Dressed all in camo and holding a loaded shotgun, I sat next to my business partner and together we waited. It was the early afternoon and neither of us were talking. Instead, we sat in a tiny shack on an edge of a pond and silently awaited the swooping pattern of an incoming duck. It was duck season and I was ready to shoot dinner.
By far the best part of actively pursuing my life list is the bizarre situations it puts me in. Normally my life is full of patterns and routines that allow me to act with predicability and get things done. My life list fights the worthwhile battle of working against normalcy and pushes me to make leaps I otherwise wouldn’t. Today was one of those days.
Killing and Guns
Before today, I had never woke up with the intention to kill. I am big fan of roughing it and spending time in the wilderness but I have never actually taken the leap of killing my own food. It seems silly and naive but there is still a gap in my life between the meat that I eat and the process of how it got there. I am for animals rights but I also believe in a healthy meat based diet. This life list item was going to help me fill that gap.
But before I could get that far, I first needed a gun.
I travel to foreign countries on a regular basis and one of the themes that constantly repeats itself is other travelers asking me my thoughts on guns as an American. The United States has rather liberal laws concerning guns compared to most other developed nations. This is coupled with a 24 hour news cycle that loves to spread warnings of violence. I can’t count how many times people have asked me why American’s don’t just outlaw guns in order to stop all of the shootings that we experience. I usually answer this with a lackluster argument about defending ourselves. I don’t own a gun personally but I do believe I should have the right to defend myself from my peers or my government. This has always been an odd spot in my political life as I have a belief (I believe that most people should be able to own firearms but they should be lightly regulated to prevent common safety mistakes) but I don’t have a lot of active experience to back it up.
Growing up, my family wasn’t anti-guns but we were also not openly supporting organizations like the NRA (National Rifle Association) In fact, the only time I ever remember pissing off my parents in the last few years was when I told them I was going to buy a handgun. We had a intense but healthy discussion about it. My parents were not against my right to own a firearm but they were worried that the defense advantages it gave me did not outweigh the safety risks. That had a point but I wanted to exercise my right to bear arms.
Despite my belief, I never ended up buying a gun. I had no ethical problem but I did have a large logistical problem. I had nowhere to store a gun. (I don’t have a permanent residence and a gun is not something you can travel easily with.)
It turned out earning the right to hunt was not as easy as I had imagined. While all Americans (well not felons… or minors… ) have the right to own firearms, it turns out that not all Americans have the right to hunt. This requires a licence from the government.
In the state of Washington, this requires about $200, an eight hour online class to learn regulations and a six hour hands-on course on gun control.
I learned a lot during the process. Whereas, I had figured hunters were just a big group of gun crazy extremists, it turned out most were a lot like me and doing it for the sport and the food. While it is true buying meat at the grocery store is cheaper than it is to procure it yourself, the process of going through the whole hunting cycle as it has been done for years seems more authentic and worthwhile.
In Washington State, only animals that are in excess of the carrying capacity of the given land (meaning animals that are too numerous for a specific habitat to sustain) can legally be hunted. This is carefully calculated by biologists and policed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. In addition, only the males of the designated species can be hunted. (There are some exceptions to this with specific species of animals). Lastly, the entire hunting season can only last about two weeks (again it depends on the land and the species). All funds collected during the process go toward animal conservation and running the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. It was a much more logical and fair system than I had imagined hunting to be.
My only problem with the whole system was that it felt too regulated. Yes, killing things should have some regulation but the detail of regulation in Washington state seemed overbearing. The experience ended up being interesting both from an ethics perspective as well as a political prospective. I spent much more time learning to identify different species than I did actually hunting.
Having passed all of the courses and tests, my biggest benefit was achieving confidence with handling multiple kinds of shotguns and rifles. I kind of feel like a badass now. :-) Zombies beware.
The first day of hunting season, my business partner, Sam and I met up with our mutual friend Jason. Jason is an experienced hunter and acted as our guide. We had all worked together on several projects (Jason is one of the most talented developers that I know) so the group was well primed and ready to get started.
We started the day by duck hunting. Shotguns shoot sprays of pellets rather than a single bullet so they tend to be easier to use. (You point them rather than aim them). This was ideal for Sam and I who were still newbies. Like the video game, our duck hunt was tons of fun. We hung out in duck territory, did our best to be silent and tried to outsmart the ducks. They were quick learners so it ended up being a little harder than just point and shoot. Even still, I shot about 50% (shot/hit).
Next up was pheasant hunting. This was a bit trickier. The idea with pheasant hunting is you scour fields and try to pressure pheasants into making a flying break for it. As soon as they take off (which happens ridiculously quickly), you need to identify if it male or female (you can’t shoot the hens) and take it out. This is most easily accomplished with a dog, but we didn’t have one.
We found open hunting grounds and together Jason and I stormed the fields (Sam had a dislocated knee from an earlier injury and stayed behind). I quickly learned how rough field terrain can get and actually got myself completely stuck in a marsh full of reeds for a while. :-) We covered a lot of land and I learned a lot.
We didn’t end up shooting any pheasants (they apparently knew we were coming and left before we arrived) but we both had a ton of fun.
We spent the next day deer hunting. This was by far my favorite. It was much more strategic than the earlier ventures and required both patience and skill. We spent the first part of the day simply scoping out the land and following tracks. Jason was an extremely nuanced outdoorsman and spent most of his time reading tracks and signs around the forest. Together in hunter’s orange, we silently crept around a remote mountain following animal trails and scouting.
I have spent a lot time in the wilderness in my life but it didn’t occur to me until this day that I had spent all of that time with someone. Our second day deer hunting was different. We scoped out the land and then intentionally split up. I spent hours completely alone (except for some limited communication via walkie-talkie). I explored the forest and spent most of my time listening and watching for deer. It was a bizarre but interesting and fun experience.
I hiked around, rifle in hand, searching for a logistical advantage. I eventually found a canyon that maximized the amount of land I could see and made my base. I then sat and listened some more.
There is a lot of activity that happens in a forest. There were lots of small animals (mostly chipmunks and birds) and plenty to watch. It was extremely windy that day so while I didn’t see any deer, I did see two trees fall. :-)
While I didn’t end up harvesting as much meat as I had hoped, I still consider my first hunting adventure a huge success. I learned a ton about wildlife, got to explore a really cool lifestyle, spent a lot of time with friends and gained a lot more confidence with guns. It was a really fun experience and I look forward to doing it again next year.