I’ve been feeling a little bad about myself for the past couple of days because I did something no hunter would have thought twice about: I killed an animal that wasn’t doing me any harm and that I didn’t plan to eat.
I’ve talked about this before: One of my sort-of heroes is Elmer Keith, a man who hesitated not one bit about shooting anything that moved. I swear he seemed to only get sentimental about paper targets. And I just can’t understand that. When I kill an animal just for the fun of killing it, I feel kinda like a bad person.
Oh, I’ll kill to eat, and I’ll kill to protect my food. In 2015 I carried out a regular jihad against a plague of ground squirrels that trashed my pantry, to say nothing of all the rats and mice I’ve offed over the years. If there’s a reason to shoot an animal, up to and including a feral dog, I’ll shoot it. If it’s food I’ll clean it, cook it and eat it. But I don’t kill for laughs.
On the other hand I keep my guns for the specific purpose of killing animals, and over the years I have developed a sort of superstition: I don’t know why, but until I’ve killed an animal with a gun I don’t solidly believe I can. It’s like this old anxiety dream I used to have about pistol shooting: In my dream I’d get into a situation where I had to shoot and then the gun would jam or wildly miss or fall completely apart.
I can test fire a gun all I want, zero the sights to a fare-thee-well, know with absolute intellectual certainty that the gun will work just fine if I need it to – but if I don’t take it out and kill something with it, I don’t really believe it will.
I have this one long gun that never had a chance to pass that test, and as I’ve been carrying it lately that got to bothering me. A couple of days ago while we were out on a walkie this big jackrabbit presented itself, standing still and watching while believing itself far enough away to be safe from harm. It was wrong: I paced off the shot later at sixty yards sharply downhill, and the jack fell like its strings were cut. The body didn’t stay there long; some coyote got a good meal out of the deal. But I’ve periodically been beating myself up over it, as I don’t when I kill an animal I objectively have to kill.
I’ve always been like this: I’m just missing that whatever it is that makes a happy hunter.