Call of the Mild, by Lily Raff McCaoulou, 2012, biography/memoir,
Reviewed by an anonymous, maybe someday-hunter in search of her own answers and connections.
“What is this place where I live and what did it used to be? How do I fit into the natural order of things? What am I capable of ? What is the right thing to do?” These are some of the questions that Lily Raff McCaulou forces herself to ponder in her transformation from urban supermarket shopper to backcountry hunter. In this memoir, Raff McCaulou shares her journey into becoming a hunter – from her East coast urban roots to her move out west, from her introduction to guns to hunter education, from her first kill of a pheasant to her ultimate big game test of a bull elk. Throughout the book, Raff McCaulou shares her thoughts, her doubts, her worries, and her feelings about hunting, but more about life and death. Her initial worries include her own death, the death of someone else, any non-fatal maiming of herself or caused by herself, and any number of embarrassing failures during a hunt. As she becomes more knowledgeable and more experienced, Raff McCaulou’s thoughts and worries transform as well. No longer focused on what other hunters might think, she comes to the point where she can embrace a mixture of feelings during a hunt, as she explains: “pride, satisfaction, exhaustion, awe, gratitude, and yes, guilt.” She comes to see how hunting is not just about the death of an animal, but about life as well. “Call of the Mild” guides the reader through Raff McCaulou’s journey and shows how her experiences have allowed her to answer her own tough questions.
I have to say, I feel like I could have assigned this subject to my own self and my memoir about learning to hunt for my food would sound eerily similar. I, too, grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. No one I knew hunted. As far as I knew, no one I knew even knew anyone else who hunted. We shopped at the local grocery store, bought meat neatly displayed on Styrofoam trays and wrapped in plastic. I, too, have moved away from the East coast and found myself in an area of the country where hunting is a way of life. Like Raff McCaulou, I have felt nervous about picking up a gun, let alone shooting it, let alone shooting it at an animal. I am only now at the point in the journey where I attend a Hunter Education class. Though I will not be learning beside twelve year old boys eager to get out in the field as Raff McCaulou did, I will feel just as awkward beside the ladies at the BOW Hunter Education course this fall. Ultimately, my memoir, if I were to write one, would hopefully follow the course set by Raff McCaulou in “Call of the Mild.” I imagine a continued progression as I begin to answer the questions of “How do I fit into the natural order of things?” and “What am I capable of ?” And I hope to one day feel the pride, satisfaction, exhaustion, awe, gratitude, and, yes, guilt of a successful hunt.
At points in “Call of the Mild,” Raff McCaulou goes beyond her personal feelings and experiences and shares her thoughts about larger, more global hunting issues. She addresses trophy hunting, the use of lead ammunition, the NRA, and conservation organizations. I appreciate reading her views as much as I appreciate forming my own views based on my own experiences. I believe “Call of the Mild” would be well received by readers – particularly women – who are just beginning their journey into hunting. Raff McCaulou’s honesty in sharing her doubts and concerns is exactly what will connect with new hunters. This memoir will find the new hunter breathing a sigh of relief as she thinks to herself: “Whew, I am not the only one who feels this. This is normal.”