I sit quietly in the late evening light amidst bracken and undergrowth, awaiting tomorrow’s dinner to come out to feast on some lush green grass; I stare up and watch a majestic barn owl sweeping stealthily over the hedgerows with the same idea as me.
A shrew is sat next to me, oblivious of my presence. I heard it scurry through the dried grass behind me, then up beside me. I didn’t move. I hardly breath. It carries on its way without a blink.
Rustling from my right. I bring my eyes around slowly, hoping that tomorrow’s dinner is finally coming out to eat. It’s noisy, clumsy even, not at all like I’m expecting from my reluctant dinner guest to be. A badger struts out into the field a couple of metres to my right, then carries on across the field.
Other than the inquisitive grey squirrel, and the mink that curved and slew from one hedgerow to another, I’m starting to wonder if tomorrow’s dinner is even going to show.
It’s getting darker. The Buzzards and Kites aren’t around at this hour, so it can’t be them that are causing a lack of bravery in my future stew.
Sat to my right, and slightly behind me is Ali. He’s 9 now and bright as a button when it comes to what we are here to do… or not do, as things are seemingly playing out.
The night swallows the dusk and we call the stalk off. There’s no sense of disappointment as we are happy enough to have witnessed a peaceful, yet nocturnally busy section of our beautiful countryside and some of its inhabitants.
I eat meat and eggs and I have animal produce based products throughout my wardrobe, my house, my car, my workplace… much like most of the people I know – even the vegetarians. I know a majority of animal produce comes from factory farmed animals – and this doesn’t make me particularly thrilled. Factory farming is cruel, sickening and… well, you don’t care because you don’t see it. Like most people I still buy the stuff because there’s not much of an alternative.
Meat generally comes in tins, in frozen bags, or on polystyrene trays covered in clear film, so you don’t get the guilt of the process it took to get to that stage. In fact all animal produce, be it food, clothing, perfume, drink, paint, glue, string, car interiors, key fobs, wallets etc is pretty far detached from the source. You don’t get the guilt; you are far, far removed.
I’m not about to go and live in a yurt and survive on air, and I’m not about to go vegan, and I’m not about to say how all you supermarket shoppers are bloody murderers (because I’m still one of those murderers… albeit begrudgingly) but in my own small way I want to distance myself from the factory farming that goes on. One simple way to do this is to go and hunt meat from a renewable source: I can then ensure a quick and clean despatch whilst at the same time getting a 100% free range, healthy, clean living animal on my plate. It does go against my love of animals, although it’s an immense leap away from the harrowing supermarket meat hell.
In Northern Arctic Sweden we plan to be as self-sufficient as we can be. Grow our own fruit and veg, raise rabbits and chickens and go hunting for food and trade with the locals. Firstly though I need to get some hunting skills under my belt, as the last thing I’d want to do is to turn up with all the gear and no idea.
I am a target rifle shooter (much like the Olympic prone shooters), and I am in the higher percentage when it comes to accuracy and precision. In simple terms, at 100 metres I could pierce a male teenage rabbit’s ear so when it gets home its father will give it a huge lecture on ‘So this is how you want to live your life eh? Earrings now is it? Hmm? You’ve not been the same since you started hanging around with the rabbits from the warren down the street! They’re a bad influence on you my lad!’… I digress…
I am a good shot. I decided to put this to good use and go out to feed my family. I knew I could shoot a rabbit without it knowing a thing about it. The last thought would be full of blue skies, green fields, fresh air and then nothing at all. My third greatest concern was how I’d feel actually doing it.
As it turns out I did feel remorse, but not regret. It was a clean shot as expected (a rabbit is easy compared to the competition target size I am used to) and I felt good knowing that it didn’t know a thing. It didn’t even flinch at the muted crack of my suppressed rifle. Heck, if I had the choice it’s they way I’d want to go; a free spirit blissfully unaware of everything apart from the sun on my back and my lungs full of fresh air and freedom, and then nothing. Sure beats crapping yourself in an old persons rest home whilst eating jello and watching ‘Songs of Praise‘ on a Sunday afternoon.
This rabbit was not shot for nothing. As I stroked his fur smooth and placed him in my game bag, I actually thanked him for the meal that I’d gratefully have. Seriously. If you don’t respect it, don’t do it.
How would he feel about this? We’d already talked about factory farms and he really dislikes them. He is a big-hearted lad and loves all animals, so hunting them didn’t sit well with him – or rather it caused confusion. He knew on one hand it was far better to hunt and kill a wild rabbit, knowing it was a clean quick kill of a free and happy living animal, but on the other hand it was still killing a fluffy bunny. He was okay, with reservations, so I didn’t push for him to come out hunting with me. He’d have to get used to it due to our future plans, but I wasn’t about to rush him.
