Thursday, May 10, 2007

Guns and me.

We didn't have guns in the house growing up. My only experience with guns came from watching my grandmother get drunk and wave her shotguns around saying, "You aren't afraid of guns are you?" She was a champion skeet shooter, avid bird hunter, expert frog gigger and prodigious gin drinker. A standard meal at their house was pheasant with the extra challenge of bird shot scattered throughout the carcass. Her house was decorated with pictures of men on horses hunting foxes with their sporting dogs.

When i was 12, i spent a long hot dusty summer with my aunt, uncle and three cousins on a ranch somewhere. (Not too good at details, like where the hell was i. Who cared?) The entertainment was somewhat limited, but as imaginative kids, we always found something to do.

That summer, at the ranch, there were guns. There were also squirrels and blue jays, both of which were considered vermin. Four bored kids, somel 22 caliber rifles, live targets and the approval/disinterest of the adults. Wonder what we would do?

My cousins were going to teach me to shoot, and we were going to make a serious dent in the local vermin. Sounded like a good time to me. Off we went, guns in hand.

My cousin Steve, was an ace shot. He could peg a squirrel from quite a distance, and nail a blue jay out of a tree. I began to try my hand at the shooting, this was exciting!

Of course i couldn't hit anything for much of the morning, but we were out there having a blast, literally, and Steve's body count was climbing. 23 squirrels and 14 blue jays so far. My shots were coming closer to the intended targets too. Yeah!

After lunch we went back out to continue the vermin carnage. I took careful aim at a squirrel on the ground, running to get back into the trees. BAM! Look, i hit him! Whoo hoo! We ran up to get a closer look. I had hit him in the hindquarters and he was desperately trying to climb up the dirt hillside using only his front paws, with blood running out of his hip. Something inside me turned upside down when i saw him there like that.

I shot him in the head, gave the gun back to my cousin and ran back to the ranch, alone. No tears, just a feeling that i had done a terrible wrong and there would be punishment.

I don't believe i have shot a gun since. I try to think that squirrel died to teach me something, but i just feel guilty for inflicting pain and fear on another creature. I can still see him, trying so hard to get away from us with no working back legs.

Steve came home with the ranch record body count for blue jays that day, 27.


Anonymous said...

oh, what a horrid memory.

Nancy Dancehall said...

There are lessons in every death, no matter how small.

urban-urchin said...

I agree with nancy. so sorry you and the squirrel had to go through that.

jen said...

oh. yuck.

i shot a 357 once, at a bottle. that was enough. too much anger in those guns.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Wow. I think maybe the squirrel "gave away" for you so that you could learn an important truth about yourself: You were not somebody who could inflict pain and kill other creatures for sport.

I am sure that your life has been much more conscious since that day.

d-man said...

(I say that hoping you don't know about my goat story...)

mrschili said...

I've never held a gun, and never want to. They are designed and built with only one purpose, and it's a purpose that doesn't align with my existence this time around.

I know this is a serious post about a serious memory, but Ms. Cornelius just wrote a post about a squirrel running amok in an elementary school and injuring three people. I posted this comment:

Mr. Chili and I have a theory that states that, if one has been, shall we say, "less than good" in their lives, then one gets to be reincarnated as a squirrel. NOT ONLY THAT, but these delinquent souls are AWARE of being squirrels - none of this-mind-wipe-before-being-reborn crap. Nope; squirrels are fully aware that they've been demoted down the evolutionary chain, and they don't like it, not one bit. What other reason could there possibly be for the seeming determination with which the little buggers try to commit suicide on the roads? They TRY to run under your wheels, and seem disappointed when they miss.

I'm tellin' ya. Squirrels. God's own punnishment.

Not to make light of your experience (okay, maybe a LITTLE...) but maybe you did the little guy a favor?

gr said...

