Hunting was in the blood I was always told. It was always there. I was said to take after my grandfather; “The Great White Hunter!” I was a natural with a gun, well oriented and stealthy in the woods, and I was even said to have looked a little like old ‘Woody’. Yep, I fit the bill all right. I was sure to be the next in line.
I can’t remember when I got my first gun. It’s like I just suddenly realized one day that it was in my hands. It was a lightweight, hammerless Savage. A model 219 with a slight (very slight mind you) bulge in the barrel to give it a touch of character and a curious history. A nice, “safe” gun. Perfect for a youngster, but long since still in my personal collection and frequent use.
I was good with it too. By the time I was ten, I could shoot 45 out of fifty clay pigeons. Even through conveniently timed distractions from the other shooters, who found it a little embarrassing to see a little guy shoot so good.
For a full choke gun, I was shooting far and beyond what someone my age should have been able to do with that gun.
But the true spirit of the thing was the hunt. I often heard it put, “Well what’s a gun good for if you can’t kill something with it?” After which my father would put on his anti-gun banning face and go into a long drawn speech to the inquiring party to justify himself and his sport. He termed it, “…enlightening those _damned_ bleeding heart liberals!!!”
He justified himself well too, and thus there was nothing stopping me from joining the hunt, if only at the observation level, at an early age.
Often I would tromp through the woods, with Red Ryder in hand (being too young to have a hunter’s license and thus too young to bring my trusty Savage) and generally go about disrupting the whole forest, to make shooting, no less seeing anything, near to impossible.
But it opened my eyes to the woods, to nature, and to the animals. At least the few we did see. And eventually, I got rid of a little of my zealousness, and settled into the standard hunting style: A little less green, but a little more bored.
By the time I came into my own, I found that I could no longer stand the long sitting waits involved in deer hunting, so gradually, small game hunting became the thing. I did not have much success at that though, because for one, I was out of practice with my gun, and for another, I was always too wrapped up in the forest around me. I loved nature, and began to consider it as my true home. Clarkston was just a place to stay between vacations.
My fourth year of hunting, I began to get down to some serious hunting. I had been out so many times, and the only game I’d ever brought back, was stuff I was carrying for someone else. All I ever returned with was empty shells, and perhaps a little swamp water or sand in my boots. It was about time I got down to business.
It was the height of bow season, and though I was out at the break of dawn with my compound, what I was really waiting for was when the sun came up. Then I would make my way back to the car and get my .410, and head for the oak ridges on the other side of the road. We were hunting around rye field #1 that day. A little bit out of our normal bow hunting routine, but I knew the hills were good for squirrels, and occasionally a good spill of partridge.
So off I went, about an hour after sun up and a reasonably uneventful day of bowhunting. I would go a little south of where I normally got for partridge.
Squirrels were more south, and they don’t fly away before you can get a clear shot. They were there too, I could hear them. But as always, they would see me and hide before I could get close enough to see them. so it would come down to the sitting game again.
Not much time had passed and I came to notice not one, but four squirrels running around in a clearing just up the hill. A few steps got me within range without causing a major panic of chattering and scurrying.
The largest squirrel sat in the middle of the clearing. I drew the gun to my shoulder and quickly squeezed of a shot. In the excitement I didn’t even hear it go off. It hit below him, and made him jump. I missed, or at least I thought so. I quickly put another shell in the chamber as he bee-lined for a
When he started up the tree, I rounded off another shot, but this one I heard. It echoed through my head at the realization of what I was doing. Never had my small gun sounded so loud.
Bark shattered around the squirrel. Another miss….
…or was it? How could I be sure?
With that doubt in mind, I couldn’t stop now. The worst thing in the world was to leave an injured animal to suffer.
As the squirrel raced up the tree, I hastily reloaded for one more shot. As I drew my gun, I caught the squirrel, now perched on the farthest reaching branch he could find, looking at me. A look of terror and fright. It cut right through me. My finger froze. I almost couldn’t shoot, but then I noticed the
look was also of pain. I let instinct take over and the gun went off.
This time it was a hit, and I was sure of it. I caused him to lose his footing and he was now hanging desperately on a branch.
“Why don’t you die! Just die!” I thought to myself. I was now shaking nervously and was already reloaded and sighting the squirrel for another shot.
He lost his grip and almost fell, then grabbed back on, only his front feet gripping now.
“Die, damn you! Die!! DIE!!!” By the last one I had shouted aloud.
