Elk Hunting photo

I get my television the old-fashioned way: by sucking the signal right out of the sky. No cable. No dish. Just free-flowing megahertz available to anyone with a primitive receiver and time to kill.

My limited reception means that I don’t get to see many of the highest-rated programs on The History Channel, or the latest satellite view on The Weather Channel, or any of the hunting and fishing coverage offered on the various networks devoted to televising our outdoor lives.

That’s probably okay. My wife calls outdoor programming generically “The Whisper Channel” because nearly every hunting program features the hushed voices of pasty white men dressed in camouflage, communicating the movements of various antlered animals with stage whispers and exaggerated body language.

One constant of these programs is the celebratory high-five hand slap when an animal is killed. In the field, I tend to shirk these high-profile congratulations, partly because such hi-jinx seems to disrespect the animal that just died, and it seems especially unseemly when the celebration exists mainly to justify the expense of high-definition cameras, marketing strategies, and the empty calories of celebrity.

In fact, I’m so repulsed by the self-congratulation at the end of a successful hunt that I’ve gone to the other end of the spectrum, ducking a hunting partner’s hand or dodging a high-five hand slap after I’ve made a killing shot. For me, hunting is an intensely personal affair, and I hardly feel jubilant after killing an animal. I feel rather a conflicted mixture of satisfaction and regret.

So I find it odd that the last couple of times I’ve killed an animal with a close friend at my side, we have come close to a sort of hug and handshake upon the successful completion of the hunt. We have raised our hands to meet in a shake or a slap, and then slowly and self-consciously lowered our grips and turned away from each other.

It’s natural, I think, to share such a jubilant moment after successfully completing a difficult stalk, or making a long or tough shot. Hunting can be hard, and the hug or high-five is one small way of recognizing the difficulty, and the achievement. But instead of congratulating my partner, I thank the victim, the animal that died to feed both my family and my puny ego.