One of Them Shall Not Fall on the Ground Without Your Father

I have not forgotten the last time I killed an animal in cold blood, though it was half my lifetime ago. It was not the last time I killed an animal, of course; we all kill animals by proxy, we all command the steak and deputize the death. Even if we are vegan we consent to the distant dispatch of foliage-threatening deer and marauding mountain lions and unwanted pets. But this was the last time I pulled a trigger and deprived another creature of life for sport, on a whim, for pleasure. And there are evenings when I remember it, though it is counterproductive to do so, though it is meaningless, though it is weak . . .

In the fall of 1992 I was wandering through a small patch of thickly wooded ground south and east of Miami University. Perhaps eighty acres at most, behind a trailer that itself sat a hundred yards back from a country-maintained two-lane. It was fifty degrees out and the trees were bare. My tennis shoes crunched on the leaves. It was perhaps five-thirty in the afternoon.

I carried a Marlin Model 60 semi-automatic rifle, caliber .22 LR, fourteen shots from a tube magazine beneath the barrel. It was literally the most common smallbore rifle in America at the time and it had a cheap 4x scope mounted on the rails. On my hip, in the factory-supplied belt slide holster, I carried a GLOCK 21, caliber .45 ACP, thirteen shots of Federal Hydra-Shok 230 grain defensive ammunition. The purpose of the Marlin was to amuse myself, to take potshots at random junk and squirrels as I wandered through the woods. The purpose of the GLOCK was to settle disagreements.

Strictly speaking, this was not a place where you could legally fire a weapon. It was simply an area that nobody had ever bothered to clear into usable land. Why would they? The trailers around it rented for four hundred dollars a month or less, including utilities. With road frontage, it might have sold for two thousand dollars an acre. Without it, in Butler County, Ohio, the value was mostly theoretical. There were hundreds of places like this south of the university and north of Cincinnati. A twenty-two rifle is quiet and the locals rarely had any interest in some college kid wandering across their property. I was bored with my life and too lonely, poor, or both to partake in the school’s social life, so I’d hunt “varmints” and cans as I tramped past rusted-out barbed wire and and faded signs demanding that I turn back. I spent the time thinking about the books I’d read in the previous days. Fall and winter days were the best, the cleanest, for this activity.

Yet in the previous year, as I wandered, I’d come across a few people who objected. Once I was trespassing up near Darrtown Road, my Colt AR-15 Sporter HBAR held loosely across my chest, when I descended a hill and found myself facing two hard-faced men engaged in a quiet discussion. They’d heard me coming; they had Remington or Winchester bolt-actions held low, fingers alongside the triggers. For a long moment we faced each other across an empty stream bed. I knew my capability to make two hundred yard headshots with the AR, maybe a hundred yards on a moving target. I was an outstanding shot with a variety of weapons, because I’d spent the previous summer working at Ford Credit during the day and shooting most nights at various outdoor ranges.

The men frightened me. I sensed that I had very little in common with them, that they had not read Marcus Aurelius or listened to Wynton Marsalis. I also understood that the more I said to them, the more unsure, the more frightened, I would appear to be. So I said nothing.

“Lot of gun you have there,” the smaller one said, with a disdainful toss of the muzzle towards my Colt.

“I… mostly hunt cans,” I responded, and I smiled though I didn’t want to. It’s thirty yards, I thought. Make the first shot as you pull up to offhand position, follow up with another to the chest, let the recoil carry you to the head, then pivot your forward foot to the right, drop to a crouch, and work the second target. I shrugged to conceal the fact that I was turning my body perpendicular to them. There was a long pause.

“These… cans,” the man continued, “these cans are mine. You’re on my property here.”

“I’m very sorry,” I said, with my tongue dry, because I saw that his friend was nonchalantly stepping away to the side, “I thought I was on my friend’s land here. Guess I went too far west. Which way,” I continued, “is out?”

“You can turn right around the way you came,” was the response, “and take that rifle there with you.” Any pretense at courtesy was gone at this point. I took a long, deep breath. I turned around about one hundred and fifty of the required one hundred and eighty degrees. I stepped hard into the leaves to conceal the sound of my thumb flicking the safety off. And I walked slightly sideways away from them, looking back every few steps. They watched me all the way to the top of the hill.

