View Full Version : Salon: Hunting not to kill

November 15, 2001, 09:51 AM

Hunting not to kill
Guns are an extension of the fist, and their ultimate purpose is the increase of power. That's why they're so much fun.
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By Christopher Ketcham
Nov. 14, 2001 | Quiet, superb afternoons of snow on Tremper Mountain, the light quitting early, the candles go up by 4 p.m. In morning, I squat to defecate in a ravine downhill, and then the ritual of waking-by-gun: sometimes the boy-like .22, which makes little pops and might make a fox laugh if I brandished it; or the gruesome AK, a semi-automatic Romanian thing, an assault rifle, rude, very loud, bought on a whim (cheap), designed, at bottom, to further insurrections and slaughter villagers. Then there's the hunting rifle, a Winchester lever-action, famed exquisite straight shot of the Old West.
Most gun nuts are also hunters. I count myself in neither camp, but I can converse easily with both, as long as no mendacious arguments about "constitutional privilege" come up. To the Second Amendment zealots I always say, "Guns are merely an extension of the fist, and their ultimate purpose is not defense, but the increase of power. That's why they're so much fun."
So the hunters are out for the three-week deer season here in the Catskills, 100 miles north of New York City, and the urge among all good men is to grab fatigues, rifle and scope. Bag a three-point buck in the haunted woods. Often in the blue mornings, when I'm shooting, I hear the echo of my reports, and others, from across the valley, and hear the wash of silence over the disorder of human sounds. There is a part of me that turns away in shame; a feeling of obsceneness, mixed with the adrenal rush of the crack and the recoil and the shattered blocks of cut wood. I used to fire into a tall oak near the cabin, but was ashamed too at the damaged bark. In this island of forest, where the major highways run only 20 and 30 miles away, most of the trees are second growth, the generation before logged to exhaustion for tanneries and mills 100 years ago.
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The kill: a 30.30 Winchester is a cannon, it pierces flesh straight and fast. One shoots without emotion, extending that big fiery fist, and just as in any fight, the drawing of blood happens as if one were watching from another room, wholly disembodied.
The deer, shocked that his life runs from him, stands for an excruciating four or five seconds. He stumbles like a drunk, settles down as if to kneel, tumbles, twitches. The death-act, like Bugs Bunny's, is full of urks and ools and blurghs, a holding up of fingers, a tumble-down drowning in air. The death shock resounds in the forest by the silence of his fall, reminding the hunter that his life will not end as dramatically.
On the main road off my property, big buses and motorcycles move fast on the gully curves. Nearby, I once found the rotting summer-heated bodies of a mother deer and her child next to the river that runs along the road. It was an odd grave: the mother was well-eaten, the child freshly dead. I understood: the mother had been killed by a car or an out-of-season bullet, and was dumped here. The child watched from the forest, and like any child, later crept by her mother's side, not knowing what to do, too young to forage. She starved to death waiting for her mother to wake up. Mother with maggots, the half-yearling with an oily coat, drawing flies.
Chance meetings: the porcupine I spent 10 minutes talking to on Giant Ledge Mountain. The mad-eyed raccoon who stood peering into the flashlight at midnight. Tracks of bobcat in the snow, with their overlarge splayed feet that resemble those of the long-vanished Catskill panther. Hiking at night, a cherished vision of a big cat: Seventy feet down the path the figure lay prone, then leapt and was gone, and I aimed my lamp into the underbrush.
The remembrance of an animal encounter is always romantic, the actuality always the sum of our fear and their fear. In retrospect, we'd like to think there was some sort of contact, and that there was a mutual desire for association, that the animal actually turned and said, "Yes, yes, I've noticed you as well, poor thing, and it was really exciting."
We are strangers on the mountain; they have lived here for ten hundred years and much longer. They know a lot more than we do about this place, and therefore we go armed; traps of poison and trickery keep them out of our gardens. They can smell us in a good wind, we hear them, barely, in imagined sounds, and imagine them much larger than they are. In the cabin in August, a giant clears his nose in the hemlocks up the hill. My girlfriend wakes up -- "Hear that! Jesus!" -- I load the Winchester and wait by the door, expecting a bear come for meat-leavings. This happens in the Catskills: A group of hunters abed once awoke in their lodge to a bear rifling food. The bear broke the door open, had his fill and lumbered out, while the hunters hid under the covers in long-johns.
Later, I describe the fearsome night-snort to a local: "That was no bear, that was a deer, a big deer, clearing his throat, he probably smelled the smoke from your cabin and didn't like what he smelled."
Ready to kill: to defend the smoke from my cabin.
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We like our forests Wordsworthian: green glades, waterfalls, orchard idylls. So our encounters with beast nature make us reach for guns in a kind of "Little House on the Prairie" pretense/reaction: the husband and father surrounded by wolves, the house in flames, Indians in the hedge brush counting scalps. We want the little taste of the frontier, too, the woodsman against nature, stalking the way his forefathers did for food, for the tribe, for grim survival.
When I was younger, hunting with my uncle, I tried to kill a deer with the Winchester. I scoped a buck at 300 feet in the clear leafless autumn. I waited for a long time, watching him through the sights. He pecked at pieces of grass, looking confused and dumb as deer often do. I hung on the trigger; my uncle told me to shoot, now. The creature noticed us, at last, and seemed curious about the two men aiming long poles his way.
But the living thing before me was before me: The fact of his realness was what stood out, and the fact that I could remove him from realness, and make him an idea, the fantasy of the kill, and make his head property on my wall. He was looking at the same dark flesh of trees and dusk, enjoyed, like me, stuffing his face in the same streams nearby.
You're hopeless, my uncle might have said, or thought, but he didn't say anything. This was no rite of passage, and we would not starve that night. It was a moment to decide how to approach the wilderness, and he understood.
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About the writer
Christopher Ketcham is a freelance writer in New York City.
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Send us a Letter to the Editor

