First off, let me start off this post by saying that it is not an anti-hunting post. I don’t really have an opinion either way when it comes to hunting. It is simply the story leading to the reason why I don’t hunt.
I’ve only been hunting once in my life. My dad and uncle took me along on a guided bear hunt in the late summer of 2001 (some much more “portly” days) up in Northern Idaho. I was really excited at the thought of bringing down a black bear. Spilling the blood of a mighty and carnivorous beast would be thrilling, I was sure of it.
We were bow hunting. I had practiced for months with my dad and uncle, shooting targets on hay bales and dirt mounds. I learned quick that I was a pretty damn good shot for having never done it before. If I could get close enough to a bear, it would be mine for the taking
The big hunt came and we packed into camp via a 4-hour horse ride deep into the forest. The guides had been setting bait out all season, and would hopefully lure the bears to us. Our only job was to sit up in tree stands all day every day and take the shot when it became available.
The guide gave us all very strict instructions that we should barely move during the day, and if we must move, we mustn’t make a sound. “Bears can hear you or see you from two miles away,” they told us. “And if they do, they’ll book it on outta here faster than a slipnot on a bungee cord.”
Day one… I sat twenty feet up in a tree. Halfway through the day I saw a beautiful and majestic black bear appear over the peak of the hilltop in front of me, and he disappeared, never to appear again. I sat even more still, and was careful not to make a sound in hopes that another bear would appear.
No bear ever came and eventually 8:00 PM came, the time my guide said he’d be back to pick me up. Tomorrow will be my day, I thought as I willed the black bear to come back.
I began (very noisily) storing my arrows, harnessing my bow into its Velcro straps, and making all sorts of noise. I stood up and sat down repeatedly to try and get the blood flowing back into my legs again. Starving, I ripped into a couple of granola bars and began chomping away while I waited for my guide to appear.
While I sat in the tree making all the noise, and after I had completely stowed away all of my hunting gear, I heard the bushes shake twenty feet to my right. I froze. The movement got closer. Could it be a bear? That would be impossible with all this sound I’m making! I thought. I soon heard loud snorting coming from the brush only a few feet away, and then she appeared. A beautiful, rare-colored black bear (did you know they’re not all black? I didn’t.)
She wandered out of the bushes and stood next to my tree. Don’t look up here, I thought. Just go get your food.
She stood under me for what seemed like ages and finally made her way to the barrel of bait. We were allowed to shoot the bears with bows or guns, and since pulling out my bow would mean undoing all sorts of Velcro, I pulled out the teeny, tiny pistol that I was carrying for protection. The bear was about 35 yards away, peacefully chowing down on whatever they had left out for her.
I raised the gun and aimed it as carefully as I could to try and hit her in the kill zone. With a gun like that, and as far out as I was, it would be a tough shot. I took a deep breath and slowly pulled the trigger.
The gun went off and the bear dropped. The sound the gun made (with as short a barrel as it had) was deafening. My ears pierced with pain, ringing violently. Smoke billowed lazily from the end of the gun.
I sat and stared at the pile of fur on the ground. And it started to move.
The bear began moaning in obvious pain. She reached out her front paws and tried to move, tried to pull herself, and tried to do anything to get out of harm’s way. But her lower half was paralyzed. Her hind legs weren’t moving.
I hated that I had done that to something so incredible. What moments before I thought would be thrilling and enjoyable was heartbreaking to me. I looked at my gun. I needed to kill her. I needed to end her suffering. She continued moaning and attempting to move.
There was no way I could shoot that gun again. A couple minutes after shooting it, my ears were still hurting and still ringing. So, I began quickly unlatching my bow. I pulled out an arrow, attached it to my drawstring, all the while whispering, “I’ll stop your suffering. I’m sorry. I’ll put an end to your pain.”
I pulled back the bow, lined up my shot, and put a broad-head arrow straight through the heart of this bear.
She died almost instantly.
This bear was beautiful. She had a cinnamon color coat with a long blond stripe running down her chest. Black bears like that are rare indeed. My guide showed up minutes later, laughing that I was able to kill a bear with a gun like that from that far away. I watched him skin and gut the bear right then, we loaded up the kill, and we went to find my dad who had also brought down a bear (also with a gun after putting away his bow for the day).
It bothered me when it happened, but I quickly forgot about the bear’s final moments (and my emotions that went along with them) as we all exchanged hunting stories back at camp. The bear carcass was laid out to dry. The hunt was a “success.”
Over the years, I’ve had several people invite me to go hunting with them again. My dad has always told me I should go with him. I have friends that hunt. Uncles. A lot of people in Utah love hunting. And I have no real problem with that. It does serve an animal population control purpose. It does bring many fathers and sons closer together. It is something that has been passed down through time since the beginning of man.
But every time somebody invites me, I only think of one thing. I only think about how that poor, paralyzed, helpless bear ended up the way she did because of me… Because I had a want for blood. Because I thought it would be fun to kill something like that. Because I thought it was manly and sporty.
But in the end, I felt neither manly nor sporty. I had sat at the top of a tree and shot an animal that had been trained to believe that the place she was eating from was safe. There’s really not a whole lot of sport in that at all.
And that’s my story of why I don’t hunt.
In fact, this year, I’m going on an Elk shoot. We’re going to shoot some of the most magnificent elk in all of Utah. Where we’re going is a once in a lifetime draw. The bulls are enormous and majestic.
Only on this trip, we’ll be shooting them with cameras.
I’m really excited about it. My brother and his wife are flying in from England, and my dad, brother, and I will be calling in the elk just like we were hunting and seeing if we can’t get some magnificent photography out of it.
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
PS. What are your thoughts on hunting? Have you ever had a bad experience with it? Do you enjoy hunting, and if so, why? Are you against all hunting? If so, why?