I had a problem. I had a warm, bloody heart in my hands, and the world’s most gung-ho eight-year-old was expecting me to eat it.
I was worried I’d gag, but unsure how to back out without being mercilessly heckled by this little girl decked out in pink camo gear.
I’ll fill you in on the rest in a second, but first, take a look at this picture. What do you see?
In September, this Facebook post showing 8-year-old Chloe Yuile eating the heart of a deer she’d shot hit the internet, prompting a firestorm of comments. While many were supportive, others thought it showed a callous disregard for an animal’s life, and that it was irresponsible to take her hunting at that age.
People found it all a bit problematic.
“Sad that from such a young age this little girl has been taught it’s ok to kill and have such little respect for living creatures.”
“Hunting is one thing, mutilating is another.”
“Just sickening to condone this. Parenting gone wrong.”
What complete and utter rubbish.
To read some of the comments, you’d think she’d wrung the neck of the last kakapo in Fiordland, hollowed it out with a carving knife, and worn it as a plump, green hat.
I got to spend a weekend with Chloe, her Dad, and her two six-year-old sisters at Makapua Station near Waikaremoana. The plan? To find some deer, and shoot them. As we hiked over the hills, all three girls were clearly having the time of their lives.
Having spotted a deer, it took about thirty minutes for dad Johny to lead us up an adjacent rise, and shot it. All three girls watched on intently. There was no squeamishness, no fear, no disrespect.
I can tell you, from having observed up close, that there was great respect for the animal. The family said a prayer of thanks over its body - the meat would be divided amongst family and friends.
I also saw a Dad who adores his daughters. The negative responses to his post had surprised him. For Johny, taking his girls out hunting is part and parcel of being a loving father and husband. He’s teaching them how to be safe, how to be responsible, and how to provide for the family.
I’m no hunter. I don’t like killing. But I was in a bind. I’d been offered the chance to hunt something myself. The biggest thing I’d ever killed was a snapper. I figured that as I was doing a story on why Chloe does this, it was only right that I experience it also. And so, the next morning, well before dawn, I went out with Angus from Makapua, spotted a deer grazing in a gully, lay down in the wet morning grass, lined up my sights, and shot it.
It died instantly.
Did I feel bad? Kind of. But every time I tuck into a tender steak, I know something has had to die. That deer had lived a good life roaming in Te Urewera. It would feed many people. And left uncontrolled, a population can double within three years, causing huge damage to native bush. There was now one less pest.
Mental justification taken care of, I asked Chloe what the next step was. Simple. Having killed my first animal, tradition dictated that I eat its heart.
Having finished gutting the animal, Angus presented me with its heart.
It was still warm, smaller than I expected, yet heavy in the hand.
Under Chloe’s supervision, I sunk my teeth into it, and ate.
I’d expected it to be tough, but I bit easily through the meat. There was a faint, though not unpleasant, taste of blood. A small red trickle ran down my hands as I bit in. It tasted, funnily enough, like a fine piece of venison.
In my mind I gave a little acknowledgement to the animal I had just killed, and swallowed.
I asked Chloe how she’d found the experience of killing her first deer. She said she’d enjoyed it: it proved she was a hunter, and it was an experience she’d been lucky enough to share with her Dad.
That got me thinking - would the response have been the same if Chloe were a boy?
I want to show you another picture.
What do you see?
That’s Johny and Chloe holding hands as the family walk up to the deer they’d shot.
I see some young girls and an adoring father enjoying their time together, sharing in an experience, and strengthening their relationship.
Don’t dare try and tell me there’s a problem with that.