When I hit the open field I shouldered the rifle and ran. It was probably nothing more than two guys out poaching deer off their own property out of season, annoyed and perhaps troubled themselves by some wild-eyed kid dressed for the city and carrying a scary-looking weapon for no apparent reason. Yet later on in life when I met people who had done multiple acts of casual violence I recognized the bearing and the flat affect of my rural interlocutor and I shuddered inside.

After that I left the AR-15 in the car when I went wandering. I took the Marlin instead and wore the GLOCK in case I ever ran into some mythical creatures — marijuana kingpins, psychopathic hillbilly rapists, black bears.

On the last day I killed an animal for fun, I was accompanied by an eleven-year-old boy who lived in a century-old farmhouse near Stilwell Beckett. Some day I’ll sit down and write out the story of how I met the…ah, let’s call them the Davises for now. I’m saving that story for the day I really need it. For now, let it suffice to say that I was sponsoring the kid’s BMX racing — call him Jake, Jake Davis — through my mail-order bike shop, and that I used to run around and get in mild trouble with his coke-addict, wannabe-biker-gang-member father, who was perhaps forty years old at the time.

This was yet another one of the days where the father was holed up in a trailer somewhere with a prostitute or fellow addict, avoiding his warrants, sleeping on some dirty mattress with his finger on the trigger of a Colt Trooper revolver. On days like this, I’d take the son out to keep him away from the situation. His mother was barely any better.

I used to fancy myself a bit of a volunteer social worker, I used the phrase noblesse oblige without irony, I thought that the only way I could redeem myself from the sin of attending an expensive school and having a father who was an executive somewhere was by doing my own brand of outreach to the poor. Not fake poor, like I was — I might have had ten dollars to my name but at any time I could call home for help if I needed it. Real poor, dependent on the SSI checks and the random dope deal for grocery money.

Jake walked behind me, carrying a Browning Buck Mark pistol, caliber .22 Long Rifle, six-inch blued barrel, ten-shot magazine, also belonging to me, tucked into his belt and with the chamber empty. When we had walked far enough into the woods that we couldn’t see the surrounding landscape, we set a few random items on a fallen log and plinked at them from twenty yards or so away, perforating the can of Coke I’d carried in with me and shattering a cloudy old beer bottle we’d found earlier. I reloaded the Marlin with Remington Thunderbolts and idly glassed the trees beyond our makeshift targets. I saw a plump sparrow on a head-height branch, maybe fifty yards away.

“Man,” I said to Jake, “that is one well-prepared bird, he’ll make it through the winter no problem. Can you see it?” He squinted, then nodded. In my scope, the bird was a thick blob at the crosshairs. I could see its head flicking from one side to another.

Then, quick as thought, it spread its wings and left the branch. “Check this out,” I mumbled to Jake. I drew across the sparrow’s flight path and fired the Marlin with just the right touch, the first pad of the finger on an isolated hinge as I swung the smooth arc.

Just for fun; I’d been shooting a lot of clays on the weekends when I went home. It never occurred to me that I’d hit it. Not a flying bird at fifty yards with a Marlin .22. But it dropped from the air and I did not hear it land.

“Fuck,” Jake breathed, “you shot it out of the fuckin’ sky.”

“Stay here,” I instructed him, as if we’d wounded a Cape buffalo, and I jogged towards the area where I thought it had fallen. I’d searched the leaves for a minute or two when I heard a faint peep and I looked up to see the sparrow lying on its side between two roots of a broad tree.

It was breathing rapidly and I saw no blood. For a moment I thought that I had stunned it somehow, but then it shuddered brokenly and its beak fell open. Yet it continued to breathe, the plump breast rising and falling with a desperate speed.

I looked up to see that Jake was still safely where I’d left him. I aimed the Marlin at the small bird but turned my head as I pulled the trigger. A moment after I did so, there was that peep again. This time, I saw dark blood on the sparrow’s chest and the breathing was slower.

“Cover your ears,” I yelled to Jake, who did as I requested. I leaned the Marlin against the tree and I drew the GLOCK. This time I did not look away. I lined up the ball-in-the-box factory sights on the the spot where the blood was trickling out, pulled the first stage of the trigger through, closed my eyes, fired the weapon.

