We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun; he is no more humane, while his education has been sadly neglected.”
Henry David Thoreau
Guns were not a part of my childhood. Up through high school the only guns I fired shot balls filled with paint or water. I considered myself generally anti-gun, and certainly never thought I would want to hunt anything. Though I’ve gone fishing since I was young, and on most occasions I kept and ate what I caught, for some reason hunting seemed different – somehow meaner. To be honest, guns scared me and I saw them as a major cause of violence.
As I grew older and became more interested in the origins of my food, I started visiting farms. Being an omnivore, I would occasionally see farms that raised chickens and pigs and cows. I had a vague recognition of the fact that these animals were being raised to slaughter, but didn’t really think about it. As my interest in food origins grew, I started gardening at home, and helping out with friends crops. One day a friend of mine asked if I would go with him to South Dakota to help him and his dad slaughter some of their chickens.
It didn’t take long for me to decide. I eat chicken, and even when I buy local or organic chicken, I’m still just going to the store and picking up my meat. While the animals that I eat have to suffer to reach my plate, all of my suffering had been removed from the equation. The only thing I could do in good conscience was agree to go and see what it was like to slaughter my own food.
Slaughtering domesticated chickens is not difficult. It’s messy, it’s unpleasant, and it’s tiring when you have a large number to slaughter, but it’s not difficult. I learned how to do it properly and how to process the carcass for meat. While I wouldn’t exactly say I had fun in the process, I did feel better about eating that chicken that night. I had been there during its death – I had taken responsibility for turning this creature from a live animal into food.
Still, raising animals on a farm for slaughter isn’t the most ideal scenario. Many of these animals are so domesticated by now that they couldn’t possibly survive in the wild, and so farming is the only way they do survive. For many other animals though, a wild life is best. That’s what led to my interest in hunting. If I want to take responsibility for providing my own food, and let the animals live as natural a life as possible up until the time I eat them, hunting is the only real option.
I know many people still feel uneasy with the idea of hunting. It doesn’t help that there’s a huge community of trophy and sport hunters that tend to throw around phrases like, “if it flies, it dies,” and “wack ’em, and stack ’em.” That kind of disrespect has given hunters a bad name, but that sentiment is not true of all hunters. Many hunters hunt only for food and show the animals they harvest a great deal of respect.
There have been numerous books on the topic, most notable of which is Tovar Cerulli’s The Mindful Carnivore, in which Cerulli chronicles his transition from vegan to hunter. Another notable book is In Defense of Hunting: Yesterday and Today by environmentalist James Swan. Both talk of the rich history of humans hunting for food as well as the connection that hunters have with nature. I highly recommend both.
Unfortunately, along with hunting comes the topic of guns, which is a deep and treacherous one. Suffice it to say I am a proponent of gun safety, firearm education, and selective gun control. It seems most of the fear of guns comes from a lack of knowledge. So do most of the outrageous claims of the pro-gun side. An open dialog and a lot more education would go a long way towards easing the tension.
This year I will be hunting for rabbit and squirrel (yes, for eating) using my .22 caliber bolt-action rifle (a CZ 513 Basic). This gun can only hold 5 rounds at a time and has to be cocked in between every shot. A .22 caliber bullet is very small, and relatively slow. It would be difficult to kill anything larger than a badger with it. Still, I store the rifle and the ammunition separately, and I keep the safety on util I’m ready to pull the trigger. If more people did these simple things, gun crime would drop dramatically.
When I enter the woods hoping to harvest rabbits and squirrels, I do so with a profound love of nature and animals. I’m joining them in their eternal dance of life and death, and I am replacing at least a little factory-farmed meat with meat that came from an animal that was allowed to live a free and natural life.