During the Fall of 1949 Lever Brothers was promoting their new 1950 Rinso with Solium on the Amos and Andy radio show, and my father took me out of grade school for the first day of hunting season. He had purchased a 410-gauge shotgun for me, and thought that introducing me to the sport of hunting would be more enlightening than a day in the 5th grade. How right he was. It was also the only day of school I missed during the first 12 years of my formal education.
When my father was in grade school he attended a one-room schoolhouse with grades one through twelve. He was the only surviving child of a poor tenant farm family where hunting and trapping had no "seasons" and were relied on as supplementary sources for food. When he was twelve his father died and the art of hunting and trapping took on even greater significance. Hunting was not considered a sport unless you didnt have to do it.
I remember a pre-dawn wake-up by my father, who was always able to get up before I did. An early snowstorm had covered our rural Ohio countryside with a fresh 2" blanket of cold powdery snow and left the temperature unseasonably cold. My father, with his 16-gauge shotgun, and I with my new 410, set out at sunrise in search of rabbits. Cheetah, our black Labrador retriever, accompanied us and spent most of the time running ahead to warn the rabbits that we were coming. My father was finally able to shoot one to 'show me how its done.' I missed several after that.
Wed been out three or four hours when I spotted a rabbit nestled in a clump of tall grass -- probably trying to keep warm. My father held Cheetah while I stealthily approached the rabbit with my gun raised -- expecting the rabbit to jump and run at any moment. It didnt. I got within five feet of it and had it squarely in my sights. It was huddled there looking at me, and I began wondering why it wasnt fleeing for its life. Was it sick or injured? Could it be someones pet?
Suddenly I was aware of my concerns for this rabbit that I intended to kill, and the contradiction gave rise to introspection and an objective look at the situation. I saw myself as a potential killer of innocent beings, and I started wondering why hunting was called a "sport." We had raised rabbits when I was younger, and I couldnt recall my father shooting any of them, so why were we out here shooting them now? I lowered my gun and we went home. Im not sure if I was a disappointment to my father -- he never said. Today my gun, along with my father's 16-gauge shotgun, remains unused in my closet. I dont think much about it unless I am asked -- at least not until recently.
I am a teacher, but I spend my summers living and working on a ranch in the mountains of Colorado where the concept of hunting is as fundamental as mom and apple pie. I dont know any male there who is not a hunter. Recently one of my better hunter friends and his wife invited me to lunch. While sitting in their living room eating my first elk steak, I noticed a large bull elk head mounted on the wall in front of me. It appeared to be looking at me. My friend saw me observing the elk head and said that the meat I was eating was from that elk. Now it doesnt bother me to lance a boil on a horse and then go eat a hearty lunch, but eating that elk while it was looking at me was cause for hesitation.
On the wall next to the elk head was a framed color picture of my friend and his wife smiling proudly while holding that freshly killed, and somewhat bloody, elk by the antlers. Scattered around their living room were photos, statues, and figurines of elk. A bear skin rug adorned their hard wood floor in front of a coffee table, and a coyote skin with head attached was on another wall. There were books on elk, bear, and other wild life of the region. They clearly had an interest in wildlife that went beyond mine, so I politely asked: "If you like animals so much, why do you kill them?"
"Oh no!" my friend Darrell replied, "Are you a bunny hugger?"
Until then I had never heard the term "bunny hugger," but I thought back to that cold snowy fall day many years ago, and I said; "Yes -- I guess I am." I'm sure he meant it as a derogatory remark, but I liked the sound of it better than I liked "bunny killer." He never did answer my question, so I still dont know what his answer would have been, although I suspect it would have had something to do with hunting being a "sport."
The definition of "sport" most applicable to "hunting" in my dictionary is definition #2; "diversion; recreation," so perhaps it is a sport. But it does make me uncomfortable about the future of our world when so many people think killing animals is recreation. I have always thought that it would be more sporting if the animals being hunted had their own guns and could shoot back, but that would be war. I guess that if one side is defenseless it becomes a sport instead of a war.
I am not an animal rights activist. I have never protested or campaigned in any way for or against hunting -- until now. Being called a "bunny hugger" really got me thinking. And the more I think about it, the more I like it. There are very few animals I wouldnt hug if I had the chance, but not a single hunter falls into that category.