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In Which I Take The First Steps Towards An Alarming New Skill

Here we have a post that I am more than a little afraid to write, but I will do it because I am me and I do not let good sense stop me. And also I have written sagas of having electrodes taped to my butt, and if y'all can handle that, you can handle anything.

And, perhaps most obviously, if I can do this, anybody can do it, and perhaps my stark terror will be of use to someone.

I have decided that I want to learn to hunt deer.

There are good sound ecological reasons--deer are massively overpopulated on the East Coast, particularly in the Southeast, and I have frequently muttered to myself that a nuisance deer permit would be really handy right about now, while staring out the window at a doe who is gazing around vaguely wondering who is yelling "SHOO! SHOO!" at her.

And as a gardener I have become more and more enamored of the notion of being able to feed myself--not that I DO (far from it) but that if I really wanted to, I COULD. And I am not the sort of personality who can keep livestock, nor do I have the space, so this seemed like the best compromise position.

There's more to it than that, but the thoughts are still kind of tangled up in my head, so I'm not confident that I'm gonna say this next bit well--something about how if I am going to eat meat, I feel like I owe it to...something...to dispatch my own food at least once, so that I do not have the bloodless illusion of neatly packaged cuts on styrofoam trays. It may be that when the moment comes, I walk away and go "I can't do this again and will become a vegetarian forthwith," but I want to know. The more I learn about factory farming, the more I get angry at how we have turned a life into a commodity, and somehow I feel like if I can step away from that, I'll learn...something. I don't know what. I want to take responsibility for a life being sacrificed so I can eat, and own that debt. Even if it's horrible (and it might very well be) at least I'll know.

I have no idea if that makes any sense to anybody but me.

Having mulled over this decision, I wrote to my father, who is a lifelong hunter, and said "How do I learn to hunt a deer?"

The e-mail that came back said "Is this for a book?" and carried a strong overtone of "Wut."

I explained that I felt strongly about local food and that no, I wished to actually go through the process at least once.

We repeated this once or twice, and then, presumably confident that I had not actually been replaced by a lizard person, my father said "If you're sure you want to try, then I will teach you everything I know."

Unfortunately, this involves firearms.

I am a liberal. I am a liberal to the nth degree. Also, I'm a little scared of my Dremel, for god's sake.

Okay. Well, I have always said that I had no problem with people using guns to hunt. Let's see if I was telling the truth or not.

When Dad drove up for Christmas, he showed me the sort of gun he uses. It seemed to be approximately ten feet long. I could not imagine holding it level for any length of time.

However, apparently they make a whole bunch of types of guns. A whole bunch. Like...lots.

Possibly some of you are aware of this fact already.

"It's pronounced "thirty-ought" he said. "People laugh at you when you mispronounce it. God, it's so annoying. And this is a clip and this is a magazine and if you ask for the magazine when you mean the clip, there is always someone who will correct you even though they know what you mean."

Apparently firearms bring out the pedantic side of many people.

We went through the basic process of "this is how you check if it's loaded. Always check if it's loaded. No one will ever get mad at you for checking. Ever. Even if they have just told you it is, check for yourself."

Have I mentioned that I'm a liberal? I am. So very liberal. Really really liberal.

I screwed up my nerve for some days after this, and then off I went.

Now, my father tells me right off that he is intimidated standing at the rifle counter because there are a lot of people who are...y'know...(There were vague hand gestures at this point, expressing phallic substitutes and ammosexuals and people who are reallllllly into it in weird ways and so forth.) He was genuinely a bit worried about what would happen when I went into a gun shop, because misogyny runs rampant in many such places, and I was gonna get all the condescension with an extra helping of "Hey, little lady" on top.

(The shop I had planned to go to, everyone at the coffee shop said "DON'T DO IT THE OWNER IS--IS--JUST--DON'T DO IT!" Also the windows were wall-to-wall NRA signs. And Trump signs.