When I was young I was with a friend and a bb gun. I managed to hit a chipmunk, the bb bounced off his side and he ran off (maybe badly hurt, maybe not). That was it. I felt so awful that I could hurt a creature like that, just for the heck of it. It is too bad they are so common and so easy to use.
My understanding is that the vast majority of hand guns bought for in-home protection are fired not against intruders, but end up either in an accident to the family that owns them or in the owner's suicide.

Sienna said...

Oh no Meno, Meno-no.


I'm glad you put the little guy out of his misery, shit, tough lesson.


PS Your Grandmother :) = My Nanna!

Maggie said...

What a tough memory. I wonder how far the implications of it has changed you. It's amazing that one incident in a person's life can ripple out so far in their personality, I think.

At least though, you ended its suffering as soon as you could see it. It was the right thing to do. Did your cousins understand or make fun of you?

QT said...

Oh Meno - that is so sad. I am not surprised you still remember it. I have had to kill animals on the farm and I remember every one of them, even tho extra measures are taken to be sure the death is quick.

I was married to hunter at one point, but a pretty serious one. He didn't hunt anything that he didn't intend to eat, and he was an expert marksman. He rarely went hunting with others because he didn't believe in drinking while hunting. There ARE ethical hunters out there.

Shooting things for sport should not even be in the lexicon.

Mother of Invention said...

Sacrificial a cost to you too. I felt horrible the other day when I saw a mouse stand up on its hind legs, look straight into my cat's eyes, they touched noses, begging her not to kill her...but the instinct is too strong...found it at my back door an hour later.

Laws of nature but I still felt bad.

Anonymous said...

You did what you had to do to end it, and after that, in the back of your mind, you knew your capability, and you knew you had a choice.

Occasionally I'll hear about something particularly grisly and I think, man, how horribly wrong that all went. Just that thought is deterrent enough for me. (not that I have murderous tendencies or anything.)

Bob said...

I live in heart of hunting country, but I have the same feelings as you - I can't do it. I don't have a problem eating meat, and I grew up eating bird (and the occasional squirrel) that my grandfather had shot while hunting. I REALLY enjoy steak and I do eat meat, so is there hypocrisy in disdaining hunting? It bothers me when I think about it, so I don't think about it much.

Sanjay said...

Grew up in a land with strict gun laws. So never fired a gun in my life, don't think I ever will even to learn and target practice. Who knows though?
The Mrs. has nothing against guns, she just won't stand for any in our home, and she is quite serious about this too. :)

Lynn said...

What a profound learning experience for you. Just curious...what does Steve, who shot birds and squirrels for fun, do in his life now?

Irrelephant said...

meno, you really strummed a nerve with this one. My father was a hunter, born in a time and place where you hunted if you wanted to eat. I didn't inherit that gene, tho I learned to use weapons and still own several. I understand and respect weapons, and their uses.

The first time I shot a squirrel I was on a hunt with my father and brother. I hit it fairly cleanly, with my brand new .22 rifle, but it screamed before it died, a tiny animal scream of pain and shock that touched me inside, deeper than I would have thought possible. I didn't need the meat, we could just as easily buy meat in the store. I've not hunted since then, and won't.

I have it in me still to bring death with a rifle or pistol if it's needed, though, and I have learned to engage it with utmost respect and forethought. I've had to put broken-backed dogs struck by cars out of their misery, and I'd rather do so with one swift clean shot through the head than let them lie there and die suffering.

I always remember, though, like Nancy pointed out--every death changes us, every death carries in it a lesson.

meno said...

chili, horrid, yes. And i caused it.

nancy, there was a lesson for me that day. I wonder if anyone else learned anything from all those other squirels and jays.

u-u, i wonder who got off earlier.

jen, some people glory in that anger.

hearts, maybe. I like to think so, but is it only to make me feel better that i think that?

d-man, yeah, that's pretty much the truth about me. Good luck for you that i don't remember your goat. I'll be checking for it though.

mrs.chili, make light all you want, that's what i do. It's a dichotomy that pests need controlling, but i feel badly about one lone squirrel. The raccoons are really bad on the roads this time of year. Oh, and the opossums. Squish.

