My son was so excited for the first day of hunting season, and the morning was such a blooper reel of false starts, forgotten gear and last minute errands, that I nearly failed to calibrate expectations. We’d left the highway, the state roads, and the graded gravel behind before I thought to check in with him on the actual plan. At home we talk about hunting and where our food comes from all the time. But he’s 3 and 1/2 – not an age commonly associated with reason. And while talk is important, experience is an altogether different animal. With nothing but overgrown two-track and sagebrush in the windshield, one last explanation suddenly seemed urgent. I killed the radio and turned to find him in his backseat booster.
“Hey bud. You excited to do some hunting?”
“You remember what that means?”
“You understand that we’re going shoot an antelope, and it’s going to be really loud, and the antelope is going to die, and there’s probably going to be a lot of blood? It might be scary.
“We might shoot some birds too.”
When I tuned the radio back to the football game, Steven shot me a wry look.
“What?” I asked
“That’s your pep talk?”
“More or less.”
“I think so.”
We carried the boys in their backpacks to Steven’s dead antelope. They were excited, which was a nice turn of events. After a handful of failed stalks they’d started making demands.
“Better shoot that antelope.” Rasped Grady every time Steven left the truck. His tone had grown more and more forceful as the day wore on. But that was conceptual shooting of distant antelope. We were now 200 yards from things getting real.
“Alright team, here’s the program. Steven has a very sharp knife, which is very dangerous, so everybody is going to stay back here with me. Deal?”
“Okay” said E.
“Uh” grunted Grady, fingering the keepsake .270 casing his father had just handed him.
“Do you know what’s going to happen?”
“Yeah!” cheered Everett.
“What?” I asked.
“What?” He rejoined.
“Steven is going to cut the antelope’s belly open, and he’s going to take out all of her insides. That way it will be good and clean, and he can take her home and turn her into food.” That seemed inadequate so I plowed on. “It’s going to be really bloody, and messy, but that’s how we start to turn her into food.” Still missing it, I start to speed-up involuntarily “You know how we eat antelope at home? This is what we have to do first.” Oh man I hope I’m not about to turn him off of meat.
“Okay.” Says Everett.
“Uh.” Grunts Grady.
“Yeah?” I ask relieved, if skeptical
“Cool!” E confirms.
“Yeah! Why’s she have a tube in her?”
“What? Oh… that’s her trachea. She used to breathe through that. It does look like a tube huh? It was a breathing tube.”
“Cool! Um… Dada… Are you going to shoot an Antelope now?”
“No, not today. I don’t have an antelope tag this year….”
“What? Why? No, no, nooooooo!”
I’d been worried that he’d be traumatized. Turns out he was… by the fact that his dad was going home empty handed.
“There’s one Dada!” he yelled each time he spotted an antelope on the way home. And then, unable or perhaps just unwilling to grasp the legalities of our situation “Can we eat that one?”
“Better shoot that antelope.” rasped Grady.