November 15, 2001, 10:09 AM
If Mr. Ketchum is using a .30-30 to shoot at distances of 300 yards, he's probably not much of a danger to the creatures in the woods. Let him keep shooting oak trees.

Oddly, he describes killing a deer in glorified terms, but in the same article, insinuates that killing is NOT his approach to nature. Sounds like he needs to make up his mind.

Art Eatman
November 15, 2001, 11:12 AM
That writer's problem seems to be common to "City Folks". It stems from growing up away from the production of food, in part; and a general lack of understanding of, what, "The Reality Of It All"?

That is, everything dies. Everything has to eat. Omnivores eat a mix of meat and veggies. Those who don't hunt are merely hiring somebody else to do their scut work for them, whether they get their meat from a grocery or in a restaurant. (Nothing wrong with that, but it's reality.)

And so it goes...


Bottom Gun
November 15, 2001, 12:11 PM
I wonder if this is the guy who wrote the instruction manual for my VCR?

Bartholomew Roberts
November 15, 2001, 02:13 PM
Hell, content aside, the writing is atrocious. You can hardly make out coherent thoughts through most of it. Salon must be getting desperate in its poverty. Jake Tapper is an ass but at least he can write.

November 15, 2001, 02:26 PM
Seemed like nonsonsical rambling. I guess he didn't make the shot but hey they wouldn't starve that night. probably stopped by the shop rite and bought some sausages on the way to the woods. Whats the bit about the romanian ak for slaughtering villagers? This is a person with some issues. It seems he is ashamed of his afinity for weapons.

Fred Hansen
November 15, 2001, 03:24 PM
Bottom gun,

I think he is.:D :D

BTW I think we should have a smiley for brain damage.

A better title would be "Writing not to make sense!?!!?":confused:

Don Gwinn
November 15, 2001, 04:46 PM
The writing is simply unforgiveable, which probably means he was highly praised as a brilliant writer with a bright future in college. It has the feel of a college kid writing what he thinks is brilliant fiction. Most sound the same.

The problem is not that he hates killing. The problem is that he's human and doesn't want to be. Hunting excites him, and he has the instincts of a predator, but he's been socialized and educated to believe that he doesn't and that anyone who does is baaaaaaaad. So he writes tortured prose about the joy he takes in killing something (because when you're into it mostly to do something dark and secret and bad, the kill is the best part) and the shame that brings him. His education won't let him accept that he is a predator and his hobby isn't evil.

November 15, 2001, 05:42 PM
I think he said 300 feet - ok for a 30-30:)

November 15, 2001, 07:30 PM
I stand corrected. I was skimming by the end of the article and just saw 300. Hell, I almost stopped reading after this line:

In morning, I squat to defecate in a ravine downhill, and then the ritual of waking-by-gun: sometimes the boy-like .22, which makes little pops and might make a fox laugh if I brandished it; or the gruesome AK, a semi-automatic Romanian thing, an assault rifle, rude, very loud, bought on a whim (cheap), designed, at bottom, to further insurrections and slaughter villagers.

First, I don't need to hear about his bowel movements.

Next, there's nothing boy-like about a .22 unless a boy happens to be shooting it.

Yes the foxes are laughing at this pathetic SOB; so are all the other animals in the woods.

AKs aren't gruesome. They're ruggedly attractive.

What's an "assault rifle"?

This guy wouldn't know an insurrection if it bit him on the butt.

"Slaughter villagers"? :eek: This guy spends too much time in la-la land.

November 18, 2001, 11:54 AM
Good Greif!

This guy makes me want to puke! He knows nothing about hunting and more than likely never fired a weapon in his life. A 30/30 a "cannon"..Give me a break!