(The Federal Hydra-Shok 230-grain Jacketed Hollow Point round in .45 caliber was recommended by Marshal and Sanow in their 1992 book Handgun Stopping Power: The Definitive Study. Although the statistical approach used by the authors has been largely discredited since then, at the time no competing .45 caliber round could match the Hydra-Shok’s impressive eighty-nine percent record of “one-shot stops”. The Hydra-Shok is noted for its unique center-post design in which a lead nipple of sorts located in the hollow point is intended to disperse high-speed fluid loads, such as what you might encounter when shooting a man or a sparrow or better yet a nice thick slab of ballistic testing gelatin, in such a fashion as to expand the hollow point faster. I do not know if this works. In my office I have three expended Hydra-Shok rounds that I fired into wet newspaper some time in 1995. They all appear to have functioned as designed. In my mid-twenties I came to prefer the Speer “flying ashtray” 200-grain wide-mouth bullet, as loaded by Cor-Bon in their “+P+” round. It shot flatter and achieved a velocity of close to 1000fps compared to the trundling 830fps of the Hydra-Shok. Decidedly supersonic from the muzzle, the Cor-Bon flying-ashtray load was superior in antipersonnel situations, or so I’m told by people who tell people about these things.)

Dirt and perhaps something else splattered my shoes. Where the bird had been there was a six-inch deep hole. I holstered the pistol and retrieved the Marlin and walked back to Jake.

“Dude, it really took three shots to kill it?” I felt a steel shutter drop over my mind at that moment, I felt temporarily laconic, transformed into a man of few words by the act of murder. For this was what it surely was. I’d shot the bird out of the sky to show that I could shoot a bird out of the sky. I thought of Matthew 10:29:

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.

Seventeen years later, I would sit by the sterile plastic box into which they had placed my son and I would pray, and when I thought of my sins, I thought not of the men I’d harmed or the women I’d betrayed, but of that bird. Not a sparrow falls. And my son lay there in the box, breathing rapidly, like the sparrow. Not a sparrow falls, Lord, without you. So let this child live, my sins are not his. Not a sparrow falls. But I remembered that He had permitted the bullet to fly and the bird to fall, nonetheless.

“It did. It took three shots. Hell of a bird, right?” And we walked out, as the evening fell, and the woods were silent behind us.

 

This story originally appeared at jackbaruth.com and is reprinted here with permission.

comments

  1. avatar Matt in FL says:

    That was crazy good writing. I got chills.

    Y’all should click on the link at the bottom and go to his site. Scroll down to the comments, and read the long comments left by “Domestic Hearse” and “Tre Deuce.” You will not be sorry for the time.

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      Good call on the comments.

      Great writing.

  2. avatar Glimmer says:

    A very moving story. Beautiful.

    1. avatar Tommy Hobbes says:

      Sweet, poignant story that touches any person, perhaps especially hunters. He hits the respondent chord of anyone who has humanity and a soul. Am pro lawful hunting and of course pro Second, but lament a needless kill I made on a Colorado jack rabbit years ago. Since then, if I won’t eat it, I won’t shoot it, varmints excepted. Some of the most exciting and fastest shooting I’ve done was on garbage dump rats, at night, turning off car headlights and then suddenly turning on again. We’d have at them with shotguns, being aware of safety always. I’d never shed a tear on rats. No such thing as a trophy rat. Or maybe there is? The story of the dead sparrow gets one to think. How sad that author connects the loss of his child to the sparrow story. What I get from this memoir is the constant fragility of life . Thank you for this memoir.

  3. avatar lolinski says:

    I know how you feel. The big things don’t bother me that much but the small things I lose sometimes sleep over.

  4. avatar Paul W says:

    Damn that was good writing.

  5. avatar Aharon says:

    Hey, wow that was a really deep piece for TAG. I’ve thought about picking up a Marlin Model 60 (hopefully the Freedom Group’s influence hasn’t messed it up) and refinishing the wood finish.

  6. avatar Joe says:

    That’s why my rule of thumb is “Don’t shoot it unless you’re going to eat it”. Even then, my ideal shot is a bang-flop. No scurrying. No extended death flapping. I don’t believe in such a thing as sport hunting.

  7. avatar tdiinva says:

    I shoot inanimate objects unless it is for population control. Some of things I am willing to kill I will eat. One thing I have never done or hope I never will is to kill something for no purpose at all.

  8. avatar John Fritz says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jack. I wish you’d contribute here more often.

  9. avatar B says:

    This was really good. Reminded me when I was a kid and got a pellet gun. Crossman powermaster, or something to that effect. Shot all kinds of stuff around the house in the woods, trees and junk. I was looking around and saw a blue jay on a telephone wire across the road. I took aim and dropped it with one shot. I walked up to it and realized what I’d done. I felt awful that I had killed this tiny little animal for no reason at all.

