I know by now that I’ll never be a true Michigander, but a New Yorker who happens to live in Michigan.
The reason is simple: I don’t get hunting.
Tuesday is the closest thing Michigan has to a state holiday. It’s the first day of deer season.
School districts in some parts of the state close down for the day. Government offices are running on skeleton crews. It’s a good day to go shopping, since the stores are pretty empty.
When we first moved here in 1990, some people were incredulous that I not only didn’t hunt, I didn’t know anything about it.
“I’m a New Yorker,” I told them. “I hunt for parking spaces.”
Will and I used to travel to a huge baseball card show in a Detroit suburb each month, and the November trip was always rough because all the way back up I-75 we’d see a parade of pick-ups and SUVs with gutted deer tied to the roof, tongues flapping in the wind.
I’ve listened to guys talk about hunting. They'd get all excited, and it sounded like a combination of a male bonding ritual and a noble effort to help the deer by killing them.
But to me, it kind of sounded like a bunch of unshaved guys sitting around a kerosene heater in a shack drinking beer until the wee hours then running out and playing with dangerous toys.
It works for them, and as long as they don't drag me out there I suppose I can't complain. But I have some issues with the way they hunt and why they hunt.
To hear these guys tell it, it’s their moral duty to run out there every fall and thin the herd. By the way, “thin the herd” is compromise language. I say “kill,” they say “harvest.” You harvest crops, and you can do it without wearing orange and blasting a hole through them.
But I digress.
According to the hunters, Michigan is annually on the verge of being completely overrun with deer. They allegedly multiply like bunnies and live to raid your garden and mine. And when their bellies are full they will either jump through the window of your local supermarket or leap into the path of your car. Either that or they’ll starve. And without your heroic hunter taking matters into their own hands, well, bad things will happen.
This is shaky logic.
A colleague at a paper where I once worked remarked that if Grandma was starving, you’d feed her, not kill her. And as for being overrun, well, there are a lot of things in Michigan that seem to be multiplying within our borders, like Starbucks. And we don’t go blasting them and tying baristas on the roof. Although to be fair, any group that calls a cup size “tall” when McDonald’s calls the same cup “child-sized” has a lot of nerve.
Then you hear the "I only hunt for food" line. Except I'm confident the supermarkets are well-stocked around here, pretty much making food of all kinds readily available. Plus the venison tends to go bad when you drive around town for a week with the trophy, err, meal beast, tied to the roof.
Then there’s the methodology. In my mind, hunting is using your powers of observation and knowledge to track, locate and seize the prey. Like when you see a person leaving the mall with lots of shopping bags, you drive a respectful distance behind them until they get to their car, then employ your turning signal to announce to the other space-hunters that you’ve spotted the soon-to-be vacated spot first and are claiming it as your own.
But these guys spend weeks before deer season leaving piles of apples and carrots – the deer version of White Castles and a 32-oz Diet Coke – in a spot. Then on the first day of the season the deer go for their treat and bam-o, some guy waiting in a tree stand pumps a round through him. Or at least they try to. There was a lot of drinking the night before.
Just once I'd like to hear one of the guys break out with something like "It's fun to kill stuff." At least I'd know he was telling the truth.
Maybe if I were born here, or had Bucky or one of his friends leap out in front of my Saturn while driving home one night, I’d feel differently. It's just not a part of my culture.
Of course, there was one deer that roamed freely around Detroit for a while. And Milwaukee, too.
Rob Deer was the prototypical Tiger player in the early 1990s — had some success elsewhere and could reach the friendly fences fairly early and often.
But when he wasn’t hitting a homer, one of two things would happen — a walk or a strike out. Deer had a pretty good knowledge of the strike zone, it just didn’t help him connect too much. He hit a lowly .179 his first year in Detroit, but with an impressive 25 bombs and 89 walks. Sadly, Sparky Anderson benched him in September when he approached Bobby Bonds’ strikeout mark, finishing just shy with 175.
He was a little better the next year, hitting .247 with seven more homers. His strikeouts were down to 131, but the walks also dropped, to 51.
Deer was traded after 90 games into the 1993 season, and later wrapped up an 11-year career with 230 homers, a .220 average and 1,409 strikeouts, good for 56th on the all-time list.
There was one place he was in demand. When Will and I opened packs of baseball cards, we’d play the "Stiffs Game," seeing who had the worst player in a pack. Seeing a Rob Deer card would pretty much mean a certain victory, earning him "trump card" status.
And through his years in Detroit, he managed to avoid the piles of apples and carrots that would appear in right field.