He was 17. It was 4 in the morning, almost light, in the New Jersey woods. He had trained, practiced, waited so long for that moment.
"This is my passion," he says.
Inside a spacious stone home in the affluent suburb of Gladwyne, not far
from the woods where Gabe hunted on Dec. 9, Priscilla Cohn, a Villanova resident and a professor of philosophy at Pennsylvania State University, expresses her own passion: to preserve animal life.
Cohn, founder of an animal-rights group called Pity Not Cruelty Inc., is a vegan. She eats no meat, no eggs; she drinks no milk. Her black pumps are not made out of leather.
Her peach lipstick and blue eyeshadow are not tested on animals. She apologizes that she occasionally drinks wine - even though a bone process may be used to make it. She gave up furs years ago.
She says Gabe's hunting is immoral.
"I try to be as consistent as I can be," she says. "This is a matter of justice for me. I think we don't have the right, for our fun, to shoot holes in deer."
The idea of killing a deer impassions both Gabe and Cohn. Gabe loves the sport, which he sees as natural and organic. Cohn struggles to protect the creatures from hunters.
The two know each other from contentious deer meetings in the Lower Merion Township Building.
She sees his plan to control the deer population as ineffective and hardly efficient.
He claims her plan doesn't respect the natural cycle of a deer's life.
In Lower Merion, where the deer population is estimated at 258, largely viewed as far too many, the animals nibble on flower buds, collide with cars, transmit Lyme disease, and have become so irksome they have prompted the township to search for ways to reduce their numbers. Many here question how far the township is willing to go to do this.
Some have called for an organized hunt with sharpshooters armed with high- velocity rifles - an idea shot down recently when the Pennsylvania Game
Commission refused to grant a permit.
Gabe contends that skilled bow-hunters represent the most viable solution. Others, such as Cohn, advocate a contraceptive dart that would prevent deer
from reproducing. Township officials have expressed doubts that this method would work, noting that the FDA has not approved it.
Gabe woke before dawn, showered with scent-free soap, and slipped into his heat-retaining suit. Snow had fallen lightly throughout the night; there was about 2 inches on the ground as he left his Folcroft home. He met his friends at 5 a.m. and they drove through the snow on winding roads to their chosen spot.
The place was behind a contemporary home in Gladwyne whose owner has made a deal with Gabe and his hunting associates to kill deer on his wooded, hilly property.
It was still dark as they arrived at a tree chosen weeks before in scouting trips, during which he became familiar with the land, the way the deer live in it, Gabe said. He climbed 15 feet up into the tree and perched on a metal deer stand - like a scaffold embedded to the tree. Then he waited.
Two deer came into view, looking for food. He watched them, his bow drawn, but they were too obscured by brush for him to get off a shot.
Later, in his pickup truck, Gabe talked about his first deer, a rite of passage. For years, an older cousin had drilled him on climbing trees, listening for sounds, aiming right, not shooting unless you knew you were going to hit the spot, right through the deer's heart.
For Gabe, a former Marine who drives a SEPTA commuter train, hunting brings peace. While he waits for a deer, he watches squirrels climb trees, he whistles to thick-furred foxes, admires the sunrise and the falling snow. He knows where deer bed, where they nibble on twigs, acorns, walnuts and beechnuts. "We are all hunters and gatherers by nature," he says. "But now we live in this prepackaged world. I hate that."
So far this year, Gabe has brought home four deer: one buck and three does. He and his associates tag each deer take them to a Lower Merion station, where they are weighed and measured. Then they cut open each deer's stomach and remove the warm entrails - its heart, lungs, liver and intestines.
"It's part of what you have to do, because its own body will destroy the meat," he says.
He makes meatballs or steaks marinated in olive oil and red wine. Recently, he has found a butcher in West Chester who will make sausages out of the meat.
He sees it as a way to become more holistic. Gabe cites a 1995 Wall Street Journal article, subtitled "Stone-Agers in the Fast Lane." The article says the modern lifestyle is unhealthy and calls for a return to a more primitive existence.
Gabe cofounded called The Tri-County Bowhunting Associates, which matches 21 hunters with property owners. Most of the 50 property owners - 30 in Lower Merion - permit bow-hunting because they want to stop deer from scurrying around their backyards, eating shrubbery, spreading Lyme disease, and running across roads, sometimes being hit by cars.
The outfit, he says, is professional and well-organized. "We are not all Billy Bobs who drive around in trucks and drink beer," he said.
Craig G. Hacker, Gabe's friend and cofounder of the "deer-management" club, says bow-hunting is a "safe and ethical" way to curb the population. The organization has harvested six bucks and 39 does this season.
Sitting by a glass coffee table cluttered with books about deer, Cohn, 62, says she has traveled around the world spreading her message, even teaching a summer course outside Madrid attended by the queen of Spain.
She is joined by friend and co-advocate Barbara Riebman, who lives in the Gladwyne home where they are speaking. Riebman, 47, also fights for the deer. She has three plastic notebooks filled with newspaper clippings and documents on the animals. A bumper sticker on her car reads: "Hunt Each Other: Leave the Animals Alone."
In Lower Merion, Cohn has fought to win support for a deer birth-control plan to help curb the burgeoning deer population. The plan was to shoot the deer with contraceptive darts. Her foundation even offered to donate $20,000 to the township to institute the plan.
Both Cohn, the animal-rights advocate, and Gabe, the hunter, say they feel a spiritual attachment to nature. Cohn grew up in Wayne, and her family owned horses and cows. She learned early that the animals had distinct personalities. She competed in the Devon Horse Show, and her pony, Peanut, won a blue ribbon and a silver cup when Cohn was 8. Horse was the first word she ever uttered.
Cohn calls Gabe's quest for a more primitive life a "myth."
Hunters, she says, use "high-tech stuff, chemical sprays, sometimes even batteries in their boots to keep their feet warm." She likens them to ''Eskimos who use snowmobiles." Cohn and Riebman point to a 1994 Wall Street Journal report on the costly and sophisticated gear used in hunting.
"If they want to live a primitive life, don't do it in Lower Merion," she said. "Anyway, they are getting back to nature by killing nature."
Cohn says she is aware of the modern world she lives in. She can avoid meat
because she no longer lives in the woods, she says. She argues that she is obliged to reject the injuring of animals.
Despite their disagreement, Gabe and Cohn both say they want to reduce the deer population. Aside from contraception, Cohn advocates planting gardens with food deer don't like - a method that she says will cause deer to reproduce less.
The question of to hunt or not to hunt may be about morality, as Cohn insists, or simplicity, as Gabe suggests. It might also be about lifestyles.
Cohn, sitting by a basket filled with herbal teas, says she has lived an examined life. "I think you can't be thoughtful and continue to eat meat."
Gabe, in the trees with snow falling and bow in hand, believes these are the most thoughtful moments in his life. "This is where I think," he says.