    1. avatar General Zod says:

      When I was a kid my mother had a standing bounty on woodpeckers (they kept pecking at the eaves of the house and doing a LOT of damage) and scrub jays (they chased off “her” songbirds and apparently attacked other birds’ nests). But if I shot any other birds there would be hell to pay…

      I used a Daisy PowerLine break-barrel pellet rifle with a 4x scope to pretty good effect. The cats didn’t complain about the occasional free buffet, anyway.

    2. avatar Hannibal says:

      Same story here, except with a squirrel and a pellet rifle old enough there’s no brand name on it. Course, now I shoot them regularly to keep them from chewing holes through the heating vents and nesting, but at least I have a reason.

      1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        Actually, squirrel tastes pretty good. Slow spit roasted over coals. Drizzle some honey/butter/garlic on it as it’s cooking.
        Just my opinion.

  10. avatar Taylor Tx says:

    Good story, I get that some feeling every year when going bird hunting, theres always some unfortunate bird who seems “stunned” (probably has a small hole in the wing somewhere making flying tough) and is fairly coherent. Gotta thank the Spirit of the Dove and move on. But yea, much easier to pull the head off than unholster your side arm 😀

  11. avatar Chris75 says:

    The last animal I killed for sport was also a bird. I was 15 and I shot a male cardinal with an RWS pellet gun just to prove I could. I had shot a lot of birds for fun but this one bothered me. One shot to the head from about 10 yards. It was cold and I remember the blood steaming from the half of his head that was left. I felt sick. Never again. Glad to see I’m not the only one who felt like this.

  12. avatar Colby says:

    I am an avid hunter and have managed livestock and land my whole life. But a similar adolescent experience brought me to the point where, before I take any animal, I must always ask myself whether there is a beneficial purpose to it, such as harvest, management, mercy, populations control, support of the local economy etc., (there can be many legitimate reasons so we are all ultimately accountable only to God and our conscience). If there is no legitimately beneficial purpose behind the act, I personally feel that I have no right to wantonly end something lovingly and beautifully made by the same Creator who made me.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. avatar Karl says:

      I’m with you, Colby. We just don’t have the right to needlessly take a life. I am a long time hunter, but was taught from a very early age that we are to honor the animal that we take, and like you said, it must be for a beneficial purpose. Like some others on here I violated that once when I was a young boy with my first 22. Killed a songbird for no reason. It’s been more than a half century, and it still bothers me. That’s why it bothers me to no end when hunters hunt for nothing more than a trophy, or to say they’ve killed this or that animal. I’ve taught my boys to be ethical hunters, and will soon be teaching my grandsons the same.

      1. avatar Swarf says:

        Man, it warms my heart to see these kind of comments here on TTAG.

      2. avatar Colby says:

        Yes sir. I know that you do not mean to imply that all trophy hunting is bad but I’ll simply add, for he sake of completeness of my thoughts rather than disagreement or distinction, that the managed harvesting of trophy animals represents a financial resource to many local landowners and governments. The premiums paid by hunters to harvest trophy animals often afford farmers and ranchers the secondary income necessary to profitably continue cultivating crops and livestock, and many species that were poorly managed or near extinction, such as the African elephant, have also been beneficially stewarded and brought back from the brink of extinction through the funds derived from trophy fees. Accordingly, even trophy hunting may serve a genuinely beneficial purpose.

        1. avatar Colby says:

          Certainly I agree that I would feel unjustified in harvesting a trophy animal without considering whether doing so derived any real benefit, and no detriment, to the landowner, species, economy, etc.

        2. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

          Glad I’m not weird. I’m also a lifelong hunter yet only hunt what I’ll eat or provide for others to eat.
          I think my last stupidity kill was when I was 15.

        3. avatar Lolinski says:

          I only kill for a good reason, “sport” isn’t one of them because if I paid a high sum to shoot an elephant you bet I would use what I could and give the rest to some nearby village.

          But I see the usefullness of it.

    2. avatar Greg in Allston says:

      I share your sentiments Colby. Taking a life, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant, for no good reason, is a sin, at least it is to me anyway.

      Good writing indeed. I found the story evocative and a little disturbing, probably part of the point.

