I had one of those "So, here I am" moments this past weekend. I've mentioned here before my interest in learning, with a group of amazing local ladies, to hunt. We met a few weeks ago and shared our motivation in acquiring this skill. For everyone, it came down to a desire to provide for our families, and our domestic pets, what we feel is the most choice, abundant, renewable, and sustainable animal protein we can procure.
To that end, we discussed the three components towards achieving this goal that we would all need to pursue (except for Jess; she grew up in northern Pennsylvania in a hunting family and will serve as our amazing, respectful, seasoned, knowledgeable mentor huntress. Plus, she's just an all-around righteous lady whose company I benefit from every time I'm with her). These arenas, in order of acquisition, are: marksmanship, learning to hunt, and field dressing/butchering/storing our kill.
In order to determine what sort of weapon we'll ultimately decide is the best "fit" for us individually, we had to try them on for size, as it were. Before Saturday, I'd never fired a weapon. In fact, I'd never even so much as held a firearm before. Actually, before Saturday, aside from the occasional kitchen knife or meat cleaver, I'd never so much as even touched a lethal weapon of any sort.
I'm sure a good number of you readers have, yourselves, disarmed a firearm before. With the interest growing in hunting, as well as their continued use in home and personal protection, many people are familiar with using firearms these days. For me, though, the decision to even consider giving hunting a go was a huge, profound, utterly transformative one. Until not that long ago, I didn't even eat animal protein. And I certainly wanted nothing to do with guns.
I discussed here my return to meat-eating, and the impact it has had on me physically. Choosing to explore the use of firearms has profoundly affected me mentally. I've long lived in fear of guns, given the way they are depicted in films and their mention in the news and print media. As my friend Walter recently wrote, though, at the end of the day, a gun is simply a tool. What we do with it is up to us.
When I first fired on Saturday, at the private hunting range of a friend-of-a-friend, my reaction felt strange, detached. I told my companions that it felt incredibly unnatural, in the same sort of way learning to drive a car feels unnatural. Admittedly, that first firing happened with a .243 that had its barrel propped up with a bipod and its butt resting against a sandbag. I fixed the scope on the target, switched off the safety, took a deep breath, exhaled, and pulled the trigger. I walked away with the feeling of having dialed it in, like it hadn't been as tactile as I'd imagined it would be.
Later, however, when I held a .30-06 and felt its full heft in my arms as I stood there, in high winds, with frigid fingers and toes, the magnitude of what I was doing fully engulfed me. "If I sneeze, and move this thing the wrong way, and it goes off, people could die" was my first thought. My second thought was, "I'm holding a loaded gun. I'm holding a loaded gun. I'm holding a loaded gun." I found the target in the scope, fired, and felt the impact from the weapon immediately, in my shoulder (lightly) and my left wrist (intensely), with which I was holding the barrel up.
This is my life now. A former vegan, who used to go to non-violent rallies and demonstrations is now learning the ancient pursuit of hunting for food, with a gun. This was simply the first step. Once I'm there, in the woods, with a living, sentient creature in my line of sight, I'll see how it goes. At this point, I can certainly say, though, without any hesitation that killing my own food will make me more appreciative of all of the life and blood and soil and grime and dung and absolute, sheer unparalleled beauty that pulses through every creature on this planet.
Any of you out there hunters yourselves? If so, got any pearls of wisdom you care to share? I'd be ever so grateful to hear them.
*To see more images from our firing range foray, go here.