Back on the New Year’s Resolutions post, I told Dave I’d try to write more for Voices. Well, more than my recent stream of goofy and non-serious comments. I might dig up something controversial to help with the blog traffic, but for now the most controversial I’ll get is gun ownership and responsible wildlife management.
These past few months, I’ve been spending a good part of my time in the early mornings or late afternoons sitting on the edge of farm fields at rest, waiting for certain forest animals to make their appearance. The plan, of course, is to shoot one of the deer when they come out. It’s a trap, for certain.
The Wednesday after Christmas I was sitting out between a rice field and a soybean field, watching the woods for deer. A few fields over, I could hear the reports of other hunters and I was getting a little jealous of their success. It was getting a little chilly, and I hadn’t packed my heavier coat, so I was there in a sweatshirt, jeans, boots, and a bright orange vest. I had about an hour before I expected the deer to come out, and was considering stretching my legs by walking through a little overgrown area by my hunting perch.
The purpose of the orange vest is to make sure that those other hunters don’t mistake me for a 6-foot tall, 230-pound bipedal deer. I was not the only one in the area, after all, and we all shared two goals: go home alive and reduce the deer population. No one out there wanted to interfere with the other’s success and certainly we had no desire to harm each other.
(Side note: that’s not just for meat, either. One farm field alone saw nearly $10000 worth of crop loss due to deer, and another farmer saw so much deer damage he couldn’t afford to hire an extra hand at harvest. Deer like soybeans but don’t pay for them.)
About the time I was set to take my little stroll, I noticed movement at the edge of the woods. It was not where I expected deer, but a little east of the gap. The first look was to make sure it was not a person. It wasn’t. The second was to see if it was a deer. It wasn’t. Next: what was it?
It was, based on photo comparison, a panther. At the very least, it was an approximately 6-foot long, low-to-the ground feline predator. And he was stalking something. He passed right through my shooting line and into the overgrown area I was considering taking my stroll into just a few minutes prior.
I didn’t take my stroll. I stayed put in my spot, and watched. The big cat worked his way east to west and disappeared. An hour later, out came the deer I had been waiting to see. Two shots later, I was on the phone to my friend with the truck to come pick up two tagged deer and me. As I went out to check my kills, though, I broke one of my typical safety habits. The rifle I shoot is a lever-action rifle, and typically what I do is leave the spent cartridge in the chamber after shooting. It’s less dangerous than walking out to inspect deer with a live round in the chamber.
Not this time. I reloaded the rifle, opened the deer stand door, and hesitantly stepped out. The whole time, my eyes were scanning the overgrowth and I kept the rifle at a ready position. Panthers are an endangered species, so I was not going to shoot him for no reason. He could have had one of the deer, too, but not me. I was wary, prepared, and cautious. The predator was the biggest threat on my mind.
He didn’t show back up, the freezer is full, and the firearm safely stowed until next season. Next season, though, I will make some changes. For example, I will go out with a camera to get a picture of the cat. I will also go out armed with a back-up weapon for predator cats, just in case.
Now, why did I tell you this story?
1. To brag that I shot deer. I’ve been a city kid all my life, and now have done some of that “manly” stuff. True, I didn’t jump out of the trees and subdue them with my bare hands, but still, it’s a step in the self-sufficient direction.
2. To make this point: you are not alone in the woods. Let’s take a deeper look at this:
First and foremost: while I don’t want you to think of accomplishing the church’s mission as shooting anyone, the deer hunting is the metaphor for that. We are seeking the lost, trying to bring them to salvation. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s what I’ve got. Our goal is to get straight to the heart with the Gospel, not to miss, not skim their hides with the Gospel, but right into the vital points of people’s lives.
We are not, however, solo hunters. There are others out there with the same goal: to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost world. They may use different methods–there’s bowhunters, muzzle-loader hunters, stalkers, and set-place hunters like me. There are preachers of the Gospel in suits, in polo shirts, with pulpits and without. There are people who spread the Gospel full-time as both life and employment and those who do so simply as their life.
Just as I have a rulebook (published by Arkansas Game and Fish) that gives the rules of what, when, where, and how I can hunt, we have a standard rulebook for our lives as Gospel people: the Bible. There are certain things that are hard and fast: you’ll never persuade a game warden that today (January 3) is during modern gun season. There are certain things in Scripture that are hard and fast: no one comes to the Father without Christ (John 14:6). Without faith and grace there is no salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). Lives change and grow in obedience to God in response to salvation (the whole Bible. Really.)
Anybody that follows the rules is on my side. Even those who use methods I wonder about–like these crazy bowhunters and polo shirt wearing preachers. As long as the book is honored in the woods and the Bible in their lives, we are together in our goal. My hope is that you see no harm and much success in what you do. I will strive not to interfere with your efforts and will certainly not lob unnecessary shots in your direction. My hope is that you’ll return the courtesy.
Yet we’re not the only ones out here, either. There are predators. Whether it’s the coyotes that are well-known or the panther that’s almost legendary around here, there are other animals out to capture the prey we seek.Not only are they dangerous for the prey, but they can be dangerous for us as well, and caution must be exercised.
There are predators out for the people we are seeking. Some would wound a soul for a dollar, while others will cripple one to satisfy their lusts. Meanwhile, we have to deal with those folks.
The first concern is to prepare ourself for the danger: be aware of the reality of temptations and snares. Be aware of the predators that will threaten you. React accordingly: armed with the Word, shielded by faith.
The second concern is to defend the helpless: the analogy breaks down here, because I would have let the panther eat a deer and left him alone. If, however, I was hunting on a sheep ranch, I’d have shot that cat dead, endangered or no, because I would have the safety of sheep to consider. When a predator threatens, then we must act to stop him. We have to do so in a way that offers the best protection for the helpless and that does not excessively risk ourselves, but we need to take that action.
The final concern with predators is this: focus. I had a myriad of distracting thoughts until I was aware of the danger. Then, not much else mattered but the goal and the possible danger. (I admit, a week later I realize it wasn’t much danger, but at the time…) All the other distractions faded. Even my friend with the truck noticed a difference in my body posture and attitude on his arrival.
In summary: We are not alone in the woods as followers of Christ. There are others who are doing the same thing we are. Some are doing it better, some worse, but we’re working together. Then there are the predators who are out to destroy. Our focus needs to be on our mission as God’s people to spread the Gospel and prevent that destruction. Can we strive to block out the distractions, not destroy each other, and get home safely with a good harvest? I hope we can.