Sometimes, when I’m with people who know me well, they just come out quietly. Dejectedly.
Before I started hunting, I would’ve been horrified to hear someone say “I need to kill something.” I would take it as a sign of aggression and violence run amok, a symptom of everything that is wrong with humanity.
But now I know these words mean precisely the opposite. They are code for my need to escape the zoo we call civilization. Yes, it is a zoo filled with endless trinkets with which to amuse ourselves – cable television, iPods, nice cars, fancy restaurants – but it is still a zoo, a stress-filled substitute for our natural environment.
I don’t literally need to kill something right now. My freezers are full. I can’t open one of them without a cascade of vacuum-sealed duck gizzards and striper filets falling to my feet.
What I really need is to walk out of my house in pre-dawn blackness with Sarah Connor, my scratched-up 12 gauge Beretta 390 with a history of rust problems, and set myself up someplace where I know legal game will be.
I need to sit quietly, feel that chill that precedes the lightening sky and wait for the dim shapes in shades of black to take on their true form. Is that a clump of grass or a rabbit? Rabbit? Rabbit! Now, how can I get in range undetected?
There’s something electric about how my brain engages when I hunt. The part of my brain that excels at multitasking finally shuts the hell up and I become infinitely patient and focused. At that point, it really doesn’t matter if I shoot and miss. It doesn’t matter if I don’t even get to take a shot. All I want is to be deeply engaged in the most basic of needs: acquiring something to eat.
Funny thing: We call an unsuccessful hunt “hiking with guns,” but every hunter I know would rather hike with a gun than without one, even if the chances of getting to shoot something are almost nil.
A few weeks ago my boyfriend invited me to join him on a mushroom hunt in the Sierras east of where we live in Sacramento.
“Can I bring my gun?” I asked hopefully.
“No,” he said, looking at me as if I’d just requested permission to bring a shotgun to the opera.
“I was just thinking, you know, if we’re in a national forest, and there might be some pigeons…” Pigeons: tasty, and legal year-round.
That’s my problem. The reason I’m not hunting is that precious little game is legal to hunt this time of year, and I don’t have access to places where those animals live.
A smart person would take advantage of the forced downtime and head to the shooting range frequently for skeet – a wise investment of time and money that repays you in hunting success down the road. And I’m sure I’ll start hitting the range more often now that summer has arrived and I’m on break from my teaching job.
And yes, watching those clays explode is sweet, as is smelling the burnt gunpowder. But to me, skeet is, and probably always be, nothing but a rehearsal – something that is more a part of The Zoo than an escape from it.
Sure, I’ll go. But I think I’ll also spend some time driving around farms in the region looking for pigeons, maybe knock on a few doors and see if I can get permission to hunt them.
Yeah. That’s what I’ll do. I’m feeling better already.
Holly A. Heyser is a hunter, forager, writer, food photographer and college journalism lecturer. She writes a blog about hunting at http://norcalcazadora.blogspot.com.and shoots food photos for boyfriend Hank Shaw, who writes a blog about wild food at http://honest-food.net.