Recently I was able to sit down with Kathleen Hartsfield, a true dream boat if there ever was one, to talk about hunting — something I learned was a hobby of hers as she told stories to a group over tea, in true Hartsfield fashion, at some point in the last year. The original conversation stemmed from a pair of mounted antlers hanging on her wall, and for some reason what she had to say about hunting made an impression on me. So we sat down over tea again, and she retold me about her experiences so I could share them with you here.
Josh Garcia (JG): I guess first tell me about the antler plaque I’ve seen.
Kathleen Hartsfield (KH): That specific one?
KH: OK. Well, um, when I was — actually, let me start with this: Growing up we would always go to what we called the deer lease. It was in southwest Texas, probably four hours from where I lived and about two from where my grandparents lived in Odessa, Texas. We always hunted where I live in Dilley, but it was always a big thing for us to go once a year with my grandparents and cousins. We would all camp in trailers out in the middle of this ranch, and we would spend two days. It was always just a great time for the grandkids, because we would get to hang out with our grandfather and our grandmother, and there’d be so many of us packed in one of those trailers. We would watch movies with him, and it would always be ‘Crocodile’ Dundee or that kind of thing, and it wasn’t until I was, I guess whenever I was eight I started getting to go hunt with my grandfather. We would always go sit in his blind —
JG: His what?
KH: — His blind, it’s like a little box that you sit in. They come in all shapes and sizes, but this one was light green, and it usually has a very thin, little window around it so you could see outside. Anyway, we would always go sit in his blind, and we would never see anything because [deer] don’t live there. It’s a lot easier to have deer that come if you are able to feed every day, but he didn’t, so we just waited, and usually I would drink some of his Diet Coke and wait for the time to pass. I remember all the lining around this blind was like apple stickers because I guess a lot of people had to wait for a deer that never came. And then whenever I was, I think I was eleven, yeah, I was definitely eleven, we were going to the deer lease again, but my grandfather had, he had cancer, brain cancer, and so we weren’t sure if we were going to get to go on this trip, because his head was hurting so badly, but we ended up going. I remember waking up at four in the morning to go hunting. We got there, and I was wearing my grandfather’s coveralls. They were bright orange, and I had this plastic Tupperware coffee cup with my coffee in it with so much cream, and I was the only little kid in the camp. . . . But that specific year we finally saw a deer, and it was an axis deer, which was different from the kind of deer that I had already killed at home. It’s got spots on the back, fawns always have that, baby deer always have that when they’re first born, but it always goes away. . . . Anyway, we finally saw one come out, and I shot it. I don’t remember much about the actual, like, that part of it, but I killed it, and we had to go look for it. I remember that, and that specific deer is just really important to me because that was the only time I killed a deer with my grandfather, because then he died in June. That’s why I really like that one. Even though I’ve killed bigger deer than that, that one’s just really special to me. And what makes it even cooler about that specific plaque on the wall, my brother found the horns in my room, and they were just sitting on top of the antlers from my first deer. . . . I just hadn’t even done anything with it, and so while I was at school last semester, Levi got that down and cleaned it up. He mounted it on this mesquite plaque, and he got the license that was taped to the horn and inlaid it in the wood. So that’s why I really like that one, because it’s my grandfather and my brother and hunting. So, yeah — do I sound like I know I’m being recorded?
JG: No, I was just thinking that you’re a very good oral storyteller. . . . I think I remember you talking once about the first time you saw a deer being cleaned. Would you talk about that?
KH: . . . I don’t think I ever was there when they actually cleaned the deer, but whenever I was probably three or four, I remember helping my dad butcher the deer because we would always save the meat. I was sitting in the kitchen — and probably the only reason I can remember this is because there’s video of it — and so I remember I had my little, tiny plastic toy knives, and I remember trying to cut it like my dad was cutting it. I always wanted to be like my dad. So then that’s kind of the first that I know of, but I don’t think I have the actual memories of it, I think I just have the memories of the videos. But I do remember when I first hunted. I was eight years old, and there wasn’t really a lot of thought for it when I first started hunting, because it’s just what everyonedoes. It’s such a cultural thing. It is really cool, and it can be really meaningful, but at the time I wasn’t really thinking about that. I just knew that my younger brother had just killed one like the day before, and I had to be on his level, too, because he was six, and I was eight. I don’t really even remember much from that trip. I just remember, I think I was with my dad whenever I killed that one, and I remember the gun that I shot was a 2.22. . .
JG: Tell me about how it’s cool and meaningful, like the fun and the meaningful aspects of it.
KH: OK, well, I’ve probably only started really thinking about that in the past year when I took the Justice class for Honors, and we talked a lot about war and killing and stuff in that. But I naturally thought about hunting, because one of the things we talked about was video games. The question was, ‘Can gory video games desensitize a culture to murder or killing?’ I never played video games growing up, but I did hunt growing up. So something that I had to kind of contrast that to was the fact that the way we think about hunting, and not necessarily everyone, but you know that, you know that you’re taking a life, and it’s not a human, it’s an animal, but still, you’re causing some kind of impact in the ecosystem. But whenever we do it, we try to, we don’t just ruin it, you know? Pretty much every deer I’ve killed has been because the ranchers need it to control the population, I guess. Anyway . . . this is going to sound really maybe hippie-ish or whatever, but it really does reconnect you back to the earth, because if you’re killing the deer for food, then you are really going through the process of pulling the trigger and killing life so that you can eat. And that’s just so powerful to me because, I mean, that just ties into what I believe about what God did for me, because Christ died so that I could be alive too. . . . It’s not as big of a thing, to kill a deer, but . . . it can be so meaningful to have killed the deer, and there is some sadness because you know that this animal isn’t alive anymore. . . . It’s really, I don’t know, it’s just such a practical thing I guess to go hunting, but it’s still just hard because you can’t help but think about the fact that you’ve taken a life. But it’s kind of redemptive, because you’re making way for new life, and you’re also replenishing your own, if you’re going to eat it. It doesn’t really apply so much now, because we can go to the store and buy meat, but I still like being able to do that.
JG: I think it’s still applicable. I think going to the store and buying meat from who knows where is a lot scarier than — a lot less redemptive, I guess. Is there anything else you can think of that you’d like to talk about? Stories or the process or anything?
KH: One cool thing about hunting, at least the way it has been for me, is just that it kind of builds community, and it builds relationships, because where I live, hunting is, at least during the months of hunting season, that’s just a big deal, and that’s kind of what our community centers around . . . We’ll go out to our friends’ ranch and hunt, and if a granddaughter has killed some deer, and it’s her first one or one of her first ones, then her whole family is out there taking pictures. And I think that hunting is one of the few times that you’re really present, because you can’t use your phone at all, and you’re actually sitting there with whoever . . . I think I just really like going back to the way things used to be . . . It’s just so refreshing to be able to do something like that. ●