You must login to vote
This article deals with hunting and the inner turmoil that a hunter must cope with as a person who kills to eat.It addresses the controversial side of hunting and is very angst. It is told from the first person perspective of a 17 year old (me). This account is a true story that occured last year.
My father is beside me, a great and knowledgeable hunter. He has more experience than I could ever dream of, and I hate to disappoint him - to screw up. Iím clutching my rifle against my chest, entertaining dark thoughts of disaster as I await the stalk, fearing the worst. Who ever said mind over matter didnít work? I know well that it does for it has doomed me more than once. Iíll convince myself the worst is to come for me, and it most certainly will because I fear it so much. My first and second successful hunts went well enough without incident or chase, but deep in my mind I know that my luck cannot last forever. I know that everyone makes the mistakes I loathe to make, and that I will make them too no matter how conscious I am of them.
Iím hoping to myself that I wonít have to do it, hoping that the wind will suddenly change and prevent us from making a move. Iíve entered a place of no return by brooding so deeply about the mistakes I was sure to make sooner or later. Now I sit trembling in dwarf Burch and watching the prey from a distance. Iím terrified and nervous and thrilled all at once. But what happens when I make a mistake? What will they say? Think of the disappointment. The thrill is lost and my nervousness reaches new and innovative heights.
Weíre moving on now to close in on the unsuspecting caribou. There are two together and several others nearby that we must avoid spooking or else the hunt is all for naught. The two bulls are the ones we make for. Only one of them is a taker and they are mulling on the opposite ridge from us. We stoop with our packs as we quickly thrash our way down a trail. Another caribou stops us short and we are forced to wait for her to pass. All the while my father holds his glassing binoculars in one steady hand, checking our target from time to time to verify their position. They are bedding down it seems.
Iím shaking even more now. I fight the buckling of my knees while trying not to trip over dwarf Burch branches. It is a trial and I am a mess, but I never say a word. That would ruin the stalk and send us back to camp with down-trod hearts.
The closer we get the worse my condition becomes. This is buck fever I realize, or something close to it. Iíve never been so afraid. I canít do it, I think, Iím bound to screw up. Thereís no way Iíll go forever without screwing up and suffering the disappointment of my family. Weíre climbing up the other side now, keeping as low to the ground as possible. Back from where we came another caribou has appeared, but an insignificant one now.
Father whispers to me, pointing up ahead to the caribou. He signals for me to remove the scope cover on my rifle and I comply with shaky fingers. They are very close now, so close that if you strained your ears long enough you could hear the very crunch of their teeth on willow leaves. Itís time, but Iím not ready. Iíve never been so unprepared in my life.
I see the caribou bedded down. Dad points out which one Iím am to aim for. ďUse my back for a rest.Ē He says to me in a hushed voice.
I nod sharply, overtaken by adrenaline and fear. Weíve discarded our packs behind us, and so I can more easily crawl up beside him and not be seen by the unsuspecting caribou. I set the rifle on my dadís back, preparing to take aim, but something happens.
The caribou have bolted upright, startled. Iím overcome with panic and quickly relay the news to my dad, whose head is down while I have the rifle propped on his back. He glances up and sees the caribou on their feet, tells me which one to fire at and lowers his head again.
Suddenly I donít have all the time in the world anymore. I must wait for a good broadside shot when the caribou is not moving, but I canít wait forever to aim. They trot a little distance up and stop. Iím trying to hold the rifle steady, but the cross-hairs are all over the place. I never took a deep breath, didnít squeeze the trigger firmly, and wasnít sure when I fired that I was making a good shot. It was a disaster. I was certain of a miss the moment the shot sounded, and I couldnít believe it. Iíd never missed, but then again, Iíd shot very few animals; only two big game. It was bound to happen sooner or later, as Iíd been telling myself previously.
ďI think I missed!Ē My voice was trembling.
ďHow do you know?Ē My dad asked as he sat up abruptly, watching the caribou bound up the hillside.
ďHe didnít react to the shot.Ē I answered feebly. ďI didnít feel confident either.Ē
There was a moment though when a hitch appeared in the caribouís trot. It was too much to assume that he wasnít hit. So Dad grabbed his rifle, aimed, and took a long distance shot. The caribou again bounded up the hill side, seemingly unaffected.
We buckled on our packs and high tailed it after them. Dad kept a close eye as we followed, making sure not to lose them. Then, as the two beasts disappeared into a small notch, only one came out on the other side and continued up the hill. The other was nowhere to be seen. He must have been hit, either by me or my dad, it didnít matter who.
My legs ached and tears were streaking down my face. I hated myself wretchedly for the disaster that Iíd created - hated myself for knowing it would happen and for allowing it to. Iíd prided myself in being a good shot before, but I was kidding myself. Youíre not a good shot if you donít practice. Now Iíd inflicted damage upon an animal that may or may not kill it over time and with grueling pain. I was consumed by hopelessness and exhaustion as I staggered after my father.