gr, i can see in both of us animals lovers in the making.

pam, i do feel okay about finishing what i had started. I felt responsible to not leave him like that. My grandmother was a mean old bitch, but she was not boring.

maggie, my cousins are/were indulgent of my namby-pamby liberal bleeding heart self. They are good loving people, unless you are a squirrel or a jay.

qt, i am fine with hunting for food. I don't want to do it myself, but i don't condemn others for it. That makes me a hypocrite because i sure do eat meat. But this killing for fun, not okay with me.

moi, laws of nature indeed. My fearsome hunters kill rodents all the time. I don't mind, unless they are not dead yet, and then i just have to try and save them. Silly.

de, i have to smile at your complete lack of murderous tendencies 'cause i don't have them either. :)

bob, at this point in my life if i had to kill my own meat i would have to become a vegetarian. I didn't grow up on a farm and i just couldn't do it. But i love to eat meat. Hi fellow hypocrite!

sanjay, we don't have any guns in the house either. Your Mrs. is a smart woman.

Joan said...

What a life-turning moment for you. We have a friend who is a hunter and gun enthusiast and I just don't understand the allure of it all and, quite frankly, I never want to.

Lee said...

Oh that made tears well up. My older son, who has hero-worship of his grandpa came back from a visit on their farm and told me he was never hunting again. He had been witness to the killing of a deer and said he was never going to get over the look in that animal's eyes. I was never more proud of him.

meno said...

lynn, Steve is a contractor. He isn't a mean guy, he was just a younger brother who for once was better than his older brother at something, aiming.

irrelephant, chilling, that scream. I feel the chill running down my spine just from reading about it. That's why i don't understand hunting for sport. I respect it, but i don't get it.

joan, it was a changing moment. I still remember it with shame.

lee, what a sweet story. Some of us just don't have it in us to kill our own food. I sure don't.

egan said...

Great lesson learned Meno. I can't stand guns. My dad had one "stashed" in the house which I happened to find. I am so uneasy around them. Poor little squirrel.

Toni said...

Aww! I don't think I could shoot an animal either. A human, no problem. You break into my house, threating the safety of me or my children- no problem!

patches said...

So many childhood experiences shape who become as adults. A tender heart is a most excellent quality to possess.

I was exposed to guns and hunting as a kid. I will reluctantly admit to thinning out non-game birds in the past. Today I'm only interested in targeting soda cans or eggs. I feel an obligation to control vermin (subdivision + small children + snakes = necessary evil).

lu said...

There is some strange seductive quality to guns; the power they wield has been oddly romanticized. Pretend guns are great fun to play with. Any time I performed in a play with a gun the most passive of people went nuts for them.

The reality of the purpose and fall out from gun play is ugly and wretched. This story is a powerful reminder.

Dick said...

I also shot ground squirels as a youngster and know the reason for killing them was to help save the cattle who tended to break their legs from stepping in the burrows. I really didn't enjoy it and haven't shot any living thing since then. But, I do enjoy target shooting with either guns or bow & arrows. The latter is more challenging. I would do it for food if it were necessary to feed my family but I make enough money to buy my food and let someone else do the killing.

meno said...

egan, i too am uneasy around guns. And the violence they represent.

toni, yes, there could be a time when only a gun will do.

patches, there is a vermin control issue. It's not like i naively think that they mustn't be controlled.

lu, there sure is, that seductive quality. I see it, but i don't feel it.

dick, that is about the perfect description. We do what we must. But we limit it to that too.

patches said...

I never meant to imply any naivety on your part. You are without a doubt a woman of the world. I felt that I should clarify my action since it conflicts with opinion of killing for sport.

Susanne said...

Weird, this thing with guns in the US. I never saw a gun in real life. I don't know anybody who has one. (But then, before I come on all holier-than-thou I obviously have met a lot of people who have had guns and used them to shoot at people (in WWII), my grandfather and great-uncles among them.)

But weird.