I googled for liberal gun stores. The less said about that, the better. And then a woman in the corner piped up that a new place had literally just opened a month ago, and off I went.)

I sat in front of the brand new store. It did not have any Trump signs or NRA signs. It said it was a hunting supply store. Okay. I like supplies. Everybody likes supplies, right?

What the hell was I doing? I treat the cordless drill like it could turn on me like a starving wolf.

I wondered if there was somebody I could text for an affirmation that I was a strong confident woman and I could totally do the thing. But what if they asked what I needed the affirmation for, though? Would I have to tell them I was going into a gun store? Now I needed an affirmation to have the nerve to talk to the affirmation people. Oh god, this was hard.

I took a deep breath. I shut off the truck. I went inside.

It was a very new store. It didn't have carpet yet. There was a set of targets for sale on the wall. One of them was--I kid you not--a zombie jackalope.

This was sufficiently surreal that I felt like I was on safer ground. I understand zombie jackalopes.

There was one person in the store, standing behind the counter with the morose air of a man who is wondering if business is going to pick up in time to be worth it. I went up to the counter and said "Maybe you can help me."

"Sure!" he said.

"I have no idea how to use a gun. My father has offered to teach me to hunt deer. I would like to do this. I am supposed to buy a twenty-two to practice shooting with first, though. Can you tell me what I need to do to make that happen?"

I was rather proud that I got all that out without blurting that I was a liberal and a registered Democrat.

"Sure," he said, "this is the basic model I carry and if you're just looking to get a feel for shooting, the ammo's cheap." He took one down from the wall.

It was gray. It looked like it was made mostly of plastic. Was I allowed to put a Hello Kitty sticker on the stock or the butt or whatever it was? Would that mark me as dangerously insane? If people thought I was dangerously insane, would they leave me alone or would they try to make conversation with me? Oh god.

He handed it to me. I held it like a mulch fork. Myke Cole on Twitter has hammered into a whole bunch of nice authors that you don't put your finger on the trigger. I did not put my finger on the trigger.

"How do I check if it's loaded?" I asked.

He showed me. There was a little gizmo that is orange. If you see the orange bit, there is not a bullet in the way. If you do not see the orange bit, you are looking at a bullet, which is recognizable to many of us because it looks like a gnome-sized vibrator.

There is a thing that I believe is called the bolt. A bolt-action is a type of gun. Okay, this had a bolt. Did that make it bolt action? (It does not, as it turns out, any more than having a transmission makes a car a manual.)

Speaking of manuals, I really hoped the gun came with one.

"Look through this bit here," he said patiently, "and line it up with that bit there, and that should be your target." The tiny bit at the end seemed very, very tiny. Jesus. Also, I had apparently drunk a LOT of coffee while trying to locate my courage.

I have a liberal arts degree, emphasis on the liberal. My political leanings are somewhere to the left of Dennis Kucinich.

"Okay," I said, looking at the bit through the thing. Do not aim at anything you are not willing to put a hole into. Did Myke Cole say that? Anyway, I was aiming at a boar head on the wall. The boar looked very cheerful about something. "I see. Okay. I am supposed to get a scope." (I think that makes the bit bigger when you look through the thing.)

"It will take me a few minutes to attach one," he said, as if this were a perfectly reasonable request, "but this is a reliable and inexpensive scope for a twenty-two. It is what I would probably get."

"Excellent," I said. "Now, what do I have to do to buy a gun?"

He looked at me blankly. I looked at him equally blankly.

"Err...give me a driver's license and pass a background check?"

"...I don't need a gun permit?"

"Not for a hunting rifle," he said.

This was insane. I could kill someone with this! I mean, if I could hit them, which honestly, it'd be easier to club them to death with the stock (or the butt?) at this point, because looking at the bit through the thing seemed very haphazard, so they would have to stand very still unless they were right in front of me, and I'd probably forget to take the safety off and I didn't know how to load it yet and shouldn't they make sure I knew what I was doing before they let me give them money for a gun?!

