My Dad was a hunter.  Every year when I was a kid he and his buddies would go elk hunting in southwest washington in the Blue Mountains outside Yakima.  Sometimes they’d come back with something, mostly they didn’t.  There was deer hunting, there was grouse hunting and chukkars, occasionally some pheasant hunting.  And, as a kid, I looked up to my dad and wanted to do what he did so I wanted to hunt, too.

It was clear that if I was going to go hunting with my Dad, I would have to go to the gun safety course and learn how to handle a gun safely and properly.  And I think that was a great idea and I still have those rules about always paying attention to the barrel of a gun, respecting the damage it can do, never letting someone past the end of the barrel of your gun.  To my 12 year old self, these were important things to know about a piece of equipment that could do a great deal of harm if not used responsibly and respectfully.

At an even younger age, my dad would take me out in to the woods and we’d shoot a .22 caliber rifle and knock over cans.  My dad was a very good shot.  I was not.  But when I would hit the can and when I did get better with practice, it felt good!  I was certain that when I did go hunting, whatever I was after would be in trouble!

I think the first time I really got to hunt, I was using a .20 gauge shotgun to shoot at grouse.  I say shoot AT instead of shoot because I don’t actually recall shooting any grouse myself.  It seemed like I’d wait too long, the grouse would hear me or sense us and take off and I couldn’t shoot anything in flight to save my life.  Or, I’d shoot and the bird would simply take off as I’d miss altogether.  Whatever the reason, the grouse were not in a great deal of danger from me.

Similarly, the chukkar were fast and kept their distance, seeming to know what the effective range of a shotgun was better than I did.

The big goal for all of this was to get to go with my Dad on the yearly elk hunting trip.  It meant I got to miss several days of school to go.  And I would get to hang out with the guys and that, by extension, would make me one of the guys and that would be a good thing!  Now, I was probably 13 and then 14 when I went on these trips, so being one of the guys was a big deal for me.
Missing school wasn’t a problem because grades weren’t a problem so my Dad was happy to write me note to excuse my absence.

One of the parts of the process with the elk hunt was that each member of the party could put in for a cow tag.  Typically you could only hunt the male elk (the ones with the antlers), but if you managed to have your tag drawn, you could shoot either a bull or a cow, greatly increasing your odds of getting to shoot an elk.  My very first year my name was pulled and I won a cow tag!

I was very excited because this seemed like it would mean that I’d get a much better chance to shoot an elk, which seemed to be the point of the whole exercise.

But, once I had the tag, it was made clear to me that the use of that tag was a bit more open.  Effectively, the way our group of hunters operated was that if one of the members got a shot at a cow, any of them could take it and the person with the cow tag would end up with their tag on the elk even if they didn’t pull the trigger.  I wasn’t sure this was entirely fair, but it seemed to be the expected way of things.  It was my first year, so of course I just kept my mouth shut and went along because I was not “one of the guys!”

I really did enjoy the hunting trip, but not really for the hunting.  I liked being able to spend time with my Dad.  I like missing school in the fall.  I liked the idea of being one of the guys.  I liked camping and I like being in the outdoors.  There was lots of food and not a lot of vegetables.  Beef jerky, soda and snacks were consumed in large quantities.

I learned the only joke I can tell in its entirety but almost certainly won’t.  The joke is stuck in my head more firmly than actually useful things but it’s mostly by virtue of the setup and the punchline which for my fourteen year old brain was incredibly gross.

Well, I guess you’re here so I’ll write down what passed for the best and the worst joke I can never seem to get out of my brain, probably for the rest of my life and it is a hunting joke, so I guess it’s relatively germane to the subject.  If you’re easily grossed out, I’d recommend scrolling down past the next line break.  Here we go.


A couple of guys are out deer hunting. They’re near the top of a mountain and they decide to split up, each heading around the mountain in opposite directions. If either shoots a deer, the sound of the shot will bring the other around the mountain top to help clean the deer and haul it back to camp.

So, they split up and head out.

The dimmer of the two walks for about a half hour and decides he needs to take a dump. Coincidentally, because the alternatives were worse, he manages to find a hollow stump in to which he can do his business. He takes down his pants and starts but then, because they’d been up very late the night before drinking and not getting enough rest, he falls asleep in mid-poop.

