Little did I know that my first hunting trip would change me forever.
At the beginning of hunting season, my friends brought their trophies
to school: chipmunk and squirrel tails, and rabbit feet. A sense
of pride was strong as we huddled in small groups in the schools
parking lot during our recess. A dismembered squirrel tail isnt
a pretty sight, but I was awed by the bushy gray fur that was soft
to the touch. I had to have one for my own, I thought. I too could
show off to my friends in a huddle behind the school.
I begged my parents everyday to use my fathers small 22 rifle
but, as mothers are always protective of their young, the answer
was no. After repeated requests, my father finally decided
to let me use his rifle. My mother still objected because of the
danger of hunting. My fathers decision enlivened me, and I
prepared myself, on my own, for the hunting weekend.
I slept very lightly the night before, and the sun seemed to rise
early that morning. I dressed and placed my newly acquired hunting
cap proudly on my head.
I ate breakfast quickly, and waited impatiently for my father to
retrieve his rifle from his closet. He brought it to me still in
its case, and he laid it down on the kitchen table. He unsnapped
the hinges, which seemed to take a lifetime. Lifting the case, I
saw the rifle. It was made of hardwood which had a glossy finish
to it. A scope was aligned on the top of the barrel. The ammo clip
which was separate from the gun was beside it. I snatched it, and
proceeded to load the chamber greedily with bullets. As I placed
the clip in my pocket, I lifted the gun which was heavier than it
looked. I slung its harness over me. The gun pressed against my back
as I bolted for the door. My father, behind me, yelled out loudly! Whatever
you kill must be eaten. I had already reached the boundaries
of our backyard, which led to the forest, when my fathers command
sank in. I always wondered if this law applied for my friends, obviously
not the ones with chipmunk tails.
The forest which surrounded our house loomed above me. I entered
the forest in a flash and loaded the ammo clip into the rifle. The
air was cold but I didnt feel it. I walked the beaten trail
which led to my destination, a small trek through the woods, roughly
a mile from my house, where many deer trails have intersected my
trail. Its a trail I made which led to a place I named squirrel
canyon. A miniature valley about a hundred feet across and roughly
thirty feet wide. On one side, there was a steep embankment, on the
other rose ten foot high rocky ledges. Large pine trees with many
branches in every direction grew in this valley.
In a small clearing on the highest point of the rocky ledges the
trail ended. As I stood in the clearing many sounds of birds small
and large echoed through the valley. The squirrels (my goal) chattered
among themselves in the tops of the large trees. I clambered among
the large cracked boulders to get myself in a comfortable position.
I slid the lever of the gun towards me to load the gun. I peered
into the opened chamber and examined the bullet. I pushed the lever
forward and I watched the bullet disappear into the barrel locking
it into place with a metallic clank. I then focused on the trees,
and I waited for a glimpse of the gray squirrel to pop out any moment.
After a long period of time, the largest of the gray squirrels appeared
out in the open on a limb of a pine tree.
Without thinking I raised the rifle hastily, and I peered into the
scope which brought me closer to the animal. I placed the crosshairs
of the scope directly below the head where I suspected his heart
was. As I inspected the squirrel through the scope, its gray fur
glistened in the sunlight, and its bushy tail rose above him. I noticed
that his eyes were upon me in the brief few seconds that passed.
My body shook with nervousness and my breathing became rapid, as
my finger slowly pulled the cold steel trigger. I began to sweat
profusely until the boiling inside me exploded with a loud high pitched
crack of the rifle.
The branches were momentarily shifted and a small cloud of pine
needles scattered and fell to the ground. The gray body of the animal
tumbled also. It landed in a crackling crash among the dry leaves
and pine needles of the earth. I lowered the gun while my heart still
raced from the ordeal. I jumped over the rocks down into the bottom
of the valley where the squirrel lay. As I neared the squirrel, it
was the size of a small cat. Its belly turned upward facing me. The
bullet had struck him in the chest which gave me a view of his insides.