He pecked at pieces of grass, looking confused and dumb as deer often do. I hung on the trigger; my uncle told me to shoot, now. The creature noticed us, at last, and seemed curious about the two men aiming long poles his way.

Sure buddy. Perhaps the deer where you live! Where I live the dumb ones never make it past being a spike before being harvested.

His writing looks like some of the paintings you find at a "Starving Artist " sale. Many are excellent, but many are starving because they can't paint woth a damn. I have a feeling this writer would have ribs showing.

Good SHooting

Al Thompson
November 18, 2001, 03:23 PM

November 23, 2001, 08:49 AM
It has always amazed me, how guys who know nothing about a subject-hunting-can write articles about it.These pretenders think they know the truth when they dont even participate.Hell imagine being scared in a cabin just because a deer snorted? if this guy isnt some city jackass then tell me what is?

November 23, 2001, 09:55 AM
"This happens in the Catskills: A group of hunters abed once awoke in their lodge to a bear rifling food."

Only once ever? :D It *is* a good thing he has his cannon with him!

I seems to me at this point that Salon makes up for generally poor writing with vaguely "naughty" content. Many articles on sex, power, and money. And now we have the confessions of an animal killer!

November 23, 2001, 10:05 PM
I'd love to hand this guy a 460 Weatherby and tell him it's just a 30-30. Then watch him pick his butt off the ground. Then he'd know what a cannon was!

November 24, 2001, 12:30 PM
My vital stats just to assuage those who might knee-jerk label me a city-slicker b/c I understand and agree with much of what this person writes about: Alaskan since 1972, hunter, shooter...someone who grew up in the woods and would take 'em any day over the *#@*-ing city.

His writing: My profession is rooted in science, as are it's publications. But I appreciate thoughtful and emotive writing...wherein one isn't simply reading fact A followed by fact B...but rather words that paint a picture. This is what I see in his writing.

His thoughts: I agree with you guys...everything is born, lives, and then dies. And I'd much rather harvest my own meat than have some manure-ridden slaughterhouse do it for me. But I also don't 'enjoy' seeing a beautiful animal die...and there's certainly no 'sport' in it. I do it...and my children will do it...but when you respect and admire the game you're hunting and life in general...it's a little sad when that animal dies. Even though that meat's gonna feed you over the winter...assuming you're not one of those idiots who kill and then leave the meat.

My 0.2 c

November 24, 2001, 07:25 PM
Chris Ketcham is a moron. He knows nothing whatso ever about guns I have seen better writing in my 7th grade English class. No bloody wonder Slate is going out of business.

Art Eatman
November 24, 2001, 11:54 PM
Nanuuk, when you've read folks like Archibald Rutledge, Russell Annabel or Robert Ruark--to name but a trivially small few--you inherently understand the guy's incompetency at expressing his thoughts.

I ignored that, and just looked at his thoughts. He came across as one who can't tell relative importance of his emotions, or who has a poorly developed sense of priorities.

And for all that I can indeed feel a certain amount of regret at slaughtering Bambi, that regret is miniscule compared to the pride of "doing it right" and the anticipation of the great eating ahead of me.

In my personal notion of proper hunting--which is not always physically or financially possible--one finds the biggest buck in a pasture. To do that, one must pretty much find ALL the bucks in a pasture, to know which is biggest. Then, to shoot the biggest, you gotta find him a second time, right? That ain't always the easiest deal in the world.

Now, I'm mostly a walking hunter. That means I gotta kick Bucky out of bed, identify him as Shootable, and then do it. When Bucky is in full-throttle overdrive, practicing not being there as only he can do, killing him--once again--ain't the easiest thing to do.

My style of hunting is not the easiest...

So, I have little use for such as this particular author. He's whiny. What do I know? Maybe he's compassionate. So was Bill Clinton, he told us.

:) Art

Don Gwinn
November 26, 2001, 07:10 PM
This is exactly why I keep warning my eighth graders. The fact that someone is difficult to understand or uses words you don't know does NOT make him or her a good writer. There may be people who write well and are difficult to understand, but that's usually because they tackle very difficult subject matter. Anyone as incoherent as this guy is almost certainly trying to snow you into believing that he's smarter than you are.

Either that, or he doesn't know how bad he is.

November 28, 2001, 07:50 PM
A scene in the wilderness: An overly ambitious yet untalented young man. His clear vision of the wilderness derived from too many viewings of Bamabi (after all his script is taken nearly word for word from the hallowed visions of the Disney Studios). As he commutes from the Island in his new Subaru Forrester(that mom and dad just bought him) he feels an ancient instinct boiling in his loin to go to his parents house 100 MILES from NYC!!! And impress his hairy legged tree hugging (also from NYC) girl freind with his writtings.

Nothing more nothing less a pathetic little rich boy from NYC.