"I don't need to take a class?" I said weakly.

"You will need to take a hunting safety class to get a hunting permit," he explained. "You go to the NC dot gov website and you can find class listings from there."

"But I can just shoot the gun. Without a permit?" (Oh god, I wanted a piece of paper that said I wasn't an idiot and knew not to point the end at anything I liked. Maybe that would make it true. Truer. Extra true. Maybe I should take the hunting safety class before I shot at anything. Maybe I should take the class before I loaded it. Or touched it. Maybe I should have my head examined.)

I have a particular gift--or curse--that occasionally I am so absolutely incompetent that I can negate the competence of others. This man owned a gun-store named after his father. He taught handgun certification classes. I had successfully baffled him so hard that he began to sound as uncertain as I was.

"It's a twenty-two?" he said, as if this explained something.

"And I can just buy it?"

"If you have money? You can buy a rifle? Err...are...are you a felon?"

"I don't think so?" I said.

We both briefly contemplated the possibility of my felonhood. Apparently this did not strike him as likely. I was no longer so certain.

"You don't need a permit to own it," he said.

"What do I do if I want to shoot it, though?" (Maybe this was like a driver's license, and I could buy it, but not drive it.)

"You...you buy ammunition...?" One of us was clearly out of their mind, and I believe he was starting to worry that it was him. "It's a twenty-two. Um. I have ammo. This is ammo." He looked at a box on the counter as if to reassure himself that he did indeed still sell bullets. "Um. Do you live in the county?"

"Yes? Uh, it's not incorporated?"

"Do you have something to shoot into?"

"There's a hunting property right behind the house. Trees for miles. I mean, it's not my hunting property, obviously. But we own some of the woods." I considered this, then added "They're trees. Yes," in case he doubted the existence of the trees.

"You...you just need one tree..." I think at this point he was starting to wonder if he was the subject of one of those sting videos, except that presumably I'd be better at it. "You put a target on the tree. If you're not in city limits and not right up by your neighbors, you can target shoot in the backyard. It's a twenty-two. Nobody cares. If the police come, tell them exactly what you're doing. They won't care. Believe me." He rallied a bit. "They've been out to my place plenty of times. Just tell them exactly what you're doing. You can hardly hear a twenty-two anyway, it's just a crack."

In fact, I hear what sounds like gunfire fairly often in the neighborhood, but I made a mental note to check all relevant statutes involving shooting at trees before I did anything. Maybe I needed to go to a gun range. Could I do that? Did you take rifles to a gun range? I thought ranges were for handguns. Could I find a range? Would they be able to smell that I had once voted for Ralph Nader in a fit of youthful madness?

"How long does the background check take?" I asked. "Do I need to come back later?"

"It..I...it only takes a minute, if the internet is working? Err. Fill out this form."

Forms! I am good with forms. I can fill out a form like a boss. I filled out the form while he collected himself.

There was a question that said "Are you a fugitive from justice?" I stared at it for a brief period, wondering if anyone ever said Yes. People say yes to very stupid things sometimes.

"Does anyone ever say yes to this?"


He took the form. He looked at it. He said "Congratulations."


"You're the first person who's ever filled it out right on the first try."


"The bit here, where you checked this box and then this other box, people only ever check one box."

"But it says right there that you have to check both boxes." I began to think that possibly I was not the least competent person to ever purchase a firearm.

I went away while he worked the scope. I frantically texted my friend Crimson who has all the certifications in all the things and I think is legally allowed to harpoon whales under seventy-two inches and asked him if I was forgetting a thing, or all the things.

He asked what brand it was. I said it was gray. Gray, as it turns out, is not a brand.

He asked if it was bolt action. I allowed as how there was a thing on it that resembled a bolt in some fashion.

He said I needed a cleaning kit. Oh jesus, of course, you have to clean these things. I saw that movie with Ice-T. Oh god. Were there, like, Youtube videos?

Crimson said that there were indeed a great many videos.