Finally we make it to the notch and slow our approach. The terrain is rough with hummocks of grass threatening to roll your ankles with every step. We sneak along the side of the hill which leads into the notch, and there in the brush we spot the caribou laying down, resting.
Again we discard our packs and dad signals me forward. Iím to take another shot at him. He sends me further along the upper side of the hill so that I might get a shot at the lungs, but as I make my way along I know that there is far too much brush where he lay. I look back at my father uncertainly as I know not what to do now. He signals, but Iím not sure what he says.
I turn back towards the caribou and he stands up. He begins to walk and Iím given a clear shot. I raise the gun and take aim, and as I fire Iím much more sure, but the caribou is unaffected. Another missed shot and I am confused and crying. Surely that had to have been a hit? Yet it was not, and I couldnít understand why. All of a sudden I felt useless and pathetic.
My dad fires his own rifle and the bullet drives into the right hind quarter. I watch the caribou through blurry eyes as he staggers forward and collapses in the grass. Itís a killing blow for sure, but a slow one. Iím dumbstruck still and wretched. My dad comes up beside me and asks me how many shells I have left.
ďOne.Ē I answered.
He directs me to give the killing shot.
ďOk.Ē I say, though shaking still, and horrified at my ineptitude. My father makes no comment or betrays any emotions of anger or disgust though.
Again I find myself scaling the side of the hill towards the gap the caribou had collapsed in. I came to the highest point of the hill, and there he was. More tears sprang from my eyes as I looked at him. He lay there, seemingly calm, taking long deep breaths as he tried to relax. There was blood all over his hind quarter and it was completely useless. He could not get up.
I nervously approached. Iíd have to take the shot from a few feet away, but up till now Iíd not realize just what that meant. He didnít notice me until Iíd come within 10 feet or so of him, maybe closer. Then his head whirled up from the ground and I found myself staring terror-stricken into an equally horrified face. Time froze in that instant and I couldnít move. I clearly see the whites of his eyes and the sudden desperation in them. For a moment I think that he would rise and kill me on the spot with his antlers. I must choke back my fears and my grief though, but I cannot get close enough to him with those eyes glaring at me so intently to be sure of the killing shot.
Iím staring down the barrel at him, wanting so terribly to get those eyes away from me. I donít know how to change my scope power, nor do I think of it as Iím staring down at the barrel panic-stricken. My last shot and I was looking down the barrel at him, trying to aim for the middle of his neck, and I missed again. The bullet was too low, though it did hit him. His head fell back against the ground and he didnít look at me again.
I was bawling as I hurried back to my father to tell him of my greatest failure yet. He hurried on ahead with his own rifle and succeeded in killing the poor animal. The suffering finally came to an end, and I was crying my eyes out thoroughly. Iíd failed everyone; my father, myself, but most of all the animal. The vision of those eyes staring back at me would not leave me. He is still staring back at me from only a few feet away, wild-eyed and scared and desperate. It was too much to bear right then.
Yet I crawled to my feet anyway, wiped my tears aside and dragged my pack onto my back. I found my dad getting his camera ready for pictures. I dropped my pack and pulled my hat down low over my eyes. My father was calm and asked for me to come into the picture, though I didnít want to. He tried to comfort me even, though I wouldnít allow it. It was my fault and I didnít deserve condolences.
When we finished taking the solemn pictures I went to my pack, dug through the various items in the pockets, and pulled out a knife. I walked up beside my dad where he was already beginning to skin the carcass. It was late and we were a lot further from camp than we ever meant to be. I swallowed my self-pity and asked him what I should do.
We removed the guts to prevent any spoiling, dissembled some of the meat, and headed home in silence. Dusk was setting into night when we finally arrived in camp where my brother, his friend, and my mother were all waiting. Theyíd not heard the shooting for the ridge was between us at the time. Dad calmly began to explain what happened while I dropped my pack under the tarp and headed for the warmth of the tent, hanging my head in shame. I wouldnít look at anyone.
They were all very kind and understanding. The only words spoken were that of comfort. It was time to be looking at the brighter side of the picture. Even through the disastrous encounter we had managed to succeed in getting the animal, and we would have meat to put on the table. That was overall the most important thing, but it was not enough to cheer my misery. I still could not believe that Iíd messed up so terribly.
All I ever want is one clean, killing shot. The quickest and most painless death possible. Any person with a conscience would want that, but you know that it wonít always be like that. Itís when you finally get to that point that you really realize the significance of what youíre doing and the harshness of life. I never felt a more powerful connection to an animal before, and I doubt any person who has not experienced something like what I have could feel it, let alone understand it. They donít know what it is like really, they only think they do. No one cares more than I do, nor understands better what it means to do what I do as a hunter.
I hope that this might give some people a better perspective on what it is like for someone like me who hunts and maybe help them to understand. I encourage you to have an open mind about it, although for some people I realize that is not possible. It's hard for someone who has not experienced it first hand to truly understand the connection the hunter has with nature.
Reality can be beaten with enough imagination