Biology Reference
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cabin, and peer downslope toward a game feeder that twice daily slings out corn. Out
of nowhere I remember Yale biologist Evelyn Hutchinson's The Ecological Theater and
the Evolutionary Play, 8 a topic that inspired my grad school ponderings, and relect on
how today, loaded Winchester in hand, I'm truly an actor on that stage.
But what's with this heaviness? I intend to slay a mammal, as do rattlesnakes and
other predators I've studied for decades. I've killed smaller animals for science. And al-
though we're not exactly trapping prehistoric pronghorn in a canyon cul-de-sac, what
could be more part of nature than taking responsibility for what we eat? Concerns that
the deck is stacked against our quarry moderate during three hours of chilly immobility,
as I settle into the winter landscape and contemplate the job at hand: superimposing
the rifle's quarter-inch, V-shaped rear sight with its metal-dot front sight on the deer's
six-inch kill zone, from almost a football field away. I can't flinch the trigger pull despite
knowing that a lipstick-sized bomb will ignite next to my right eye, despite knowing that
less-than-perfect performance would leave a wounded animal to suffer.
Zero tolerance for error? How about just being a tagalong, watching the others
hunt? But then I'd be only a spectator, no longer a participant. . . . At this point the
stand feels like an anechoic chamber I entered years ago while lecturing at the Bell
Labs—heartbeats were audible in that “place where sound goes to die,” as the host de-
scribed it, and now I strain to hear my lub-dup, lub-dup in the frigid morning air.
A gunshot at 7:48 proves to have been Greg's scoped Marlin .30-30, a modern variant
of my rifle, and when we meet up at 10 he teaches Tracy and me how to follow a blood
trail several dozen winding yards to the dead buck. At first things aren't obvious, but
Greg patiently urges us to cut back and forth over the rocky ground, attending to red
flecks on pebbles and dry oak leaves. We soon catch on, and although I've seen count-
less live and road-killed whitetails, the one before us is riveting: Greg's bullet ripped
right through the thorax and caused rapid fatal shock from blood loss. I ask how many
he's killed and how many rounds were used. “Same number,” he says without a trace of
bragging, “fourteen or fifteen total.” From this and other comments, we're getting the
picture: These guys never take bad shots. They don't fire if branches would deflect a
bullet, the angle of aim isn't favorable, and so forth. They eat every animal killed. Greg
deftly eviscerates the deer in amazingly short order, and we lug it out to the nearest
ranch road and David's pickup.
Longhorns graze among us back at the Chateau. Truth be told, I came as much for
them as for the hunting. Domestic herbivores usually seem tame and needy, but these
animals exude charm and independence. Descendants of stock released in Mexico more
than five hundred years ago, shortly after the Columbian landfall, Texas longhorns are
famous for their namesake weaponry and ability to thrive in hostile circumstances. The
Double Helix cattle do seem well adapted to this rugged terrain, as if they belonged
here; as nineteenth-century rancher Charles Goodnight exclaimed, “Evolution! If I could
take longhorns and breed them into the best herd in America in eleven years, what
could I do in eleven million?” 9 Moreover, longhorns are flat-out handsome, their col-
ors “more varied than those of the rainbow,” as folklorist J. Frank Dobie noted. 10 David
is devoted to the breed, maintaining an informational website and writing articles for
ranchers' magazines about the genetics of coat colors and horn conformation. 11
Today, though, the oldest cow in David's herd has a wickedly suppurating infection
of black, pink, and yellow over her left hip. He hadn't the heart to shoot her on his last
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