I asked him where I was supposed to put it when I wasn't shooting at things. I did not want to put it in a corner with my sword and my machete. What if it fell over? What if I was hyper-aware that it was there because I am a liberal and the presence of guns makes me break out in hives and the hives spell out the statistics of those killed annually by guns in the United States except we don't know all the statistics because the NRA blocked all those studies by the CDC and maybe my hives would be the only accurate source of data and I would have to volunteer to be studied without pants on?

I stopped myself before I had typed more than about a third of this, erased it, and asked what I was supposed to do about storage.

He explained about trigger locks, which I absolutely positively had to have, and then about gun safes bolted to the floor in case of theft, which seemed a little excessive. Could I get a case? A case seemed like a nice compromise. You can keep many things in cases, like birding scopes. They can be locked.

He agreed that this was a thing that was indeed possible. Also bags. Also, I needed eye and ear protection.

I texted my buddy Otter and told her I was scared and also a liberal. She agreed that I was indeed a liberal.

I went back. The gunshop owner, looking as if he was also having a slightly traumatic afternoon, showed me how to put bullets in the gun and then take them out again. We revisited the safety. He said something about lasers and the scope and the bore and I tried to look as if I had any idea what that meant. He showed me how to adjust the scope if I found it was not completely accurate, but said that I would want to try shooting it a few times first.

I looked through the scope. It was very dark.

He then showed me how to take the caps off the scope. I looked through it again. Yup, there was that boar on the wall again. Still looked happy.

"Get your head down on it," he said, which sounded like English, anyway, and then tried to demonstrate putting my head down farther on the back end. I made a note to look up all the Youtube videos.

I bought eye protection and a cleaning kit and a target. (Not the zombie jackalope one.) He gave me several free targets, possibly out of pity, and threw in earplugs as well. "If you have any problems," he said, "here is a card. And if you...err...if the shooting's difficult...if...well, come back and I have air rifles that we can shoot here and I'll show you what I can." He looked as tired as I felt.

The gun went into a box and the box went into my car. I made a note that it was a Remington. I have heard that name before. I passed this information along to Crimson, who confirmed that yes, guns exist with that name on them. I asked if I could put a Hello Kitty sticker on it to make me feel better. He did not say no.

I mentioned that I'm a liberal, right?

I keep thinking I should learn target shooting because I can't draw a bow anymore, but I think my experience would be pretty similar.


Note: I am also very liberal. My parents were ... let's just say less so. They hunted deer every year, until my father's knees became a problem (which ended up killing him, but that's a tragedy for another time).

So... I've shot guns. Reasonable, but not great, shot.

But I hate them, and holding them causes me distress. (I do wonder if I'd feel that way about rifles, however.)

I hope your gunning goes well. If you're going to hunt, I want you to be an excellent shot. (I have no objections to hunting. Nor killing of animals -- I've had pet snakes and lizards, and have grown my own food for them, and always tried to avoid feeding a coherent rat to a snake.)

Also: yes you can put a Hello Kitty sticker on it, and you would not be the first person I've known to do that :).

This is awesome and you are very brave! I'm a big ol' liberal too, but I was raised in Montana and... well, some things just come with living there. Although I've never done the "go out and shoot the animal dead" part, I've shot rifles at a range (with my Girl Scout troop, even). I've also done the bloody "cut the dead animal into tasty pieces to go in your freezer" part. You might want to consider that part before you do the hunting, actually, since getting your kill butchered by a professional can be ridiculously expensive.

I actually found when I was cooking the meat that there was a lot of comfort in knowing where it came from and how. Being able to trace it from "woods, back of truck, hanging in the back yard, freezer" was reassuring and made me feel more connected. Plus I saved some of the blood to do experiments with a friend in my high school Chem class! That teacher really liked us for some reason!

All this to say, good for you! You can totally be a huge liberal and also do the guns thing! And fill out forms like a boss! :D

I would have been asking exactly the same questions that you have been!

