I’m just not a hunter, I guess…

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.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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15 Responses to I’m just not a hunter, I guess…

  1. Commander Zero says:

    “I’m just missing that whatever it is that makes a happy hunter.”
    To me , a happy hunter is happy because he killed from a sense of need…food, varmint control, defense, whatever.

    Honestly, if you’re not happy about what you did then I’d say that’s the proper response.

    But, you only have to live up to your standards…not someone elses. Personally, I don’t kill anything that objectively doesn’t need killing.

  2. Joel says:

    That’s really not what I meant. We’ve all seen the souvenir photos of hunters posing with dead animals. I don’t condemn that sort of thing, it’s not my thing but I’m not qualified to judge. A “happy hunter,” the way I meant the phrase, is a person who thinks that animal is better off in the photo. A person who enjoys hunting for sport and the challenge and joy of the kill.

    I’m genuinely not knocking it, I just don’t share it. To me, that jack was kind of beautiful alive and became quite a lot uglier dead because I felt bad about killing it. When I kill an animal out of some real need, I don’t have the same reaction.

  3. Tennessee Budd says:

    Joel, FWIW, I’m sorta the same. Since my injury, I don’t hunt, but I went out every deer season when I was married; with two adults & 3 teenage stepdaughters, a couple of deer a year reduced the food budget considerably. I never felt like a bad man for killing those deer; I was taking them for the most ancient & best of reasons, to feed my family. I did feel a little sorrow at the death of a beautiful animal, even though I know that without hunting, many of those animals would die of starvation due to overpopulation (deer populations in the Southeast are unbelievable, largely thanks to conservation policies years ago to correct previous overhunting).
    Not guilt, exactly, but I’ve never felt the sense of triumph a lot of hunters seem to get. With modern weapons, & with the conditions I enjoyed, it’s not that difficult to get your limit: I was hunting on family-owned land nearby. If I’d had to buy a license and/or travel far to hunt, I couldn’t have justified the cost. I was hunting just for cheap (and good, & good for you) meat.
    I don’t hunt nowadays, but I kill several nuisance & pest animals a year, those that would eat all the cats’ food or be a danger to the cats.
    I’ve got a lovely M48 Mauser I picked up recently & have yet to fire. It’d be a great deer rifle, but I’m not sitting in a freezing tree stand….

  4. Mike says:

    Not being very superstitious, I can’t see myself doing what you did. On the plus side, at least the animal wasn’t wasted since it was consumed by something else. Have to say, I haven’t hunted in years. When I did hunt, it was during some very lean times when the choice was a food bank or a doe to supplement the larder. In the end, I just don’t have that trophy hunter mentality, I just can’t reconcile killing something for the “sport” of it.

  5. Kentucky says:

    Over the years I have killed and eaten scores of game birds, rabbits and squirrels. I consider this “sport hunting” because I’m not in it for a trophy to hang on the wall just to prove I could do so. It is challenging to a certain degree and the food is a reward. I also kill pest animals and have no compunction about those. I have not killed any “big game” simply because I just haven’t gotten around to it. Your assassination of the bunny leaving you feeling a little ashamed of yourself only serves to prove you aren’t a murderer of little critters for no “real” purpose. Don’t be too hard on yourself, it’s a sign of a certain degree of character IMHO.

  6. Waepnedmann says:

    Almost every older guy I know has come to the same point you are at right now, regarding killing critters without need.
    i think it is a normal part of the aging process like the desire to teach and pass on ones culture to the younger generation.
    Also, we get lazy er…I mean learn to conserve our energy.
    The work begins after you pull the trigger.

  7. Joel, I’m the same way. This makes me respect you even more.

  8. Anthony Bennett says:

    “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.”

    A hunter would have thought twice about shooting that jack as well. Not saying that killing it was a bad thing, just that your wording could have been better.

  9. Malatrope says:

    You’ve simply expanded your protected territory. Now, you are not only feeding yourself, you’re feeding the wildlife that surrounds you. You are actively shepherding an ecosystem!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Next time shoot a politician, you might not feel so conflicted.

  11. Joel says:

    😀 well, I’m unlikely to need to break in a new gun any time soon, so the next critter I kill will either deserve it or be dinner. So it shouldn’t be a problem.

  12. Tahn says:


    I share your feelings somewhat but it’s a matter of perspective. I am not a Jane Monk, who always carry a soft broom to sweep small insects out of their path when walking or to gently sweep aside any before sitting, although I do try not to step on critters outside.

    Many Jane monks also wear a mouth scarf so they do not inhale any small flying critters. Like I said, “Perspective”.


    I no longer hunt but would, if I needed to.

    That rabbit “might” have willing sacrificed his temporary life to ensure your confidence with that rifle, and may indeed have done you a service. It’s death built your confidence, even if not filling your stomach.

    Would Laddie have enjoyed some rabbit, cooked or raw?

    We ALL kill Joel, even if its a bug on the windshield. Life is death and death is life (or something).
    Carry on.

  13. bill says:

    Have hunted rarely since the mid 80’s. Occasionally dove hunt because they are so tasty. Enjoy going hunting with 3 old navy buddies every couple of years but I don’t kill. Will help with the cleaning of their kills as I enjoy eating and venison in the freezer is a good thing.

    In the 80’s was at my friend’s ranch in west Texas sitting out all day dove hunting. He shot a ton of birds and I didn’t hit a thing. I was bummed thinking my trusty eighty year old single shot 20 gauge just was not cutting it anymore. Walking back to the cabin that day I was thinking about the shotgun and there was a “chi chi” bird (whatever it is…like a smaller version of a white cowbird) circling overhead calling out at us. Without thinking or looking I stuck my gun upwards and pulled the trigger. I will never forget the pitiful cry of that bird circling down and landing at my feet. I quit hunting for the most part after that.

    The only thing I really will shoot anymore, without a care, are rattlesnakes and wild hogs (overpopulated destructive bastards hogs are).

  14. Large Marge says:

    And yet, with nary a glance back, any liberal progressive marxist commonist SocialJusticeWarrior© would exterminate you and everything you believe… as if your heritage never existed. Of course, they think of the killings, but the thoughts are different than yours or mine. For example, their thoughts of killing is directed at their political enemies… and often is preceded by salivating; the thoughts follow the slobber… as predicted by Pavlov.

  15. Goober says:

    I don’t feel bad because I use what I kill. Have to admit shooting a jackrabbit just for the hell of it would probably make me feel bad, too, and I kill stuff all the time.

To the stake with the heretic!