Young Hunter's Photo Draws Mixed Responses

August 24th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

A photo of an 8-year-old huntress biting the freshly plucked heart of a deer she killed has (unsurprisingly) drawn mixed responses from the internet this week. The girl's father defended the photo — arguing that she was taking part in a hunting ritual — but others have criticized the bloody act.

Johny Yuile, the father and a New Zealand police officer, shared the photo with the Facebook group 'New Zealand Woman Hunters,' where it was shared by more than 20,000 users, BuzzFeed News reports. Yuile wrote that his daughter "shot her first deer" and "took a bite from its warm quivering heart."

Some applauded the photos and said those who found it problematic were being "judgemental." One Facebook user said that the girl's expression proved that she was enjoying herself and wrote "[k]ids kick up a stink when they don’t want to do stuff but ya know what she gave it a go and bagged herself a great deer that will feed her family." More than 1,100 people liked the comment.

However, the post sparked a debate over the moral and health issues associated with hunting and, in particular, biting the heart of an animal. The Facebook page has since been deleted.

For the most part, criticism of the image hinged on the latter point. People described the act as "evil" and psychopathic in the comments section, questioning the father and daughters' moral judgment.

"Good on you for taking her hunting, letting her us a rifle.. Taking the shot.. Making sure of the deer isn’t just wounded and left to suffer,” one Facebook user wrote. “But suggesting she takes a bit of the raw heart? That’s just ruined all the good work you’ve done as a dad and a teacher.”

No matter where you stand on the issue, however, removing and biting the heart of the first deer you kill does appear to be an established ritual in some hunting communities. It's a "rite of passage" for young hunters — a symbolic process that has a practical origin: Hunters sometimes eat the heart first because it was "easier to chew than skeletal muscle thanks to its fine-grained tissue," The Atlantic reports.

You can find plenty of hunting pages describing the heart-eating tradition as well. Here's how Peterson's Hunting puts it:

"There are a number of long held — and sometimes odd — traditions surrounding the taking of a person’s first deer and the blood, or more rarely consumed organs, of that deer. Some are really kind of cool, including a 'blooding' rite as it is sometimes called whereby the lucky hunter’s forehead and/or cheeks are dabbed or smeared with blood to initiate them among them among the ranks of accomplished hunters. If not all hunters have celebrated their first kill in that manner, they have likely at least heard of it. A twisted twist on that experience is to remove the heart or liver from the still warm animal and take a bite from it."

Taking a bite of raw heart is a symbolic gesture, but it does raise health concerns; raw meat in general can carry dangerous bacteria and parasites, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

"[Eating the heart of a deer] may be a little too Legends of the Fall for most folks," Peterson's Hunting wrote, "and with concerns over blood-contaminating illnesses such as CDW or hemorrhagic disease, may not be the best way to continue that tradition."

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