HUNTER TALKS ABOUT HUNTING
by Whit Gibbons
July 16, 2006
I have written
on more than one occasion about hunters, praising their stewardship of
our natural habitats. When I read this account by Rusty Ward, I decided
it was time to let a hunter speak for himself about hunting-and his own
abiding appreciation of nature.
season opened today. I walked a half mile across the prairie to the stand
of woods where I would entertain myself for a few hours by gathering my
next evening meal. A dense tapestry of webs, sequined with dew glinting
magically in the new light, hung across the landscape in precisely engineered
geometries. To the orb weavers that built them, the webs were merely a
night’s work, a chance to snag a fluttering meal and with it another
day of life. To me they were art more powerful than all the faded frescoes
and framed masterpieces preserved in all the world’s museums.
"Then, from ahead, a soft chirr. It wasn’t the scolding bark
of a seriously agitated squirrel, but the low, mewling whine of a groggy
squirrel that had just emerged from its den looking for coffee and had
found instead a fat brother-in-law already seated at the kitchen table.
Another whine, this time overlapped by a slightly lower pitched one from
the brother-in-law at the other end of the table.
"I picked my way down the road toward the sound, sidestepping as
many of the sparkling webs as I could, and slowly eased a .22 cartridge
into my rifle’s chamber. There was a flicker of motion in the fork
of a water oak 50 yards away. I eased to a tree, found the squirrel’s
head in the dancing crosshairs, and . . . snatched the trigger nearly
out of the stock. The squirrel hushed and vanished in the same instant.
A stupid tyro’s mistake. It was not a good way to start the new
"Nearly a half century ago, I got to go on my first real squirrel
hunt. I uncorked a 3-inch .410 load from my first real gun and dropped
a stone-dead squirrel into a pack of frenzied deer hounds led by Ol’
Satan, an ill-tempered bluetick that had reportedly eaten his previous
owner. Satan lunged for the squirrel and so did I.
"The other hunters, tough hill men all, had a healthy respect for
Satan. My father grabbed me by the collar and yanked me out of the fray,
but not before I had fastened onto my half of the squirrel and brought
it out with me. This raised my status among the men, except for my father,
who had had too difficult a time convincing my mother that I would be
returned safe and sound to explain how he had almost allowed me to be
eaten by a dog named Satan over a lousy squirrel. Nevertheless, my credentials
as a serious, if slightly unbalanced, squirrel hunter were secured, and
I have maintained them in good standing down unto the present day.
"When I was a kid, interest in guns and hunting was an honorable
pursuit. And to grow into a man who knew guns and was a competent shot
and good hunter was pretty much mainstream. As a culture, we have left
those times and values far behind. Although the shooting sports and, to
an extent, hunting have been making something of a comeback, we who practice
this most ancient art are still viewed by many sophisticated urbanites
as backward stepchildren.
"A couple of years back, an essayist for an East Coast literary magazine
wanted to get to the bottom of the “gun question,” so he,
a nonshooter, went to an indoor range, rented a handgun, and enrolled
in a firearms safety course.
"He reported that he soon found pumping shot after shot into a man-size
silhouette a few yards away to be banal (his word). I would like to have
shrunk his target to the size of a half dollar, moved it out to 50 yards,
and told him he would not eat again until he hit that half dollar. Of
course, none of us relies on these skills to get our food nowadays, but
every so often I like to pretend that it is so."
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