After my first hunt I arrived home with the rabbit in a bag so Ali wouldn’t have to see it. I walked into the front room of our house to go through to the kitchen and he asks quietly; ‘Is that a rabbit?’ I told him that it was and offered him a look into the bag. He gingerly looked in from the top of the bag, but really couldn’t get the whole picture. I asked if he’d like to see it on the table outside, to which he nodded quietly.
Once the rabbit was on the table Alex became curious and asked to stroke it. It had lovely smooth fur from its healthy diet, and as the shot had been clean there was very little blood or tissue damage.
‘It looks so cute...’ he started.
I figured this was it. He still gets upset about one of our cats that had to be put down many years back.Any second now the tears…
‘…and it feels so soft… and… is that where the bullet went in? Where did it come out?… It must have been quick! He doesn’t even look surprised!‘…
With that, Alex was satisfied that I had done my job correctly. Precise, accurate and painless. He didn’t feel so bad as it was all for a good reason.
I asked if he’d like to see me skin and gut it. This was my biggest fear; not for Alex but for me. I had to gut and skin Mr.Rabbit for the pot. I didn’t even do biology at school because, well… ew. I mean really… ew, ew and ew. Bloik…
Maybe with Ali beside me I’d be forced to man up and….
‘EEP!!! No thank you!!!‘ squeaked Ali as he scampered off…
Turns out it wasn’t so bad. I appear to have grown up and grown a pair.I had purchased an insanely surgically sharp Morakniv bush knife and the whole incident went smoothly. I say smoothly, but what I really mean is it was a mess of a job, but I didn’t hurl. I didn’t even feel like hurling. Had the blade been dull and had I had to hack and tear at the rabbit, then I may have felt worse for it.
Turns out Ali was more curious than nauseous. As I was butchering the rabbit Ali had come back and was looking through the bucket of internal bits and pieces; asking questions about which bit went where and noting that kidney beans must be called kidney beans because they look like kidneys. He’s very much like my dad in that way; he could look at a scene of human devastation (he was an air accident investigator) and become completely detached from the carnage, locking straight in to scientist mode. To him it wasn’t evidence of a life, but rather clues to the cause of the crash – ‘Look at this poor pilot’s neck!‘ – ‘Yes, you can see the impact must have happened with some lateral force, suggesting the aircraft fell sideways into the ground…‘
Whilst he was still showing interest I offered him the chance for a hunt that same evening. He’d never really shown much spark at joining me for target shooting, although I had hoped he would one day (like I did, taking after my dad). He jumped excitedly at the chance though, and has been on nearly all of my trips out since. He makes a wonderful spotter, and he ensures I keep my end of the bargain up by auditing my shots, checking to make sure my shots are swift and with no suffering – He’s adamant that trophy hunting is bad, but hunting for an honest purpose (as long as it is painless) is okay.
Here’s the thing… Like me, he gives the rabbit a loving stroke before I put it in the game bag. He’s not in it for the kill – which is fine by me, because neither am I.
He’s not squeamish, hes incredibly safe and follows instructions to the dot (where guns are involved I am very, very strict on safety). It’s turned from me worrying if he’d be able to even look at me for shooting a rabbit for food, to the both of us having some of our greatest bonding moments ever!
Since his first hunt he’s gained some camo gear and a monocle telescope. He’s even enquired as to being able to train to shoot targets so he can one day shoot to eat. As for eating… I cooked a Rabbit Biryani with our first two rabbits and Ali enjoyed every last bite.
One thing that people don’t appreciate about hunting is that you are fully immersed in the wildlife, the countryside, and in trying not to be seen you see some amazing and beautiful sights. For me and Ali the kill shot is by far smallest part of the day – albeit not insignificant as it is taking a life after all: We get our enjoyment out of the environment of the hunt, the smells, the noises, and the other wildlife we see during the day.
It makes us appreciate our good friend the rabbit (and what other quary may come our way), and it gives us the ownership and the responsibility to give that quary the respect it deserves.
You can’t get do that with a vacuum packed slab of supermarket flesh.
Some people are very negative about hunting for food. They see all hunters as elephant poaching lion murderers. Yeah, and all car drivers drive drunk, all vegetarians are stinking hippies, all dogs are vicious and so on…
Some say that by me explaining my hunting in blog posts I am in someway trying to justify it to myself.
Cognitive dissonance anyone?
If you do some research on factory farms and can still say that my single, painless bullet is more barbaric than one of those mass meat producing inhumane factories, then what you’re really doing is trying to justify to yourself that you’re somehow in the right, not that I’m in the wrong.
If you don’t like it, then that’s fine with me; just don’t try to justify your views by trying to make me out to be the one at fault.