Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hunters Ed

I've been schlepping up to Bothell on the north shore of Lake Washington all week to attend my first Hunters Education class. The day of the first session I called ahead to make sure the minimum 10 students had signed up and the class was a go. Toni, one of the instructors, gave a little chuckle and said yes, we were a go. Well, fifty other students of different ages, ethnicities, and gender joined me that first evening and the three evenings after that.

As has been widely reported in recent months (see this article from the New York Times) more than a few of the students were like me: would-be hunters of a certain age from the city. In fact, several of us were not legally obligated to take the class at all (the cut-off is January 1, 1972), but coming from urban environments and without family traditions of hunting, we felt it essential to absorb as much hands-on information as possible before marching off into the woods with our weapons.

A few takeaways:

There's a difference between and an accident and an incident; most deaths and injuries while hunting fall into the latter category. In other words, they're preventable.

Carelessness and ignorance account for the vast majority of hunting incidents.

The Golden Trifecta of Hunter Safety:

  • Always point your muzzle in a safe direction.
  • Keep your gun unloaded until ready to use.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot.

The first night we went over basic safety with a variety of talks and films. The second night we discussed ethics, with some wildlife identification thrown in. Night three was more hands-on. We practiced getting a rifle out of a pickup, carrying it up and down a hill, and placing it back in the truck. (Hint: When picking up a gun, after making sure the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction, always check the action to make sure it's open and not loaded.) Next, partnered up, we practiced getting in and out of a boat and crossing a fence. Good stuff. The third class concluded with a talk on first aid and outdoor survival. The fourth night we shot air rifles in the basement and took the test. I passed.

I still have a sense of vertigo about this hunting thing, like I've pitched off a ledge and am falling headlong into the unknown, but I figure a few trips to the shooting range will help. I still don't feel comfortable around guns. Maybe that's good. Maybe one should never feel too comfortable. And as for the actual hunting—or should I say killing—well, we'll just have to see, won't we?


Ra said...

Tonight! =D

Hubert Hubert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hubert Hubert said...

Dear Langdon,

I'd say that there are positive dangers to feeling 'comfortable' around guns. 'Comfortable' is what you might reasonably expect to feel after a good meal with friends and a bottle of wine; the same state of mind in the field, however, might well get you or your friend seriously hurt or killed outright. So I think it's perfectly fine to be wide awake and a little nervous around any sort of firearm.

Hunters - I'd dare to say, based on my very slight experience - are people who hunt, not people who have a certain set of feelings about the tools that come with the discipline. Gun fetishists certainly do exist, though - as certainly as does a certain sensibility (among non-hunters by and large) that takes the words 'hunter' and 'gun-fetishist' to be two terms for the same thing. There may well be hunters who are gun fetishists but there's no reason to think that to use a particular tool is to by necessity make it an object of misguided worship.

We do use the same word - 'killing' - to refer to what we do when we deprive one of our fellow humans of their life and also for what we do when we take the life of an animal for the table: we kill them. But it's a mistake, I'd say, to imagine that because we use the same word we are therefore performing acts with the same grave ethical weight. To make this mistake and equate the taking of an animal life for food with the taking of a human life does damage I'd argue mainly to the infinite respect we owe to human life. We do a serious thing when we take the life of an animal for food, it's true; but (with the exception of those thankfully rare situations where a failure to act in this terrible way may do greater harm to others) we do an evil thing when we take the life of one of our fellow humans. If we can't distinguish between 'serious' and 'evil' then, I'd say, it's our fellow humans that we stand to harm the most.

Thanks for your good writing and the best of luck to you with the hunting.


Mark said...

There is one more equally important firearm rule...
Always know your target and Beyond it.
As far as being comfortable with your firearm, you should be. It is a tool, a piece of steel, wood/synthetic that can be used for good or evil like many other tools. You should be proficiant in it's use and feel comfortable using it. Good luck
Mark B.

r. hurd said...

I had the same uncomfortable feeling around guns like you. I started four years ago under the same circumstances. Everything changes when that feeling of novelty and danger wears away, and it almost feels more like a lifestyle than an event. These posts are great.

Josh said...

Hey, it's great to be respectful of the power in guns. Nervousness will ease, and it should, but a solid respect for anything designed to take a life is always warranted.

Be around it enough that you are not nervous of it, though, because nervousness can bring its own troubles, just like hubris.

Hubert Hubert, I could not have ever said it better. Thanks.

Holly Heyser said...

If you're anything like me, you'll become more confident with guns, but always nervous about what they can do if you're not 100 percent careful, and you will learn to accept the feelings that come with killing, but will remain cognizant that it is a serious thing.

The latter was my concern when I started hunting. Would I become more callous toward animals. The answer was the exact opposite - I respect and love them more now.

Enjoy the journey, man! And be grateful you have the wisdom to savor and ponder every bit of it. Twelve-year-olds don't have the same ability.

Jenny said...

Following your journey on this one. Guns scare the life out of me, but I see hunting as a very real extension to what you do everyday. And I think the act would make me appreciate far more the food that comes out of our kitchen.

Keith said...

Comfort can be a difficult word to define, one's expectation of the level of comfort can depend on where you are and what you are using. When I am camping I do not expect the same level of comfort on my bed of sticks that I get at home, but I am comfortable.
I have been using guns since I was about 8 years of age. There are times when having a gun in my hand, or just carrying it actually gives me some comfort. But when I am using one, or loading my flintlock fusil, the comfort level is different. I am very aware of the things that can go wrong if you do not have your wits about you.
So yes, I think having a low level of comfort around the use of firearms is a good thing, it keeps you on your toes!
Le Loup.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Langdon, I hear you on the sense of vertigo. I came to hunting in my 30s after a decade as a vegetarian. As you said, you'll just have to see. Best of luck and be safe!

Langdon Cook said...

Hey all, the conversation taking place here is terrific and exactly what I hoped for. As I move forward into this new territory I look forward to gleaning your expertise and support. Next up is a trip to the shooting range. Keep those comments coming!

The Mad Fishicist said...

"Gun's always loaded."

Lo said...

This has been an interesting read for me, as I grew up around hunters. Also took a hunger's safety class as a teenager, though I never got to the point of putting my education to use.

On a Wing and a Whim said...

I was raised under four rules, being the three you mentioned and, as Mark mentioned, 4. Always know your target and what's Beyond It.

That fourth is why you never shoot a skylined (silhouetted on top of a ridge) animal: if you miss, where's your bullet going to go? If you don't know, or there's something further behind that you don't want to shoot (highway traffic, houses), don't take the shot.

These are distilled into "Always treat all guns as loaded", and "Never point the muzzle at anything you're not willing to destroy."

The vertigo isn't uncommon for "plunging into" a new activity with its own dialect, traditions, and arcana. I hope that you will become quite comfortable with the tools in time, but never lose your respect for the power they have - very like a circular saw, or a cutting torch, a gun is a tool that demands attention and respect.

I have found that hunting and killing are two very different things - and rest assured, hunting prey in its own environment is no guarantee you'll have an opportunity to make a kill. You can sweeten the odds, such as when farmers set up bait corn to draw the feral hogs to a place where they can be culled, but anything you meet when hunting is a survivor of every other predator out there so far, and they're pretty darn canny about it. Hunting has only increased my respect and admiration for the animals and environment, along with my awareness of it. Good luck!

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Well put, Wing-and-a-Whim!