How I killed Bambi. (Probably not for sensitive readers)

Like many twenty somethings today, I was raised on a mix breed of tumultuous PG13 movies, snuck into the more age restricted films and had my fair share of bad television. But the movies that probably had the greatest impact on my being and my moral compass were obviously those drawn gems from Disney. Between dumbo, abu, bambi and the whole cast from Lion king, I was ingrained a love for all these critters. These movies taught me how to anthropomorphize the baby monkeys and warhogs of this world, and see in them parts of myself. Along with this, I grew up on a  solid south african diet of biltong, the epitome of happy snacking. There was no real tangible connection between these delicious sticks of spicy goodness and those aforementioned fluffy disney characters.

On a separate but related note, as will become clearer as this post goes on... we went to the shooting range for my friend's bachelor's party last year. Rarrrghhh! Men!  There in the catacomb like structure of a converted backyard, with giant ear protectors and bags upon bags of bullets did I get the chance to feel the weight and experience the power of man's most refined invention. It was a rush like I had never experienced, half fear and half something else that I can't quite place. I was shaking so much after the first few rounds I could barely steady my pistol. I got the hang of it though, I even sent off a few rounds sideways, I'm so gangster. I had no problem with the big guns though, the shotgun especially. Maybe because my arms were bent, maybe more because the idea of aiming was more an idea of pivot at the waist and brace yourself... far less of a considered action and more that all too natural rambo fantasy that my latent child brain had been rehearsing for years with any appropriately sized stick or golf club. Basically, I pwned me some noob targets.

A few weeks ago my friend asked me if I'd like to go hunting with him. Now, I have a few basic philosophies in life and one of them is to try everything... I try to reserve judgment on things until I have at least tried them. Now this is obviously flawed, I'm not really going to delve into a life of prostitution or commit genocide along the way, but I like that idea. A good quote: "A sympathetic Scot summed it all up very neatly in the remark, 'You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk dancing.'" Apart from a few modern additions that could be added to that list (think 4chan and lemon party), the reasoning is pretty sound. So after a brief pause, I jumped at the chance to go stalking in the bush with some high powered rifles.

I woke up at 4am with less than 3 hours of sleep, crawled to my car with a bag filled with everything I imagined an impromptu hunter might require. Every colour shirt, every variation of headgear, ornamental or otherwise. Every piece of warm clothing I owned, this is middle winter in the high veld and I've heard it can get a little chilly. Finally 6 memory cards, 3 lenses, my light kit and my charged camera. I'd be damned if I didn't get at least one good shot in the whole weekend.

I drove through the dead of night on an empty highway, with loud, good music and a pack of red bulls. Living the good life. When the sun finally decided to join the party, I pulled over, climbed on the roof and took a picture of a hill that just happened to be there. It was a nice hill.

When I arrived at the camp, I was dutifully given the run down of the rules and layout and a gun safety briefing. I was handed a rifle and taken to the shooting range for a few "test" shots. In my mind I was trying to substitute the black and white target taped to the board with the chest and head of an animal. I didn't quite manage that, but I did satisfy my hosts in my ability to handle a rifle. Or at the very least, not pose a mortal threat to their persons. They loaded me onto a truck and off we went.

Now, the main thing here is that shooting isn't all fun and games, it costs money. I had done my budget pretty well until then but I still needed to ensure that I didn't shoot anything that would leave me bankrupt... but on the other hand ensure that what I did shoot made enough financial sense. I had decided, if I did pull the trigger, to not aim for anything larger than an impala. I was still trying to figure out where I could possibly store all that meat when the truck shuddered to an elegant stop. I was hoisted off along with my rifle, a friend and a guide. The truck and its occupants were silent and they simply pointed me to what I assumed was north, I couldn't be sure because I don't really know such things and I still had more caffeine in me than was necessary or healthy... but it felt like north.

So there I was, awkwardly making my way through the bush veld, saplings and bushes around me. Not knowing if I should be ninja strafing or duplicating the guide's footsteps, I ended up just padding along. Deathly silence enveloped our little hunting party and apart from our footsteps, which simultaneously seemed far too loud and amazingly silent, there were no sounds, not even a bird was chirping. Then they hit me, all the moral and ethical concerns that I had maybe consciously avoided about the weekend started flooding my conscious mind. I had assumed I would know, when I was looking down the barrel whether it was meant to be. Not in a 'it's you or me' sense, because I'm pretty sure it would always be me, until I ran out of bullets at least. But more in a moral sense, is it  right to kill another living thing? Lion king taught me that lions cry too... I've killed frogs and ants and maybe hit a bird or two with my car, but I've never made a conscious effort to snuff the life of an animal. I kept reminding myself that the point after all was to "try" everything once. Even those that might make me uncomfortable. How would I know how I felt about it afterwards if I had never even tried... But still here I was, walking behind two men with blood in their eyes, unwavering following the scent of some beast I was yet to see, and I was having an existential crisis. I had somehow gone from an over-caffeinated, zen killing machine to a hippie philosopher in the matter of 5 minutes.

