly and you have to patient and still. But at any moment, he’s going to come out. By the time he does, and he’s in that sendero, your heart is beating you from the inside. The adrenalin kick in and you’re trembling uncontrollably. It’s insanity. You struggle to get your breathing in control. One deep breath in and one steady and slow breath out. Praying simultaneously that you don’t lose your shot. You steady your rifle, focus your scope and aim. You can’t help but admire his beauty as you exhale with a count of three. On three, you gently pull back the trigger. POP! And with that pop, one shot, it ends. But the adrenalin has a hold on you. You can’t recover. You watch him and even as he falls, you pray he’s down for good. You’re first inclination is to run over there to get a better look at him. Actually see how big and beautiful he is. But you have to wait. Give it 20 minutes to make sure he’s down and out. Slowly you begin to regain control of your respiratory system and serenity returns. The true value in the whole experience is teaching your children about hunting responsibly. It’s not about taking down everything you see. A real hunter is selective and sensible. You hyper aware of considering the environment first and foremost. Hunting is actually a vital mode for controlling the population and limiting disease. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has reported that there has been an increase of deer population of 23% over the last 10 years; an estimated 3.5 does for each buck. Infections tick borne diseases are a real threat to humans and other livestock causing thousands of illness among the human population each year. It’s certain not intended to create suffrage of any living thing. Seasons ensure the healthy survival of these beloved animals and hunting is a means of restoring balance. It’s certainly not anymore inhumane that some of the tactics used by the commercial processing of livestock for human consumption. In fact their tactics are truly inhumane. For example, according to PETA, hundreds of millions of chickens suffer from broken wings and legs while in transit for processing. They get their little legs shackled and then their throats are slit before they are boiled in a process to remove their feathers. Sheep, calves and cattle are electrocuted unconscious for slaughter and some sheep and swine are suffocated into an unconscious state before slaughter. When hunters act responsibly, they ensure that their weapon is adequate for their target, guaranteeing that the one shot will be sufficient enough to bring the animal down upon impact. And equally important is that a good hunter is patient enough to wait for the shot. The whole process starts and ends immediately, with the sound of the pop. Everyone has an opinion about hunting. And I do understand the love for animals. In fact, I know it well. But hunters are not inhumane or cruel. They actually do care about the animals they hunt. They care enough to instill in their children, the necessity for respect for the animals and the great outdoors. And they teach them to appreciate the value of nature and all its’ beauty. It may be difficult for some to understand but it truly isn’t done to satisfy a cruel insatiable thirst. Quite the contrary, as difficult as it may be to believe, it is done with great respect and admiration for wildlife; which is something my father first introduced me to years ago with fishing.