Hunting never set well with me. I was never comfortable firing a gun. To me, a gun and the consequence of its use are more power than any single individual should hold. As such, I took that responsibility with reverence and reluctance. I was carrying a single barrel, single shell shotgun that would not fire unless I deliberately pulled back the hammer and squeezed the trigger. After each shot fired, I had to open the gun, remove the shell, insert a new one, close the gun, and pull back the hammer before I could get another shot off. It was perfect for me. Because I would only get one shot at any given target, I had to take extra care if and when I leveled my sight.
On those mornings when my dad and I would go hunting, we’d get up before sunrise and drive out past Guthrie or Benjamin or Seymour, Texas. Small towns with simple names, a gas station, diner, and, if you’re lucky, a Dairy Queen. Out there I learned to drink my coffee black and to over-tip breakfast waitresses. We had a lot of fun on those trips, though I doubt I would have admitted that then. We didn’t go hunting often, but it was something we did from time to time since I never played golf and didn’t hang out at home much. Like many things from those years, I never appreciated it until much later.
Pheasant hunting is different than say, dove hunting. Dove fly at a certain time, so we would simply find a place to sit, then wait. They would fly as a flock and we would shoot. With pheasant we had to flush them out. We would walk through a field with another person about 10 yards to my left and another 10 yards to my right. It was my job to shoot any pheasant that flew up from my 12 o’clock to my 9 0′clock, or thereabouts.
After spending a few hours doing this, the group we were with decided to try another field. In that part of Texas there are open fields of tall grass, vast expanses of mesquite trees, and not much else. As we passed single-file along a path through a portion of mesquite trees my arm and shotgun got caught on branch and accidentally fired.
My heart stopped. I stared at my gun which was aiming directly in front of me where Ted, one of my dad’s oldest friends, had been walking. I knew I was going to look up and he would be on the ground, riddled with buckshot. As my ears stopped ringing and I caught my breath, I heard Ted ask, as happily as ever, “Didja see something?”
Stunned, I could only muster a nod and a meek, “Yeah.”
My heart pounded. To this day, I have no idea how I missed him. We were walking so close together. I didn’t know the hammer on the gun was pulled back and ready to fire with the safety off.
Over the years, I have relived that moment over and over again and every time I shoot Ted. I get so angry with myself for being so careless then try to figure out how it happened. Often, I am Vincent Vega, shrugging the whole incident off as a freak accident. Shit happens and sometimes there is no explanation. Other times, I am Jules Winfield, seeking some higher learning or attempting to ascribe some divine meaning from what happened. As if there is some purpose or reason behind my not shooting him.
It’s been more than 15 years since that happened, and I’ve finally resolved the whys and hows. Well, I’ve resolved not to let them get in the way. Instead of giving that event some meaning for my life, I’ve realized I can give my life meaning because of that event. It was not some divine intervention sparing me for some higher purpose, but since I was spared I can give my life some higher purpose.
I don’t know that I’ve found that purpose, but as cliched as it sounds, being a parent has provided some of that purpose. Being part of her growing and seeing her learn and experience this world is an honor and a pleasure. Being a good parent and partner is something I have to work at each day, but it’s a lot of fun and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s funny, I don’t hunt anymore and couldn’t imagine doing it ever again. I feel terrible about the birds I shot, but without those hunting trips, I probably wouldn’t be vegan now.