I'm pretty sure people can get killed with a .22 (if not trivially) so I'm surprised there's no permit requirement... -_-

The attempt on Reagan was with a .22 revolver, one round of which came within an inch of his heart.

(no subject) (Anonymous) Expand

you are the most adorable proto-deer-hunter ever (but still not the most liberal, sorry).

I want to hear all the steps in the development of this skill!

Yeah, This, to both halves. We love you.

--Guy who once sat on a goat while a bow-hunter named Hummingbird slaughtered it.

PS: Also yes, venison. mmm.

I am told that not only can one put Hello Kitty stickers on guns, but that there exist Hello Kitty branded pink firearms in several types.

Also, I am with you on all points of deer hunting rationale, so no, not just you. Have not taken up hunting b/c my state is dumb about it, tho.

I grew up on a farm in the next state up, and my father -- who was definitely a very strong liberal, although he was also an NRA member back when that was not incompatible with liberaldom, which was rather a long time ago -- grew up in Goldston and was a lifelong hunter, so I am absolutely not going to judge you for wanting to learn to hunt. This, particularly with your reasons, seems entirely sensible to me.

Actually, I'd consider it entirely sensible even if your reasons were just "venison is tasty". But I understand the wanting of more reasons, and part of why I was laughing so much at your tale is that I could just imagine that all being me.

One of the things that I learned from my father and his hunting friends who came out to hunt with him is that, for quite a lot of hunters (who are not the ones covered by your father's handflap), the main appeal of hunting is that it's an excuse to spend a day out sitting in the woods being quiet and watching contemplatively. It's also nice to have venison, and it's sort of a measure of whether one was in fact quiet enough and smart/lucky enough to be in the right place, but that always seemed more of an excuse than the real point.

It occurs to me that, being a birder, you may be somewhat familiar with this aspect of things.

I have not, personally, hunted. I have, however, done target shooting with a .22, and occasionally hit the can that I was aiming at. I've also done skeet shooting with a shotgun, and occasionally hit the skeet I was aiming at, which is somewhat of a rather different thing from rifle-shooting.

I hope your gun-store owner does end up with more customers in time to matter for him.

Also, as a datapoint, although the Remington Typewriter company did once make firearms (during WWII, they were one of the makers of army pistols), they are an entirely different company from the Remington Firearms Company.

Mmmm, venison

I'm a liberal from northern MI, and I've eaten a lot of venison. The opening day of deer season was an excused absence from school. I moved out of state before I met my parents' idea of hunting age, so I've never shot a deer myself. But it never struck me as being outside of the realm of liberalism. Here's a family recipe for venison mincemeat pie that you or Kevin might find useful if/when you get a deer. https://hvalli.wordpress.com/2008/12/22/venison-mincemeat-pie/

--H Valli

...quite frankly, your experience is similar to just about anyone I've ever met who is both a liberal and ever sought to purchase a firearm for any given reason.

I've always found that mentality mystifying. It's just a tool. Less destructive than, in fact, your car (with which, if you are bloody-minded, you can slaughter easily as many people as with a full magazine from an AK-47, with less need of skill to do so, and might even manage that given the proper conditions for a really terrible accident).

And sure, put a Hello Kitty sticker on it if you like. It's your rifle. Why not?

I grew up in NYC, where more people own cars than own guns but probably not by much, and neither is really part of the culture unless you're in a very specific demographic. I first fired a handgun (a friend's, at a range) in my early 20s, and got my first driver's license some years later. To me they're equally mysterious and alarming mechanisms and I am deeply disconcerted that adolescents are allowed to handle either one.

A .22 rifle is the golf cart of guns, though: technically you could hurt someone with it if you tried very very hard but mostly it's there to look cute and give you some practice before you try the real thing.

You could shoot someone with a .22 and not kill them...And it's very unlikely that anyone planning to go on a rampage would buy a .22 to do it. But still.

My cousin was killed by a .22, so she is correct to get the gun lock/case and safety gear.

