Bearing Witness


There is a moment that happens during every harvest, the first shot, that never fails to take my breath from me, regardless of how many times I am fortunate enough to bear witness to it. In such a kinetic setting, where animals are on the move and constant physical exertion is required, to find such a moment of stillness is unexpected.

When you arrive at the semi-truck for harvest, usually around 6:00 a.m., it is pitch black outside. During this time of year, it is also freezing cold. You quickly go into the semi-truck to get out of the cold and start the morning clean. Time passes quickly at this point of the day.

At some point, the sun will start to rise, at which time Robbie, our shooter, will zero out the rifle to ensure he can take accurate shots throughout the day. When the sun finally crests the mesas, he goes out for the first shot, usually taking a member of the harvest crew with him. During my first harvest, my co-worker, Alex, told me to make sure I went out for the first shot. Coming from a traditional plant, where the first shot is nothing special, I did not really understand why the first shot was something to witness.

Sunrise on the prairie is a special kind of symphony, in which the many prairie birds sing with the wind and the grass dances along. The bison are a show unto themselves, with the sun highlighting the different hues of their hides and the glinting tips of their horns. Seeing the herd at first light is a kind of beauty that words cannot do justice.

On harvest, we start working at this time of day. The herd is calm when you first go out, undisturbed by your presence. Some may be grazing, some may be wallowing, some may be starting to roam, but all are content in their own world. Eventually one bison will look towards the direction of the truck.

In the seconds between a bison looking towards the shooter and the shot being taken, there is a moment of stillness and beauty that I will never forget and will never take for granted. Time seems to stand still, and it feels as though the world goes quiet as the shooter takes a deep breath. In this moment, I always find myself remembering what a gift it is to be able to partake in this form of harvest, where you are looking at an animal with eyes that are not ringed with the white of fear, but with the halo of the morning sun. It is a moment that allows me to appreciate where I am and what I am doing.

It is always my fear that because the success of the meat industry hinges almost entirely on the death of living things, that people disregard the process by which the meat they eat arrives in its final form. While no one should be forced to learn what they do not want to know, I am a firm believer that information should be readily available in a transparent form, should a person find they wish to know.

In saying this, I also recognize that the processes of the traditional meat industry can be a graphic, at times off-putting thing to learn about. Traditional processing has a very factory-like feel to it, which makes sense when you consider the volume of animals that are sent through such facilities every day. In these environments, where animals are seen in terms of dollars and cents and where the loss of life is not given much credence, I will readily acknowledge the difficulty of finding a reason to want to know more about that process.

It is true that field harvest is still relatively novel to the meat industry and has yet to be widely adopted as a slaughter option for amenable species like beef cattle. By writing about the first shot and what I perceive to be the beauty surrounding it, it is my hope that Wild Idea can continue to provide information and transparency about the processes involved in meat production and shed light on the ways in which the traditional industry can change.


  • Posted on by Dee

    A touching, poignant rendition of your experience. Thank you for sharing and caring. God is gracious to us in provision and has given us the tools to be good stewards of His creation. We need to be cognizant of our responsibility in every realm. Blessings.

  • Posted on by Stephen

    Thank you for sharing this amazing ritual of the first shot, a sacred moment of the Union of man and beast in a secret pact of give and take for the ongoing circle of Life.

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