I’ve never been very good at killing anything.
With the exception of flies, for which my wife and daughters insist I possess some sort of Ninja killing ability.
Growing up I always assumed that men should be able to kill.
My father and I hunted some, mostly doves and sometimes ducks. I didn’t hit much but I enjoyed the times in the woods and fields with my father.
More than anything, I liked the guns, the loud boom and the intoxicating smell of gun powder.
Some of my fondest memories with my father were days we spent skeet shooting.
It was one of the few sports I ever did very well and my father complimented me on my ability.
Everyone wants to please their father.
The BB gun
When I was 11, I got a BB gun. A Daisy pump that held 50 rounds in the magazine.
It was a great gun and I spent hours before and after school, and during summers, shooting at imaginary enemies like cans, bottles, branches, fish and an occasional bird.
Behind the house where I grew up was a drainage ditch that my friends and I referred to as “The Creek.”
During certain times of the year, the creek swelled to a torrential river, or so it appeared to an 11-year-old boy, but most of the time it was a narrow, shallow flow of water populated by crawdads, frogs, minnows, and turtles.
On the other side of the creek was an undeveloped piece of property nestled between the neighborhood developments, spotted with small ponds and scraggly mesquite trees.
This property was simply referred to as “The Trails” presumably because it was crisscrossed by paths created by years of wear from bicycle tires, motorcycle tires and tennis shoes.
It was also a great place to build the occasional “fort” or test out homemade fireworks but those are stories for another day.
When shooting my BB gun, I often preyed upon minnows in the creek because they were close, abundant and somewhat challenging. You’ve heard the saying “shooting fish in a barrel” well that was me but it is not as easy as you might think.
Occasionally a bird would light within range and I would shoot at it but miss it.
However, one afternoon as I whiled away time in my backyard, I spotted a bird in a tree just the other side of the creek.
I knew it would be a long shot so I aimed high to account for the drop.
I really didn’t think I would hit it.
Deep breath, exhale, squeeze and then the sound of the spring as the BB was propelled forward.
I could see the BB as it arced and fell toward the bird.
To my amazement, it struck the bird and sent it fluttering toward the ground.
At first I was stunned I’d actually hit it.
I ran through the gate that connected our backyard to the creek, gun in hand, down one side of the creek then up the other.
When I got to the bird it was flailing on the ground.
My triumph turned to sadness and then shame as I looked at the wounded bird.
I wished I hadn’t shot it. And I wished it weren’t flailing on the ground, half alive.
I knew the likelihood of saving a wounded bird was slim.
So I did the next best thing, I fired and fired and fired until I ran out of BBs and the bird lay on the ground twitching slightly. It was over, sort of.
In my remorse, I dug a shallow grave and buried the bird, then sat down in the leaf covered woods and gazed at the small earthen mound.
I felt shitty, small and ashamed, and there was nothing I could do to change it. I think I even asked God to forgive me.
I’m not sure how long I sat there but eventually I got up and made what seemed like a very long walk back across the creek and up to my house on the other side.
When I told my friends the story, I only talked about the shot, how perfect it was, what a great aim I was.
But I always remembered how I felt watching that bird flailing helplessly on the ground, confused and terrified.
You’d think that would’ve ended my hunting career but some lessons are less easily learned.
If pressed, I could tell several more sad stories that ended in similar circumstances, usually something wounded and needing to be put out of its misery.
Each time, I too was wounded.
We’ve all killed things inadvertently, or intentionally, in our lives.
Possibly a relationship, a career, or a dream.
Some of them we need to resurrect, most we just need to let lie.
But for all of them, we need to take responsibility.
Just burying them is not good enough.
There is a healing that takes place in us when we take responsibility for our decisions and actions.
It’s empowering and liberating.
Pain can be a good teacher, if we let it.
I’ve finally reconciled my hunting memories. I still like guns but I’m not much interested in sport hunting anymore.
Not long ago, I went out and bought another BB gun, because I wanted to share it with my daughters. We played with it some, shooting cans in the backyard. But we quickly lost interest.
Most of the time that BB gun just sits in my closet now, a fond reminder of a little boy, wandering up and down the creek, on a hot afternoon, shooting imaginary enemies, with no place else that he needs to be.
But occasionally, its a reminder that our lives are filled with decisions both good and bad, and that we need to take responsibility for both so we can heal and grow.