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Confessions of an Adolescent Killer

May 7, 2012

I was 10 years old when I went on my first killing spree…

Bow hunting was an important annual activity for my family when I was growing up.  We’d pack up the camper and drive for about three hours, heading east through the canyons out of Ogden, Utah, traversing the Wyoming badlands, and crossing back into Utah to enter the Ashley National Forest.  There we’d meet up with my uncle and aunt and a group of three or four other families.  During the week or so camping in the vicinity of Spirit Lake, we’d spend early mornings and evenings hunting for mule deer along seemingly endless dirt roads.

I was the youngest of the relatively older kids at the camp and spent a lot of time trailing around behind three or four teenagers.  I was old enough to keep their marijuana-toking secret and harbor prepubescent impure thoughts about my cousin Tammy, but too young to be much more than a mascot for them.  When not tagging along with the big kids, I passed much of my time wandering through the forest pulling down dead saplings or using a heavy stick to knock dried branches off of fallen trees.

The times were good.  I fondly remember gathering around the large campfire after dusk to listen to the adults tell exaggerated stories of past hunting and fishing conquests.  I also recall being amazed at the experienced hunters’ ability to track a wounded buck over large distances via the scant blood droplets left on scrub brush and pine needles that covered the groundI wanted to be like them.  Eventually the call of the wild beckoned and, in the summer of 1974 at the age of 10, I was moved to trek alone into the quaking aspens to prove myself a great hunter.

My first bow was a flimsy yellow fiberglass deal I used to shoot cheap wooden arrows with plastic feathers.  I had practiced with it extensively, mainly targeting hay bales and tree stumps.  As I skulked through the woods that day, I was imposingly kitted out with a faux buckskin quiver attached to my belt and tanned leather forearm protector and finger pad.  I was prepared for glory.

I wildly missed a couple of chipmunks before I came upon a robin sitting on an old log.  Sensing opportunity, I drew back and tucked the taut bow string into my cheek, lined up the arrow, and let it fly.  The robin leapt off the log just as I released but the projectile glided true and swift.  Even as the luckless bird spread her wings in a failed attempt to escape, the arrow perforated her chest dead center.  The shot was awesome; I was a mighty bowman and could think of nothing but getting back to camp and announcing my achievement.  I pulled the bloody arrow out of my felled prey and carefully stored it in my quiver.  Leaving my victim irreverently splayed on the ground, I headed back to tell the tale.

Before I had gone 20 yards from the site of my first kill however, I spotted a tree squirrel sitting on a branch about 15 feet up.  Confidence in my skills high, I once again selected and nocked the now lucky red-spattered arrow, took aim, and let loose, knowing that I couldn’t miss.  Sure enough, the blood-lusting missile sailed into the squirrel’s gut and lodged there, the feathered portion refusing to penetrate while the pointy half protruded out of the animal’s back.

I was surprised to see that the squirrel was not knocked off the branch but instead remained there looking down at me.  The unwelcome new appendages sticking out of his front and back hampered movement, leaving the squirrel unable to flee and with no choice but to stay put.  Seeing the unkilled, distressed forest creature perched up there staring down at me, I was somewhat stunned.  I quickly came down from the wave of primitive masculine triumph I had been riding and anxiously grabbed arrow after arrow from my quiver in attempts to shoot the wounded rodent out of the tree.

Repeatedly missing by yards, I finally gave up the bow and began throwing rocks, eventually succeeding in bringing my fellow mammal to the forest floor.  He tried to scurry away but being skewered by an arrow twice his length made escape impossible.  No longer seeking to finish the kill but rather to simply stop the confusion, I picked up a large boulder and dropped it on the terrified animal’s head.  After extracting my arrow from the dead squirrel’s gut, I sent it flying as far into the forest as my 10-year-old arms could launch it.

By the time I got back to camp, I no longer wanted to proclaim the glorious fulfillment of my quest, instead quietly seeking out Dad to tell him of my uncertain and most assuredly non-heroic feelings.  He answered with supportive words that I have lost to time but which indicated he was not displeased with my discomfort about the day’s events.

From → Beasts

  1. Reading this after re-reading ‘Secret of the runes’ was surreal and a little disquieting. I could say something about how the flat telling leaves space to reach into my own child experience, but I don’t really know what I find there, other than a memory of a boy whose name I have long forgotten showing me how he shot sparrows with his air rifle in his back yard.

    So maybe I should go with some clumsy Ted Nugent half-joke…

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