I want to thank you for making me laugh so hard I cried. I live in a state in which it is harder to purchase firearms, but I completely empathize with your confusion. You are a very brave Ursula and I applaud you. Also, I love venison and wish my health would let me learn to hunt. Be well in your life choices. I know plenty of hunting liberals. They exist.

Oh, d00d, you are not the first person to put a Hello, Kitty! sticker on a gun. Also, you can get pink camo hunting clothes.

I love you
I am newly in NC - north Raleigh, escaped from NJ, the heart of insanity and stupid amounts of control on one's personal life

My brothers are both "in to" guns.
My beloved, who is still in NJ likes shooting at things
I apparently am the proud owner of a couple hand guns? I was not aware of that actually

this whole thing about being able to walk in to a store and buy firearms without batting an eyelash kinda freaks me out sometimes

Seeing people walking around at work with pistols on their hip still stops me sometimes

this is all strange and weird and I hope you find feeding yourself a good thing, I really want to do the same here.

I am a little worried that a person could own guns and not be aware of it.

My family were hunters. I think everyone should have a really good grasp of the cost of life that is laying on your plate- even if it's just once in your life, every person who eats an animal should know what that truly means.

"this is how you check if it's loaded. Always check if it's loaded. No one will ever get mad at you for checking. Ever. Even if they have just told you it is, check for yourself." -- ok so you will definitely come across people who will tease you for this- but the thing is- it's a GIANT flag for "never EVER hunt with this person" because they are a dangerous idiot.

Also "Do not aim at anything you are not willing to put a hole into." is the BIGGEST rule of handling a firearm. If you come across someone who jokes around with a firearm (whether it's loaded or not) they are not a safe person. Don't hunt with them, don't take advice from them- in fact, it'd be safest if you just got in your car and drive far away from that person.

Always make sure you're visible to other hunters- hunter orange is ugly but it'll keep you from getting shot if other people are hunting in the area. Never climb over a fence without first handing your weapon off to your hunting buddy (or setting it safely out of the way), never press your eyebrow against your scope- you'll split your head open, never back up against a tree/log/rock to shoot- it'll throw your balance off and you'll go tits over teakettle, keep your shoulder relaxed to absorb the kick- but keep a firm grasp on your weapon, and Hello Kitty stickers are 100% acceptable on your weapon-- I suppose you didn't see any of the anodized weapons in the gun shop? They have the most amazing bright pink gun metals you've ever seen.

Also? Youtube "gun fails" and you'll learn everything you need to know about how not to be a dumbass.

(Deleted comment)
*hugs* I understand exactly how you feel.

I'm from Western Europe. I live in rural South Nevada. The only time I had seen a gun up close in my home country was when a military friend of mine was cleaning his (permitted) handgun.

There are... guns... in my home now. I do not touch them. There are guns on the hallway. I pass them by everyday. I do not touch them. My husband asked if I wanted to learn how to shoot a gun. Yes...? No. Definitely no. My father-in-law tells me of shooting at rattlesnakes. Jesus. No. I don't know what I'd fear more, the gun or the snake. My mother-in-law warns me first if she goes out to shoot a warning rifle shot at the coyotes. I still jump and get rattled by it. My niece and nephews visit and go out into the desert and shoot at targets. I do not join them.

I am so very, very, very liberal.

I understand, logically, that familiarity and understanding are the first steps toward not being afraid of something. But I can't. I just can't. You can kill people with these things, and I'm clumsy enough as it is.

I'll stick to knitting. I could kill a person with my needles and I'm not afraid of them. Except when I have to purl through the back loop.

My father-in-law tells me of shooting at rattlesnakes

See, that bothers me a lot more than hunting deer.

(no subject) (Anonymous) Expand

Guns. They can all depend on who is shooting them and for what reason.
Your reasons are perfectly valid.

It's an entirely different thing after you shoot something when it comes to dressing it out.

I am deeply liberal too, but I have fished and shot small game for the pot.