My finger tightened on the trigger as instinct still carried out procedure. If I let myself think, I would be too horrified to finish what I had begun. He lost his grip again. Then one by one, his fingers gave way from the branch. At last he fell to the ground without another twitch.
I slowly moved my way over to the little corpse. All the justification, all dad’s reasons did me no good now. Even though, I had used his words many times myself to justify our family hunting to outsiders, I had failed to realize it for myself.
My heart beat was now swelling in my ears. Sweat was breaking out all over me. Remembering the standard hunting rites, I bent over the animal and said a short prayer. Then I picked it up. It was warm. I could feel small drops of blood wet against my hand. I couldn’t leave. Not yet. I just stood.
Tears tried to well in my eyes, but I wouldn’t cry and that made things worse.
So I just stood.
I stayed until the small animal was cold and beginning to stiffen in my hand before I went back. No one suspected anything was wrong, so no one asked. I spent the whole of that evening meticulously cleaning the animal. Taking care to see that no useful part was wasted. The others enjoyed a
campfire a few places down and swapped stories.
It would be a while till I could enjoy hunting again. It would be a while before I would even go. I went a few times and didn’t load my gun. This helped me avoid suspicion from the family. After all, hunting was always there. It was in the blood, and I fit the bill. I couldn’t deny them of that. And eventually I did come to terms with it.
I had to put aside what others say about hunting or about not hunting and go with what I really want. But so is the way for the rest of my life. No one will be able to tell me not to hunt or how to hunt, nor will I try to justify it to others. I have seen it through both eyes, and I choose to hunt.
Genesis – 1:26
God said, “Let us make man in our own image,
in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be the masters
of the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heaven, the
cattle, all the wild beasts and reptiles that crawl upon
Scott W. Wood
(Afterward: [1993 ammended 2009] Since the time of this writing, I have become much more involved in hunting and even become exceedingly active in pro-hunting activities. The peice was originally written as a writing assignment for a college creative writing class. The assignment was to write about some ‘epiphany’ we had experienced at some point in our lives.
At the start of the assignment we were asked to state out loud what we planned to write about. When I announced mine would be about the “first time I killed something hunting” I immediately got glares from just about every girl in the class as many of them said in a snotty, whiny tone “Hunting?!?!?” in unison. Condemned by their prejudice and ignorance before they even knew on just what about that experience I was planning to write.
This particular teacher made it a practice to pull out one good and one bad example from everyone’s paper on basic writing style to read before the class as examples. She then would pick a section from two of the pieces that demonstrated what she considered truly good creative writing style. She read the moment of the kill from my paper and later told me in private that she wished she could have read two sections from my paper instead of using the other student’s piece she also read.
And when the assignment was complete and many had read the story – and those that hadn’t heard the parts read by the teacher – I don’t think a single of the previously ‘snotty’ girls in that class would have challenged me again on my purpose for hunting.
The story as read above was also submitted to an outdoor writer’s contest with Ted Nugent’s World Bowhunters for their monthly publication. At the time I was doing some website work for them and didn’t notice the contest until a few months after it had begun. Upon sending it to them I got a call directly from the office manager. She was chewing me out for not sending it in sooner and told me they had just sent the first batch of winners to the printers the previous week – then she suggested I probably would have won had they gotten it sooner. Oh well, I ended up with the ‘next’ available slot and got a free autographed hat out of the whole she-bang as well as the chance to see my story in print.
While I used to hold my hunting privately as not to offend, I now take the risk of offending to inform. Most peoples’ problems stem from ignorance and lack of true understanding, thinking hunters to be heartless and cold killers rather than concerned and responsible human beings.
What I have discovered in retrospect is that what I feared most of this incident was the first look at death, least of which by my own hands. For many this first glance can be very upsetting and misleading, and I have heard of more than one person that has not ‘recovered’ from this shock and has fallen into the disillusion of animal “rights” and hands-off approaches to animal management.
For me, however, it has increased my awareness of same. I rarely put a piece of meat on my plate or even do something as mundane as going through a drive-through window without stopping and thinking of (and in my own way, thanking) the animal that had to die so I could eat.
Death happens! It is a part of nature, and death can not be expected to be pretty. Watching something die cleanly might not have as full an impact on someone as when it is long and drawn out. But for the most part, the games the mind will play are not truly based in logic or reality. The fact remains that things will still die whether man hunts them or not. -SW)