don’t shoot

November 6th, 2017

I vow to refrain from killing. — Buddhist precept

At some point in his early adulthood my father became a hunter.

I think he was trying to earn his tribal stripes, feeling adrift and afraid. Maybe he was keen for those nights away from home, sleeping on the ground, eating beans and drinking beer. In the end it seemed like one more of a broken string of hobbies, which always began with a bang and then fizzled out under layers of dust and clutter on his workbench.

The whole gambit was peripheral to my attention until I was about seven or eight and came upon a deer carcass bleeding out in the garage. What followed was a big to-do about the flesh, which was butchered into steaks, sausage and stew meat to overfill a freezer. But venison was too tough and gamey to fool us girls even under heaps of ketchup. We refused it. Perhaps he was trying to fulfill that primal need to protect and provide, being by his own unstable nature a reliable threat, at least to his family, and an unreliable provider.

Over the years we had to face down other plates of prey, like squirrel and rabbit and certain small birds. We never delivered the awe or appreciation that my father might have wanted in reward. Mom served us spaghetti on the side, Jello pudding for dessert.

He fancied bow hunting for a while. He took it on a trip and came home with a ram’s head that he mounted over the fireplace. We called it Uncle Harry, trivializing the awful shock of seeing a bighorn sheep opposite the TV in the living room.

We survived these episodes without being acculturated into guns. And by “we” I mean all of us, including my dad. He eventually decided that shooting overpopulated deer was so lopsided a bargain that it was no longer sport. He quit the NRA over its support of assault weapons, saying they were only designed to hunt people. One day, grown up and on a rare visit home, I asked him what had happened to his rifle and bow, to his trophies and his hunting trips. While I was gone they seemed to have disappeared. Instead, he’d taken up vegetable gardening until the entire backyard was subsumed in rows of beans, tomatoes, melons, cucumbers and if memory serves, a valiant stab at corn.

I got tired of killing, he said.

That’s when I thought I might be able to love and even respect him one day. Turns out I do, Dad. I really do.


  1. Hope for the planet, one enlightened human at a time. Thank you. I never knew my father to be a hunter, other than the occasional mole from the vantage point of the deck, the only times I saw his shotgun. I was stunned to read his letters from the war and learn he loved the sport, at least for pheasants in his native Michigan. Perhaps he gave it up for my mother; maybe he just lost interest when the boy became a man. I’ll never know.

    Comment by Gretchen Staebler — November 6, 2017 @ 9:32 pm

  2. I would love to read thousands and thousands of stories just like this one. A light in so much darkness. Thank you for sharing this. I echo the voices that say no one needs to own an AR15. We see, over and over, how your father was right. It is all so alarming.

    Comment by Bonnie Rae — November 7, 2017 @ 5:12 am

  3. Tall order “to refrain from killing.”
    Easy to think that without a gun, this post does not apply to me.


    Our words,
    actions, and
    non-action all contribute to the death of others whether physically, emotionally, financially or spiritually.

    It seems overwhelming.

    Comment by MJ — November 9, 2017 @ 3:17 pm

  4. Yes I agree with MJ. Every time we don’t react from openheartedness a little bit of us dies as well as a little bit of the person or thing we cut off from us.

    Comment by Sim — November 14, 2017 @ 5:59 am

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