I don't remember all the thoughts that ran through my head, but the conclusion that I arrived at was one that I was comfortable with. I live a life where I eat meat, most days, and I had yet to experience where all the meat in the refrigerated aisles at pick and pay come from. I tried to imagine a world where I would have had to slaughter a cow or a chicken every time I wanted a KFC twister or a Steers burger. Almost all of my friends that are against hunting are not vegetarian, they are as carnivorous as most. But somehow they all live in this contradictory world where "meat is great, I want it, but I don't want to see or know where it comes from and I sure as certainty will never kill an animal". I can't agree with that, I mean, I'm a giant ball of hypocrisy on most days but that just seems silly.

I am very much against the ill treatment of animals, but I don't pretend that meat comes from some magical pixie farm... Well not yet anyway. In a world where we can print kidneys, I'm pretty certain that cow-less meat isn't far behind. The way we produce, farm and distribute meat is appalling and needs to change, partly for our planet's sake but more for our souls as a species. But today this was not the conundrum I was facing, walking (stalking) through the ranch, rifle in hand. In a way, this is as close to a fighting chance the modern world provides these animals.

Upon stepping on a rather large twig that broke with a, under any other circumstances, satisfying crack, I was pulled back to the situation before me. The why had been decided the moment I woke up that morning. I needed to decide what I was going to kill. Evolutionarily, the rifle renders all the natural world's defenses moot.
What good was eye sight, or hearing, or quick reflexes to a bullet fired at more than 4000 feet per second from 200 meters away? And the fact that the largest, meanest male made for the best trophy complicated things further. The strongest, most virile genetic code would fall prey to a bullet the same way the targets in the shooting range disintegrated. Natural selection doesn't stand a chance and there can be no survival of the fittest in a situation where even the fastest sprinter's might pales in comparison to even the most modest rifle at a hunter's disposal. In that moment I decided, no shooting rams.

We rounded another corner, so to speak, and suddenly the guide dropped to a crouch. He turned and indicated we should do the same. My friend enthusiastically pushed me ahead of him and before I knew it I was on my knees next to the guide with my rifle on a shooting stick looking at an enlarged view through the scope, directly across from us was a herd of quietly grazing impala. Straight ahead of me was a fawn, nibbling on a piece of dried grass no more than 50 meters away. We were clearly downwind. I was staring at her for what seemed like an eternity and then as though she sensed our presence, she paused and raised her head in our direction. The shot that screamed out momentarily turned the tranquility into chaos.

By the time I had regained my composure she was on the ground. The herd had scattered in every direction, instinct I thought, but too late. I ejected the shell casing from the barrel, it rocketed out with unexpected force and dug itself into the ground a few feet away from me, kicking up a small cloud of fine red sand. I bent to pick it up and slid it into my pocket. By now my friend and the guide were already hovering by my victim. She wasn't moving, but still alive. What surprised me most was the lack of fear, or any emotion for that matter, in the situation. There was no struggle, no resistance though I could have been sure that she had the power left to do so. Our fates had been sealed and she and I had both resigned ourselves to them. I knew ahead of time that if I did not end her life in the first blow, that there would be an even greater test ahead of me. And so I stood, looking down on this creature that under any other circumstances I would have enjoyed admiring from afar, perhaps through binoculars or a zoom lens. Grazing or purely in passing, studying her manner and deciphering her movements into some internal animation catalog for future use. Not today. The moment I squeezed the trigger, I knew that it would be the last moment of admiration anyone would have for her.

I was handed a silver folding knife, blade extended, it seemed like the edge was dull. The guide sensing my disorientation hunched down and helpfully lifted her head and indicated with his hand where I should cut. I bent down and quickly slit her throat, the knife wasn't dull at all despite its outward appearance. There was remarkably little blood.

Afterwards I sat looking at her fragile figure and wondering if I had changed as a person. My friend came over and covered my face with her blood - initiation for a first kill. When the truck came back around I was given a congratulatory hand shake by every man and given a second round of blood smearing. I liked the camaraderie of the whole affair, it goes a long way in removing any ill feelings that might be brewing. That night my friend and I had to eat the raw livers of our fawns, as is the other custom. He also shot his first that weekend.  

I can't say that I've developed a thirst for blood, but I'll have to wait and see if I decide to go again come the next hunting season.

I'm sorry Bambi. 

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