Most Harvard grads, then and now, would find him rustic, even comical. Swells in L.A. or Hollywood wouldn’t find him anything, because he’d be invisible to them. They wouldn’t care that he can move silently, read sign, use his imagination and wisdom to project 3-D where on the mountain father or mother deer will be this frosty autumn morning. They wouldn’t understand how crucial the next hours will be, for many mouths need what he must provide, and he doesn’t want to go to sleep to the moans of hungry kids. That would be his definition of failure: To him, manhood is about words that begin with “P”, provision and protection.
But he doesn’t care what others think. He is far into the craft of it, his mind is closed to all that. He is using superb eyesight to look deep into the woods for shapes not common to vegetation, for flashes of movement, for the white emblem of his prey, and he believes that if God did not want the animal hunted, he would not have painted tail and throat so brightly as target designators.
Maybe he catches a flash, a scent, maybe it’s predictive instinct, some special gift given to a few, but whatever, as happens every year, a plump doe is before him. She is Bambi’s mom, but—guess what?—she doesn’t know some human named the child “Bambi.” She just knows her instinct compels protection of the young for the first few months. Is it love?
Who can say?
The hunter could wait for a buck, but he doesn’t care about trophies; to him the best trophy is the smile on one of his children’s faces after the hunger has been slaked.
Let’s give him a Springfield, sporterized by a good custom ’smith in the city. Let’s imagine the grace by which rifle comes to shoulder, the steadiness of the hold, the delicacy of the squeeze. Let’s imagine the animal down, perfectly, one shot, not even time for a death rush.
Now the gutting. It’s his duty; it means nothing. Now the hauling, the long pull downhill, maybe two or three. Now the butchering.
Now the eating, now the salting, now the storing, the provisioning, now, many months later when it’s so cold and snowy in February and he can’t get down the mountain, there’s still jerky in the larder and it makes all the difference.
In words no sophisticate would understand, he thanks the deer for allowing him the privilege of the hunt and he sees the eating of the flesh as a natural sacrament.
Oh, yes, let’s give him a name. Let’s call him Alvin York.
Stephen Hunter is a best-selling novelist and essayist. As chief film critic for The Washington Post, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Film Criticism in 2003. His new novel is "The Third Bullet." (Simon & Schuster; simonandschuster.com)