“Give me the gun” my Uncle blurted out as I stood there rifle in hand. This was the first time I had seen my Uncle Mike in the better part of a decade. We had traveled up north for my cousin’s wedding and to see all the family. Uncle Mike was the first we saw. While we waited for my Grandparents to return he decided we would waste away the afternoon shooting his new rifle.
My Uncle, Brother, and I had jumped into his bright orange truck and headed for the old cabin. The ride was horrible from the road out to the cabin being so muddy and holey from the tractors. I was sitting on the passenger window and watched the rows of corn drift by like lines on a road as we went into the woods. Everything was just like I remembered it at the old blue cabin. The old wood stove stood in the middle of the plank board floor. The Army and Marine special forces posters were still proudly on the walls. The only military people in our family were my Father, my Uncle Mike, and me. And none of us were in special forces which is why they always caught my eye. Why put posters up to something not one of us does?
Uncle Mike took out the ammo like a kid pulling out Pez in reverse. He placed the rounds one by one into the top of the clip and almost dropped a few due to his excitement. Maybe I am too much of a geek to understand all this hoopla over a gun. Maybe I am just too much of a city boy. In any case we walked out to the edge of the pond for target practice. My Uncle described how he sat out there on days off and shot at turtles for target practice. He had a special lawn chair to sit on right off the edge of the muddy pond and wait for them to come up for air. This should have keyed me into the fact that my Uncle and I were at odds.
I don’t mind hunting animals. I would die to defend your right to own arms and to hunt deer. What I don’t condone is people killing for no reason than to kill. Those turtles were shot and all they did was decay on the bottom of the muddy pond. My Christian morals teach me to have respect for all life no matter how small. The turtle had my sympathy as I can’t say he died for any worthwhile cause.
My Uncle placed the clip into the gun and loaded one into the chamber. I wasn’t sure what to expect after the turtle story, but he seemed okay as he pointed us to shoot at a white can nailed to a fence over across the pond. As my Brother squeezed off the first shot, my Uncle and I talked about shooting the M16 rifles in the military. He seemed to like the fact that I knew all about the military. I could sense the midst of regret and longing. Regret for leaving and longing to return. My Brother nailed the target from across the pond with no problem. The sound of the rifle ricocheted through the many twigs and trees scattered around our sanctuary.
I was handed the gun for my trial shot. The rifle had a different feel than most I had the chance to shoot. The scope was worth more than the entire gun and the rounds were special target rounds. All the same I wasn’t going to be labeled the city boy. I pulled the stock to my shoulder and gazed into the scope. I scaled my breathing and pulled the trigger. “BULLSEYE!” I chuckled as I pulled down the gun to get a better look. Instead my eyes wandered to 2 animals rustling in the bush slightly beyond the target.
Looking back I wish I would have never said anything. I was the only one in the group with 20/20 vision and most likely the only one to see them. When I blurted out “Look at those dogs”, I fully expected us to call them over and pet them. I could see they had collars on and most likely not wild. I was smiling as they were 2 cute little beagles, pudgy beagles. I total forgot about the recent things my Uncle had told me. I forgot about the little turtle. “Hand me the gun” he rattled off as we stood there. I had already began to hand it to him for his turn of target practice. It wasn’t till he scoped beyond the target and at the dogs that I realized he was going to shoot at them. I stood there frozen against the mud below my feet. I couldn’t believe he was going to shoot these dogs.
The first shot went wide from the lead dog. For a second my nerves settled as it appeared he was just going to scare them away. The dogs looked over at us to see what the racket was. They were a little shaken up by the bullet grazing the area in front of them. The one dog looked right at me. He had that goofy dog smile some have. I was taking in their reaction when it occurred to me that another bullet was just cocked into the chamber. The next shot wasn’t a scare shot.
The dog began to whimper. Just like a child screams “ow” over and over again when they are hurt badly, this dog did. My eyes were wide as I took in the fact he shot the dog. I looked closely attempting to see where he was hit. My Uncle and Brother took off around the pond for a closer look. I debated inside whether or not to go. I was torn inside with myself at the fact that I was so weak to say nothing. Like the new kid I followed closely behind them. My Uncle cocked another round into the chamber. I knew he was going to finish this. I made the sign of the cross and stayed farther back. He walked closer to the dog now laying there on his stomach whimpering. The other dog stood back 20 yards and waited there for his friend to run off with him. I prayed that he ran off before my Uncle finished off his friend.
My Uncle bent down to inspect his tags to see if he knew the owner. “Nope” he said nonchalantly and he stepped back and took aim. The first shot had took out the dogs left front leg. The next shot took out his life. He aimed and with one shot to the head the dog let out its last cry. I stood there. I stood there and did nothing. What a coward to watch this all happen and not have the courage to stand up for the right thing. I was to scared to be the one person in the family not a hunter, not a farmer, and not a killer. I wanted so much to fit in with the family I hadn’t seen in years. And because of that I didn’t say a word. Instead I watched this dog take a bullet to the head. His body slightly jitter like a bug does after they are stomped on. The last things their brains were sending out before the death. His head lifted up and then fell to the ground with the last gasp of air escaping his nose. In perfect sequence his eyes shut. I shut mine with his.
With my eyes shut I prayed for the dog, for my Uncle, and my Brother. I asked God to let this dog run free in the best parts of doggie heaven. For my Uncle I asked God to put into his heart the love and respect of life. Lastly for my Brother I prayed that he didn’t find this cool…that he found this as repulsive as I did. After he was dead, my Uncle grabbed him by the back legs and threw him off into the woods. With one last scan for the owners we walked back to the truck. Each step weighed heavy on my heart. I battled with my insides to say something…do something…I figured the least we could do was bury him. No luck. I followed in line back to the orange truck. Just as I jumped into the passenger side of the truck a vulcher flew overhead. The bird had smelt the death. I looked over to that side of the pond once more to see the little guy’s friend run off down the trails. I had hoped that he was running home wherever that was. I hoped that there was a little kid waiting for his best pal.
I can’t remember the rest of the ride back to Grandma’s for pizza. I haven’t the foggiest clue what was said or what I said. All I could think about was the scene we just left. I am not opposed to hunting or shooting animals. I think it is cheaper and easier to get them prepackaged at Wal-Mart, but to each their own. What disgusted me so much inside was that the dog stood no chance. He was scoped at a distance to where he couldn’t hear us. He was killed and then thrown off into woods like trash. Genesis clearly lays out that God created all life. He called into existence everything that graces this amazing Earth. The least I could do is stand as a guardian of His great works. Thinking back to this day still saddens me. I hope that writing this down will in some way help me to fully grasp what happened. Looking back now I see so many times I could have stopped what happened. I could have been a child of God. Instead I am writing this for all of you to read.