Monday, October 3, 2011

Regretting Pulling the Trigger

Have you ever regretted killing your quarry? This past week I went squirrel hunting. If it were up to me I would skip deer and turkey season and just squirrel hunt. It is my favorite game to hunt! There are usually a lot of opportunities to shoot. If I feel like sniping I bring my rifle, if jump shooting sounds good then it is a shotgun. When I feel like a special challenge I will try to stalk close with a pistol. My heart still races every time I see one in the woods, I even get a little buck fever sometimes! I never get board of squirrel hunting.

One of my more exciting hunts happened during my last outing. I was in an area with at least four active squirrels. They had me surrounded! Two were high in an oak tree in front of me chasing each other. One was in a pine behind me eating. The shells were dropping onto the forest floor, making a racket. Another was behind a stump, less than ten feet away. This is too close for my shotgun, but a perfect challenge with my .22Lr pistol.

I was sitting on a log, my shotgun in my lap and my pistol resting on the log beside me. The next squirrel to give me a clean shot was going to get blasted. I was hoping for a double! Suddenly, a fifth squirrel started coming down a pine tree directly in front of me. It was high up and moving fast. I shouldered my shotgun and fired, almost straight up. The squirrel fell less than three feet from where I was sitting!

The moment it hit the ground my heart sank. It was a baby. All of the squirrels I had seen this season were full grown. I didn't know that they were still having babies this late in the year! Seeing how small it was took the wind right out of my sails. There are no laws and really no ethical taboos against killing a small squirrel. I don't even know why it affected me so. I have no problem killing a young deer, the younger the animal the better tasting the meat. Maybe it was because I could tell that there would be little usable meat. I hate it when things die or suffer for no reason. Maybe it was because there is little challenge to killing a baby anything. Perhaps, even, it was because I have a young one at home and am soft twords babies right now. I honestly don't know.

It could fit in my hand
I left the other four squirrels to live another day. I thought about just leaving completely and heading home, this wasn't fun anymore. I got over it quickly enough. Killing is, unfortunately, part of hunting. I've tried wildlife photography and wildlife watching. Its not fun. Cleanly killing my quarry is the summation of the hunt. It is not truly a chase unless the prey is running for its life. I normally don't give killing a second thought. If the animal did not suffer unduly I feel a sense of accomplishment, not remorse. As I walked down the trail I reminded myself of this.

An hour later I got the double I was looking for and left the woods just a couple squirrels short of my limit. It was the best day of squirrel hunting I've had this season. While I still regret killing the little one, I believe it made me a better hunter. If nothing else it reminded me that even though hunting is a "sport", pulling the trigger has consequences.

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