Conservation means different things to different people. Your interests or your profession might color your view. For example, a hunter, an environmental activist, or a farmer might each define conservation dramatically differently. But other aspects of our lives also affect our views about nature. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jeff Horwich says for some people, the idea of conservation is closely connected with their idea of spirituality:
Conservation means different things to different people. Your interests or your profession might
color your view. For example, a hunter, an environmental activist, or a farmer might each define
conservation dramatically differently. But, other aspects of our lives also affect our views about
nature. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jeff Horwich says for some people the idea of
conservation is closely connected with their idea of spirituality:
At one time whole families, whole villages used to live or die by the hunt. So for some hunters, it
seems fitting that before they go out to kill something the afternoons start with a prayer.
“Lord help us to hunt in such a way that it is pleasing to you. . .We recognize you’re
here.. .We just put it in your hands, in
Christ’s name, Amen.”
It’s a cloudy, windy day in the countryside west of Hutchinson, Minnesota. Tom Rakow and
Kent Rydberg stand side-by-side with their bows, president and membership director of the
Christian Deer Hunters Association. The group is based at Rakow’s home in Silver Lake, but
claims hundreds of dues-paying members around the country.
Rakow grew up in Wisconsin, and came to deer hunting long before he came to God.
“Unfortunately I poached my first deer while I was squirrel hunting at age 11, and things just kinda
went downhill from there. Deer hunting was my God.”
A teenage Rakow was carrying an archery permit when he shot his first deer with a .22, an illegal
kill. So, to make it look legal, he stuck an arrow in its side and got away with it.
Rakow went through a religious conversion at 21. He became a born-again Christian. He says he
realized deer hunting was his own false idol. He says either he had to find a way to harmonize
God and deer hunting or the hunting had to go.
“That’s buck manure. And here’s another scrape there.”
We’re moving over a plowed field, into tall grass on our way to tree stands in the forest.
Needless to say, the Reverend Rakow is now at peace with his two passions. He ministers to 80
people in his independent church each Sunday, and spends up to 30 days in the woods each fall.
Rakow’s theology of hunting balances two messages from the Bible. First is the chance to
appreciate God’s natural splendor. Rakow marvels at pheasants, mice, and of course, deer.
“Ultimately God created that deer. What did I have to do with that? You know, he fed that deer in the wild,
caused the antlers to grow, I didn’t have any part of that.”
But the Bible’s second message is the mandate to hunt. Rakow cites Psalm 8.
“There is a hierarchy. Humans, you, I, we have been made in the image of God. We have a
divine responsibility. We should be stewards over creation and part of that is hunting as a management
Using the Bible as a hunting guide leads to some distinctive viewpoints. The Christian Deer
Hunter on trespassing:
“If we love our neighbor as ourself, we’re not going to be going somewhere where they don’t want us to
“So as far as you can see, the Bible and the DNR are pretty well in sync with one another?”
“Well, I don’t know if I want to go that far. But Romans:13, Paul writing to the believers in Rome, he
says that powers that be have been ordained of God and we are to submit to those powers.”
And on the plague of chronic wasting disease ravaging deer in his home region of Wisconsin:
“Being from that area, I mean, I know that there are a lot of people that to them deer hunting ranked up there
where it once did for me, where it was more important than God.”
Rakow wouldn’t necessarily call chronic wasting disease a punishment brought by God. But he
does see it as a result of violating the good stewardship rules laid out in the Bible.
And the perspective of the Christian deer hunter raises new questions that have not yet captured
the public imagination.
“I’m completing a book, that one of the chapters is Would Jesus Shoot Bambi?”
The answer is complicated, but it boils down to this: Bambi is not a real deer and yes, Jesus
For an hour we sit in dead silence, 20 feet apart and 15 feet off the ground in tree stands. Then,
behind us, some rustling. Rakow tenses, his bowstring drawn back to his shoulder.
Rakow’s trailing string winds off into the brush.
“I think I just basically trimmed some hairs off his back. When I find my arrow that’s usually not
the best sign.”
But for the Christian Deer Hunter, it’s all right. The membership director, Kent Rydberg, didn’t get
one either. But God talks to him all the time on the deer stand, and that’s something.
“When God’s all around you, it’s sort of hard to put him out of the way. So there’s been some
really good thinking times.”
Of course it’s always better to fill your permit. But these guys have decided it’s not just deer
they’re hunting for out here.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jeff Horwich.