For three seconds I watched his heart stop beating and blood ooze
up from the hole. I had witnessed his death. His lifeless eyes were
still upon me as I stood above him. The feeling of pride had disappeared
and I was overwhelmed with sorrow. His eyes burned into my soul.
I crouched down and grabbed the nearest twig from the forests
floor. I prodded the squirrel with the twig until the eyes of the
squirrel were no longer facing me.
In some way I hoped the animal was still alive, but I knew this
couldnt be. I stared at my own hands noticing the curves and
shapes of each finger. Had they been the actual final instigator
of the slaughter. I wished this had never happened, but I could not
turn back the clock and change time. Anger welled up inside me at
this thought. My innocence was corrupted. Had I become one of my
friends? There was no glory in killing this animal, only guilt. I
had no right to take the creatures life for my self -esteem.
This wouldnt make me a better person at all.
I looked upward where the trees crowded the blue sky above. I cried
out in desperation: Change this. If there really is someone
watching over me, Please, change this! But there was
no reply, only a small gush of chilling wind which dislodged the
pine needles that landed on my tear stricken face. Again and again
I pleaded, but to no avail. I looked down at the animal, and acknowledged
what I had done, and vowed never again to hunt.
JUSTIN SILLIMAN WAS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL WHEN HE WROTE THIS. IT WAS
RECENTLY SUBMITTED BY A MEMBER AND ACTIVIST MARY MILLER OF PA. MARY
WROTE,: I APPLAUD MY FRIEND, JUSTIN, FOR SPEAKING FROM HIS
HEART, AS SO MANY ARE RELUCTANT TO DO. I SHARE IT WITH YOU WITH THE
HOPE THAT YOU MAY WANT TO PUBLISH IT AS ANOTHER AID IN OUR CONTINUED
WAR AGAINST THE MENTALITY THAT PERPETUATES THE SUFFERING AND KILLING
OF ANIMALS. C.A.S.H. HOPES JUSTINS EXPERIENCE WILL SPARE
OTHER YOUNG PEOPLE AND THEIR POTENTIAL VICTIMS, A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE.
WE LAMENT THE FACT THAT JUSTIN IS STILL THE ODD CASE. C.A.S.H. FEELS
THAT BLAME MUST BE PLACED ON THE WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AGENCIES AND
THE LEGISLATURES THAT ENCOURAGE AND PERMIT 12 YEAR OLDS TO HUNT (IN
SOME STATES) SO LONG AS THEY ARE ACCOMPANIED (NOT SUPERVISED) BY
SOMEONE 21 OR OLDER. THATS RATHER HAIR RAISING. ITS MITIGATED
ONLY BY THE FACT ONE OF THEM CAN LEGALLY BE DRINKING.
THE FUND FOR ANIMALS WILL BE HAVING A CANDLELIGHT VIGIL ON AUGUST
31ST TO BRING ATTENTION TO THE BEGINNING OF SQUIRREL HUNTING SEASON..
NURSING MOTHER SQUIRRELS ARE SHOT, LEAVING THE BABIES TO DIE. PLEASE
WRITE TO : JOANNA RIX AT XXXX FOR INFORMATION OR MARION STARK IN
NYS AT THE FUND FOR ANIMALS. XXX.
A letter sent to C.A.S.H. along the same lines:
Dear C.A.S.H. I am a reformed hunter. I grew up in rural LA and
was indoctrinated early --fishing and hunting with my father from
age 7. I have a B.A. in Wildlife Management, where I was further
indoctrinated in the harvest ethic, and even worked as a hunting
My transformation began when I stopped eating red meat and began
running in order to get back in shape -- Im an ex-jock. The
renewed vigor and fitness was astounding, especially in regards to
the time it took. So I adopted a vegetarian lifestyle. Then a friend
introduced me to Animal Liberation and I was a convert. I have been
vegan for 7 years now and one definite advocate of animal rights.