      Being an engineer, I have to point out that that where the story said of a particular round; “Decidedly supersonic at the muzzle.”, isn’t true. The speed of sound in air at STP (standard temperature and pressure) is approximately 1126 fps.

      1. avatar Carl says:

        Quote: “Being an engineer, I have to point out that that where the story said of a particular round; “Decidedly supersonic at the muzzle.”, isn’t true. The speed of sound in air at STP (standard temperature and pressure) is approximately 1126 fps.”

        As a fellow Engineer, I feel obligated to point out that standard temperature and pressure conditions do not exist around a bullet exiting the muzzle of a gun. Additionally, a bullet need not exceed the speed of sound for a “sonic boom” to occur. That is what suppressors are designed to suppress.

  13. avatar Anmut says:

    Interesting story about trespassing with a firearm and killing songbirds. All sorts of felonious activity being admitted to there. I may have missed the point though – how does this relate to firearms and our rights to bear them?

    1. avatar Swarf says:

      If you don’t know than you probably won’t.

    2. avatar Matt in FL says:

      You’re right, you missed the point.

    3. avatar jwm says:

      Right over your head.

    4. avatar Jonathan -- Houston says:

      Consider it an allegory, like symbolism, a story that represents something spiritual or otherwise abstract, but in familiar, realistic terms. Everyone here has gone traipsing through the woods and trespassing on someone’s land as a kid, right? It’s a relatable scenario for conveying a deeper meaning about one’s place in the world.

      Have you ever read Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”? {Spoiler alert for a 1929 novel}

      Toward the end, after the one woman the lead character had ever cared for in his life dies while giving birth to his stillborn child, he struggles to understand how this could happen and what purpose any of it could possibly serve. This against the backdrop of WWI, by the way. He then recalls a time in the past when he’d tossed a log on a campfire, a log full of ants, and how the ants swarmed over the log fleeing wherever and anywhere for their lives, before ultimately falling off into the fire and most of them dying. He recalls how for the ants it was the end of the world and how he could easily have been their messiah by removing the log from the fire and setting it aside. He couldn’t be bothered, though, and just had another cup of whiskey as they died.

      The writer of this article is revealing how he alternated between callously taking life, as though a god at the height of his divine power, and fearing for his own life, as though a hapless ant at the mercy of emotionless monsters. That’s precisely the fine line we walk as firearms owners, trying to be something other than either of those.

      1. avatar Mrbadnews says:

        You, sir, are the type to find a smile on a dog. Over analyze, read things where nothing was written, etc,… Brother, Nazarath is a town PA and Crazy Chester was just the town drunk.

        If this a work of fiction, then it doesn’t belong here. Period. This is a blog about guns, gun news, and gun rights. If Jack Baruth is trying to get his novel of the ground, then he needs another venue. If this is fiction, then its here because Baruth is a friend of management. This doesn’t belong here. I don’t want to have to wonder if I’m getting fiction on this site.

        If this is dramatization of fact, then that’s a bigger problem. If fact, this is a nonchalant telling of self endangerment, practical foolishness, and disdain for law, property, and borders. This isn’t a kid with a rimfire roaming the country side slaying squirrels and sparrows, learning the value of life both great and small through an ounce of blood. This is a douche bag adult hunting land that he has no right to hunt. Whether the intent was plinking or not, the case would be hard to argue. He claims “varmint” hunting and bird murder. That’s hunting. Poaching in this case. Those ” two guys out poaching deer off their own property” may have been legal land owners wondering what the fuck was up only a few hundred yards from their home (trailer house or not). Baruth assumes these guys are idiots and have no ability to out shoot him. He’s already making plans to kill both if either make a move. Those men may have been a crack shots with those bolt actions. He may have not have ever had a chance to shoulder his MSR. Baruth bitches and cries over a sparrow, but his previous experience of nearly getting killed by men who he guesses are too stupid to share his taste in literature and music don’t turn his life around? That’s a little messed up.

        I do love how Baruth assumes the guys who got the jump on him were stupid, uneducated, hillbilly rapist. I mean,.. hillbilly rapist was the one of the reasons he carried the Glock. I take a small offense at that. I’m a southerner with a few degrees. Design and Fine Art, and Business. My slow southern drawl makes me sound more like a less nasal Gomer Pyle than Andy Taylor. My accent gets me mistaken for stupid on occasion, more often when I’m traveling. No big deal. But don’t make those assumptions. I’ll give you two quotes from a brilliant uneducated southerner, my grandfather. “Don’t let the shoes fool, ya”. and had Baruth been traipsing across his land with rifle in hand, as I’ve heard the old man say, “… his biggest concern woulda been how good the undertaker wipes his ass in the morning…”

        You guys can take this a great prose from a gun guy, but I’ve read enough Shakespeare to know that a villain is a villain and a fool is a fool.