His buddy, on the other side of the mountain, spots and shoots a deer. He waits for a bit for his friend to show up to help clean the deer but he doesn’t show up. Irritatedly, he starts to drag the deer in the direction his buddy should be coming from. Soon, he comes upon his partner who is still in mid-slumber with his pants around his ankles, mid-poop.

He’s really upset now so he promptly guts the deer where he found his buddy and proceeds to slip the guts in to the empty stump, past his buddy. He thinks it’ll be absolutely hilarious when his buddy wakes up looks down and sees this pile of guts!

Chuckling to himself, he takes the cleaned deer and starts to haul it back to camp.

About a half hour later, his buddy shows up with a bemused but somewhat pained expression on his face.

“What happened?” says the first hunter.

The second replied, “It was the strangest thing. I was taking a dump up on the mountain and I fell asleep. Something must have gone horribly wrong because when I woke I had apparently pooped out my guts!”

“Wow”, says the first hunter, “What did you do?”

“Well”, he says, “With the grace of God and a good stiff stick, I got them all back in again!”


I have no idea why that, more than any other joke I’ve heard over the years, refuses to be forgotten.  The one joke I can easily recall if someone asks me to tell a joke is a joke I will NEVER tell.  Sigh.

But, this is about hunting.  Sort of.

That year I didn’t get to shoot an elk, cow or bull.  The cow elk was shot by someone else in our party and my tag hung on it’s ear.  That elk was enormous.  I felt badly for it.

I never shot a deer either.  It was probably a combination of not having a good shot and/or just not seeing them.  I was not a particularly quiet hunter nor was I very patient.  But, that was okay.  I got to go camping with my Dad, I got to shoot targets with my .22, I got to eat with the guys and be, more or less, one of the guys.  That was more than enough.

I did shoot a few birds over the years and that was okay with me.  I didn’t like cleaning them, but it was part of the process.

In fact, in my whole life I believe I’ve only shot one mammal and after that I lost my desire to shoot anything living and haven’t in all my adult years.

I was 14 or 15.  We were up in central Washington, more or less in the middle of nowhere.  We were driving down a road looking for chukkars but, unsurprisingly, they tended to vacate the roads when they heard vehicles coming so there wasn’t much to shoot.

However, at one place where we’d gotten out, my Dad spotted a rabbit over near the edge of the road.  He nudged me and told me I could shoot that.  At the time I had a small .20 gauge shotgun and the rabbit wasn’t that far away so it would be a relatively easy shot.  I was very nervous because this was the first animal (for some reason birds didn’t cause this same reaction) that I would shoot and I was shaking a bit.

I took the shot.  If you’ve never shot a shotgun before, they are loud and they kick, so there was the expected loud *BOOM* from the shot.  And then I hear the sound.

I’ve never heard anything like it before and I’ve never heard anything like it since and I hope I never do.  The rabbit was wounded and it was screaming.  It was hurt and I’d only wounded it and not killed it.  It was hurt and it was screaming in pain and I didn’t know what to do!

My Dad told me I needed to take it out of it’s misery.  I needed to kill it.  But, I couldn’t!  I was imagining what it must be feeling, how I’d hurt it, how I’d caused it to be lying here on the side of a dirt road bleeding and screaming and I was paralyzed.

In the end my Dad did put the rabbit out of its misery, finishing the botched job I’d done.

That was the last time I tried to kill an animal.

I recall going hunting with a friend later, perhaps after college.  It was deer hunting.  I enjoyed, again, the camping and the camaraderie and the food but I wasn’t REALLY there to hunt.  One of the two mornings I did get a chance to shoot at a deer from a fairly long distance.  I purposely shot high so there was no real danger to the deer.  I scared it and it ran away and I was fine with that.

So, I didn’t and don’t hunt as an adult.  I didn’t teach my kids to hunt, didn’t require them, as my Dad had, to attend a gun safety course.  I do think it’s important to be respectful of guns and learn how to use them safely and effectively, but I’ve no interest in hunting.  For me, that ended as soon as I heard the consequences of my actions on the side of that dirt road thirty years ago.


[box type=”shadow”] Note: Image courtesy of and licensed via Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). For more info, see[/box]
Categories: Writing


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *