Shooting and hunting

I’m back. What can I say? Okay, a reason why. Without getting into boring details, I’ll just say I got too many things on my plate, and some had to go because others didn’t. Anyway, here I am, and I’m ready to catch up on some bitching. No, not about the C. virus or the protests and responses, both appropriate and otherwise, that are tearing our country apart–they each get a whole series of bitch sessions. No, this is about something I came across while browsing through an ad that came with my newspaper.

The ad was from a sporting goods store, which I will not name, in which I saw an ad for hunting rifles and equipment, including a really neat looking crossbow mounted with a scope. With over 240 foot-pounds of pull, plus the scope, it would be like using a rifle.  It just doesn’t have the knock-down power of a rifle.

If you are a hunter, now might be the time to shut me off or tune me out or whatever suits you. But I hope you don’t. At least consider some of the things I say.

I am not a hunter, although I do enjoy shooting. I really enjoy the challenge of hitting that tiny target, or of hitting that big target from a distance, or that fast-moving target before it’s too late. I’ve been in shooting competitions since high school. My school had a team that competed with .22 caliber target rifles against other high schools. I was pretty good, too.

I didn’t do any shooting in the Air Force except in basic training where I fired .30 caliber M1 carbines and .45 caliber pistols for qualification. Pretty good there, too. I qualified Expert with carbines and almost qualified with the .45. I think I hit that target twice. I’ve heard since then that the military’s .45 cal. pistols are not very accurate. I’ve never fired one since, but I’ve fired other pistols and revolvers, and I did all right. Anyway, that was the first time I had ever even handled a pistol, or a rifle bigger than a .22, and it was fun.

After I was discharged and hired as a police officer, I got on the department’s pistol team after about a year. I swapped my department-issued, .38 caliber revolver with a four-inch barrel for one with a six-inch barrel. Made a hell of a difference on the range. I got pretty good there, too, always qualifying as Expert except for twice when I made Master. That was fun as hell. Target shooting, especially the type the police department do, or did back then, which included time firing, moving targets, moving positions, and stuff that was supposed to simulate situations we might find ourselves in on duty. Plus, just as an officer, I had to qualify in the use of shotguns, including firing slugs and skeet shooting. Shotguns are fun, too. I’ve fired various hunting rifles, AR-15s, M-16s, a Thompson submachine gun, a revolver that fired 30 cal. carbine cartridges, even a flintlock, black powder rifle one time.

Any kind of target shooting is fun. And it doesn’t even have to be a firearm. It can involve just about any sort of weapon that sends a projectile with any level of controllable accuracy. That could include slingshots, slings, spears, arrows, throwing knives, throwing hatchets, baseballs, nerf balls, beanbags…you get the idea. If its something that you can hit a target with, it can be fun, because it’s a challenge, just like the lead milk bottles you try to knock over with a ball at the carnival. But, when the chosen target is a living creature, and your weapon propels anything more lethal than a nerf ball, and the purpose of hitting it is to kill it, just for the fun and challenge, then I have an issue with that. 

Like I said, I am not a hunter, not since one day back when I was nine or ten-years-old. I’ll never forget that day or the hard lesson I learned. I can still picture it–if I’m not careful. I was in my backyard with my trusty Red Rider BB gun. If you’re not familiar with that old toy most kids wanted back in the early and middle years of the 20th century, a Red Rider BB gun was not an air rifle, which was what we called pellet guns back then. Air rifles were powered by either compressed air from a handpump that was an integral part of the rifle, or a CO-2 cartridge. They shot .17 caliber lead pellets, and they were a dangerous weapon, not a toy for a kid, although, back then it wasn’t unusual for a ten or twelve-year-old to have even a .22 rifle. I had one. A Red Rider was spring powered. It looked like an old 30-30 carbine like cowboys used in the movies, and you cocked it with the pull-down lever by pulling it down once. You couldn’t increase its power by double or triple cocking. When it was cocked, it depressed and locked a spring behind a plunger. When you pulled the trigger, the plunger propelled the BB out the barrel. Simple. It would shoot a BB fifty or sixty feet before it was spent. I’ve been hit by BBs a few times, and they can sting, but they wouldn’t penetrate a person’s hide unless it was point-blank and no clothing in the way. But, even then, it wouldn’t go deeper than just beneath the skin where it could be popped out. I know. Been there, done that. The main danger was a hit in the eye. That could be serious.

Anyway, with my Red Rider, I was in my back yard drawing a bead on whatever my eyes lit on, leaves, twigs, dirt clods, a piece of bark on a tree, pieces of paper, and then I noticed the birds. They were always there, but I usually ignored them like I did clouds or the breeze. They were in a big, towering eucalyptus on the property line with the neighbor’s back yard, mostly way up in the upper branches, although a few would come lower for brief periods. Sparrows, lots and lots of sparrows chirping and fluttering about. I guess they were sparrows. That’s what we called all birds that size. One would land on a branch and take off again after two or three seconds to land on another branch higher or lower. The lowest branches were thirty to forty feet up.

I saw a challenge. I bet they’d be really hard to hit. So I tried. I put a lot of BBs into those branches, concentrating on my aiming, thinking about the deflection due to gravity and wind (there was a slight breeze), and, sure enough, I hit one. Wow! That little tiny target way up there, moving all about, and I hit it. I was really proud of myself…until the sparrow hit the ground just a few feet from where I was standing. It wasn’t dead. Not yet. But I had really hurt it. I stood over it, just peering down at that little bit of seriously ruffled feathers with what I realized was probably a drop or two of blood smearing some of them. It tried to move away from me because it was terrified. I mean, there it was just flittering about with its buddies, and WHAM!, out of nowhere something slammed into it hard enough to do some serious damage. It would be like you or me having something the size of a golf ball hitting hard enough to penetrate far enough to draw blood. Then, after falling to the ground, this giant comes over to stand over it with who knows what on his mind. That poor bird had no idea I had done the deed, but I was there. Maybe it was even trying to come to me, hoping maybe I could make it better, but it couldn’t even get to its feet. It just sorta flopped about, but not even much of that. It chirped a few times, or more like pitifully peeped, maybe asking for help, and it sounded really weak. I knelt down and gingerly picked it up. I could feel it quivering, and we made eye contact. Not for long, but long enough. In those few seconds, I felt judged. Then its eyes closed, not like a blink but slowly. I waited for it to re-open, but it didn’t. I wanted to tell it I was sorry. I wanted to promise it I would never shoot a bird, or anything else, again. But it wouldn’t come back to listen to me, to forgive me. It just left me all alone with my Red Rider there in my back yard beneath the tree full of chirping birds. They just continued going on about their business of being birds. They probably didn’t even notice what had happened to their buddy, but I noticed. 

Yeah, I know. It was just a bird, one of thousands, millions even, no, billions. But, that’s what it was, “a” bird. Singular. It was an individual. One among all those billions, it was a unique creature, and, as such, it was irreplaceable. Sure, there are uncounted other birds, many just like it, to take its place, but none can ever replace it. And I had destroyed it. For kicks. Because I felt a challenge, and it was nothing to me but a moving target that I could hit if I was clever enough and skillful enough to catch it when it was still, to catch nature in one of its myriad, minuscule pauses.

And that is what sport hunting is all about. I’m not talking about subsistence hunting, which is hunting to put food on the table because that may be the only way a person might have to do it. I’m not a vegan or a vegetarian. I eat meat, and I understand that animals are killed to provide that meat, but that is closer to subsistence. No, I don’t believe I’m a hypocrite. Yes, I know I could just eat veggies, but I like meat. I know there are meat producers and slaughterhouses that are horribly operated, and I hope they are put out of business. Animals can be humanely killed for food. It is commanded and accomplished in many cultures and belief systems. Isn’t that what kosher is all about? I understand Islam also teaches something similar. And that is getting away from the issue of sport hunting.

To hunt for sport is to kill for the fun. If it’s not fun, why do it? To get out away from the rat race and enjoy nature? What, by destroying a little piece of it? Oh, it’s for the challenge? Give me a break. If you want to shoot something that is a challenge, you and your hunting partners could hunt each other. That would be a challenge worth trekking through the wilderness for. If you want a survivable challenge, bet with yourself that you can hit X number of targets (the non-breathing type) at X distance in X time, and if you lose, you donate something of actual value to a worthy cause. There has to be some threat of loss or cost to make it an actual challenge, and wearing blisters on your feet from walking through the woods or on your ass from sitting on a platform in a tree waiting for your prey to come to you doesn’t count.

But, at least the deer and duck hunters justify their sport by eating what they kill, if they can find and recover it after they shoot it. But, how many deer slayers drop their deer with one shot. I don’t know, maybe that’s part of the sport, tracking the thing through the forest by following the trail of blood until you catch up with it where it finally bled to death, or bled out, as it’s called. At least there is a chance of dropping the prey in its track with a well-placed rifle shot.

But, with bowhunters, that is part of the process, isn’t it? An arrow, even one shot from a powerful hunting bow or crossbow, does not have the shock power of dropping the animal when it’s hit. Unless the hit is in an organ vital enough to kill it right away, like the heart–call it a lucky shot for the hunter and the prey–the animal takes off, and the hunter tracks it down, eventually, maybe, if he doesn’t lose the trail. Hunting arrows are designed to slice into the body, ensuring heavy bleeding. So, if the hunter is a good shot, he won’t have to follow the dying animal more than a hundred yards, or a thousand yards, or a mile or two, depending on where it was hit. Imagine running for your life through the woods with an arrow in your guts, lungs, or kidney. Imagine being hit with an arrow that has a head with three or four half-inch wide blades, so it slices you open as it penetrates. Lots of pain, and then you are bleeding, plus whatever organs the thing ripped through when it struck are shutting down. A lung doesn’t work well with an arrow lodge in it. On top of that, the hunter that shot you ain’t done, yet. He still wants to chase you down and cut your throat if you’re still breathing when he catches you. And all you were doing was munching on some greens or maybe trying to catch the eye of that lovely doe across the meadow. Tough, cookie. You were selected to elevate the hunter’s ego, and so, you must die.

And then, there are the trophy hunters. They don’t even go after something they can eat, or not always, anyway. They might take home some steaks to share with their fellow Neanderthals, but, mainly, they want a head to hang on their wall, something to show the world how proficient they are at the task of protecting the tribe from all the hungry predators out there. Or maybe they have the entire hide mounted on a frame to capture the life-like ferocity of the grizzly bear standing upright, with fangs and five-inch claws displayed to greet visitors. Of course, the mighty hunter made the kill with a weapon so powerful and accurate, the grizzly was hit while munching berries or scarfing salmon and had no idea the killer was even there and was targeting it from clear over on the other side of the canyon. Or how about the lion hunters in Texas that pay to have one of the big cats set loose from a cage into the arranged targeted area. Just so he can claim to have killed one of the most ferocious appearing animals our culture recognizes, justified or not. 

Don’t agree with me? Okay.

Why?

I’ll listen to your justifications.

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