        Oh, yea.. and jazz fuckin’ sucks.

        1. avatar Stephen Lamade says:

          I was also ambivalent about the story. The author makes some fundamental mistakes – from shooting cans on someone else’s property, to putting himself in a position of being the hero of his own fantasy by taking on, “if he had to,” two guys who, in his telling, were somewhat sinister but in the real world were probably husbands and fathers, irrespective of their socioeconomic status. I’m sorry that they scared him shitless – but who’s fault was that? Pointing your gun in the direction of something you have no intention of shooting is the ultimate no-no. Yes – the story is evocative of some valuable insights and musings but I think that it is also a list of “what not to do” actions for responsible gun owners.

  14. avatar Pete says:

    Wow. Great story, thanks for sharing.

    I think the only things I’ve wantonly killed were bugs. Still feel bad about it, though. 🙁

    I accidentally killed a frog in a gruesome manner once. Still feel bad about that one and it wasn’t even on purpose.

    1. avatar Rambeast says:

      Robert Farago founded The Truth About Guns in February of 2010 to explore the [ethics, morality], business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

      Was meant as a reply to Anmut. :/

  15. avatar Swobard says:

    Well written. Thanks for including this in TTAG.

  16. avatar RickP says:

    Wow, I’m getting all weepy-eyed from the comments……..not. These sure are in contrast to the braggadocio and bad-assary that usually appears here.

    1. avatar Rambeast says:

      The most important lesson a gun owner can be taught is ethics. Knowing when it is and is not time to use your firearm. As a hunter, you learn that killing for the “fun” of it is wrong. You may enjoy harvesting meat, but when you kill just for the act of killing, then you’re heading down a dark path. Learning the value of life is a lesson that is missing in many people’s lives these days. If you ever wonder how someone could make a game of entering a school, terminal, military installation, movie theater, etc and kill as many people as they can, then look no further than the moral of this story.

  17. avatar Scott says:

    Excellent piece! I’ll take more of this anytime.

  18. avatar detroiter says:

    Man. Good writing. I wasn’t sure where that was going. Every deer I’ve killed I felt almost guilty for killing. It is a primal feeling to kill something that you intend to eat. Knowing I’m putting food on the table for my family justifies it in my mind as ‘the natural way of things’ but every time it is a feeling of gratitude to the animal and to god. It is a very powerful and humbling feeling. One that keeps me hunting and makes the motto ‘only kill things you intend to eat’ true in my heart.

    That writing was fairly dark. It was creepy hearing the calculated recollection of the reading but ultimately I guess sums up the cerebral aspect of our hobby, Albright in a very dark light…

  19. avatar KCK says:

    Here in Wisconsin this winter we have had a series of snowfalls to where now the sidewalk in front of the house is the floor of a mini valley with steep snow walls. The side mounds are only a couple of feet high but as I was clearing the latest dusting off the walk, I came upon a bird, looked like a chickadee tight against the snow wall. It is well into winter so it was not a chick or a fledge. It moved a little and I knew it was it deep trouble. I put the blade of my shovel to its neck and it fluttered out from under the edge to the other side of the walk. I stopped and did the calculation of the million birds that are in trouble on a cold December day. When I was done clearing the rest of the walk, I walked past him once more, paused, and I let myself not be the decider of his fate that day.

    As with the wonderful story above, I could not help relating to this point, sometimes the principle and purpose of our decisions can be more important than their size.

  20. avatar Wes says:

    Beautiful writing. I certainly can’t write that well.
    I simultaneously have a pity for his misfortunes but also a revulsion of his psyche. Seriously, who the hell trespasses on someones land with an AR15 and then makes judgment about the landowner that confronts him. He assumes they are poaching while thinking in his head how he would kill them? Disturbing. I think trespassing on someone’s property with a weapon is inviting confrontation. Trespassing with a Glock 21 to “end arguments”? This guy writes like a very gifted weirdo.

    1. avatar Lolinski says:

      How could he have known those are the landowners? They might as well have been trespassing.

      Thinking how to kill someone isn’t unreasonable in a situation like that. They could have been thinking the same.

      Lastly, what difference is trespassing with an AR-15 and trespassing with a rifle.

      1. avatar lollerskates says:

        Really? They knew that he didn’t belong there. He knew he was a tresspasser. There is no difference if it was an AR or Muzzleloader. One would have to assume that op was in the wrong.

    2. avatar Jonathan -- Houston says:

      Maybe not too far off. Consider his comment of having recognized in later years the “flat affect” of these two men he’d stumbled upon back then. Flat affect is a psychiatric term, one of several “affects” (blunted, restricted, labile and inappropriate, are some others) used to describe the degree or direction of someone’s emotional response relative to the emotional response one would consider normal for the particular stimulus.

      Flat affect might be the worst; reflecting a near or total lack of response where you would normally expect one, either positive or negative, if I recall my Psych 101 correctly. It’s what you might call stone faced or dead eyes, I suppose, and what you’d expect of someone who’s far too detached from normal emotions, for whatever reasons. You see it in the severely depressed, schizophrenics, and true psychopaths.

      I don’t know whether he meant that it takes one to know one, or that, as he wrote, only his subsequent experiences and observations allowed him to recast that prior encounter in the proper terms. Could be a little of both, right? After all, we all go a little crazy sometimes, as they say.

      1. avatar Matt in FL says:

        I’m pretty sure he meant it as “based on later experiences.” Later in life he encountered “known bad” folks, and they exhibited that same flat affect, and it basically told him what he didn’t know way back when, and he counted himself lucky.

      2. avatar Jonathan -- Houston says:

        Perhaps, if taken literally. But just as if the truth is not acceptable, we regard it as the imagination of others, so can we take what see in ourselves and assign it to others. “Projection” I think it’s called; another Psych 101 term. Remember, we’re talking about someone who’s written down his experiences because he’s troubled by them; an ongoing troubling that beckons future writing, I might add. Whose first stab at confession ever gets it whole in one go? Naturally, a little poetic license to ease the effort is to be expected.

        This is someone writing about his transformation. We like to think of such transformations as steady evolutions, as monochrome and monomial progressions toward improvement, or at least toward redemption; but how do we know? Why couldn’t it be kaleidoscopic and circuitous? Not to put too fine a point on it, but why couldn’t one of the casually violent people he writes of having met later in life have been himself? After all, we’re talking about a confessed killer here.

        1. avatar Matt in FL says:

          Did he confess to killing something other than that sparrow? I don’t really understand your train of thought.

        2. avatar Jonathan -- Houston says:

          Sure he did. The story starts out announcing that this was the last time he killed an animal for sport, on a whim, for pleasure. That presupposes there had been other times. Beyond that, he mentions that he would hunt varmints as an alternative to the campus social life; suggesting an ongoing activity. Moreover, he reinforces that idea with his further mention of fall and winter days being the best, the cleanest, for this activity; indicating that this was a long time, regular pastime spanning months and seasons. That would encompass killing quite a few things beyond just that last, lone sparrow, wouldn’t it?

          Matt, did you read the article or just skim it? Or are you doing that Devil’s Advocate thing, again?

        3. avatar Matt in FL says:

          No, my brain is just fried, and I didn’t pick up your train of thought. I got it now.

        4. avatar B says:

          I’m starting to wonder who’s projecting here.

    3. avatar ropingdown says:

      Call be odd. Somebody’s got to say it: If I found a guy wandering onto my forest or fields with rifle and pistol, plinking, shooting a bird, I’d file a report. If I knew it was a guy so smug he thought that having listened to Wynton Marsalis meant he didn’t have to determine the boundaries of my property, I’d file a criminal complaint. It was his imagining that the men were probably “poaching deer out of season,” a self-affirming non-fact. I have difficulty with the sympathy-for-a-bird bit, though paper targets or clays are preferable for practice. It isn’t unusual, in a lifetime as a hunter, to have to deliver a close-range finishing shot, at least on larger more dangerous game. Getting weepy about it seems overdone: It wasn’t Bambi staring back doe-eyed.

      And what does any of that have to do with his son in the (?) incubator? Nothing.

      1. avatar Matt in FL says:

        “If I found a guy wandering onto my forest or fields with rifle and pistol, plinking, shooting a bird, I’d file a report.”

        20+ years ago? And keep in mind that they didn’t know about the bird, nor about the Wynton Marsalis. That second part was an internal point of reference for the author, obviously.

      2. avatar Ing says:

        Here’s the connection in a nutshell: The author’s son in the incubator was as helpless and innocent as that sparrow he killed so many years before.

        The bird wasn’t big game or any kind of game at all — just a tiny harmless creature going about its own business. It had no chance once he decided to kill it, but it clung to life as long as it could. The scary encounter with the guys in the woods lends tension and serves as a comparison. As far as the author can guess, they wouldn’t have given any more thought to killing him than he had given to his first shot at the sparrow — yet for some unknown reason they chose not to.

        If God watches over everything, and not even a single sparrow can fall without his being present in that moment, what is God thinking about the man who killed the sparrow for no reason at all?

  21. avatar Noishkel says:

    Yeah… I’ve got one of those too. Well… save that mine is a Glenfield and a stuck a knock off Trijicon on it. 😛

  22. avatar John says:

    when i was a kid, my dad had a rusty old red ryder in the garage. he never taught me to shoot it. “just dont touch it” was the rule. my dad isnt a gun guy, and i never saw him shoot the bb gun. i dont even know why he had it.

    i used to shoot coke cans in the garage when my parents werent home all the time. our garage had open rafters where my family stored boxes of Christmas decorations and miscellaneous junk. one time while i was plinking, there was a bird in the rafters. i held the bb gun at the hip and shot in the birds direction with a mind to scare it. to my shock, it dropped into an empty coffee can on the floor. i stood there with my mouth open for what felt like an hour, but was probably only a second. the thing i remember most about that moment is either the weird way the report of the little spring gun stayed in my ears, or the immense gravity i felt in my gut of somehow knowing that i had just committed an act of inexcusable evil, accidental or not.

    it was a clean coffee can, silver on the bottom. i peered over the rim, and the bird twitched and seemed like it was struggling to breathe, but didnt move otherwise. no flapping or screeching. red began to pool beneath it. here was an animal suffering, and i had done it. it was intolerable. i steeled myself, and shot it in the face, and it stopped moving. ive rarley known a quiet stillness like that since. i placed the animal in the garbage can with all the solemnity that task sounds like it can garner, rinsed out the coffee can with the garden hose, and put the repeater back in its place.

    i still think about that once in a while, and the only word im ever able to come up with to describe the feeling i get is ‘heavy’. i guess its a little embarassing how big a deal it was and is to me.

  23. avatar jwm says:

    It’s a hell of a roller coaster, ain’t it? As a young man I hunted every chance I got. And fished. No trophies, we ate our take. Then I went in the service and the whole outlook changed. It’s one thing to lay the bead of a shotgun on a bunny. A whole other thing to put the peeps of an m16 on a man. I quit hunting after that. For a while I quit guns.

    But I took up guns again. I have too many people I love and care about to be a pacifist. Turning the other cheek doesn’t work with those flat effect people. Ask the petit family.

    Now my adult son is pulling me back into hunting. I thought I was done with it. But listening to his talk and eating the pheasant he bagged has brought back something I thought was gone. To be sure, I have mixed feelings about this. But the warm fuzzies outweigh the moments of dread.

    My biggest regret in all this was a dog that I killed. It was self defense, he was the most aggressive member of a pack. But I did it and as a lover of dogs it has stayed with me.

  24. avatar ensitue says:

    When I compare this effort to the screed written by the patronizing gun store owner who was bent on lecturing us about how “Stupid” we were and enlightening us with such mind blowing observations that Christmas was the time when he made most of his money while lamenting the dearth of Hybristophiliacs I must say that, though I did not actually read the article in question, I’m sure it is a superior effort all way round!

  25. avatar Out_Fang_Thief says:

    I see a few here must have missed reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” in school. I had no need to, as my parents were birders(not bird watchers) and was told not to shoot any birds with my new Daisy, lever-action BB gun. Something to the effect that it (the BB gun) would be broken over my head if any such inconsonant behavior by me had been witnessed or reported. Back then, your neighbors would drop a dime on you and call your mom if they saw you making an unpardonable nuisance of yourself. Geez! Even Mob informants weren’t this chatty.

  26. avatar Renegade Dave says:

    This is a great piece, I really enjoyed reading it.

  27. avatar LJM says:

    Since now one else brought it up… “Know your target and what’s behind it”

    And regardless of the meaning of the story, I’ll call bs on the .22 shot at 50 yards on a flying sparrow.

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