Originally Posted on The Yale Herald - Medium via UWIRE

I was eight years old when I first shot a gun. I killed a pheasant. I shot it twice: first in its leg and then again in its chest. It was the day after Thanksgiving, 2007.

My dad woke me up at 4:30 in the morning to drive two-and-a-half hours from our house in Charlotte, N.C. to a fancy pheasant-shooting farm in South Carolina. He and his brother always went hunting the day after Thanksgiving, but my Uncle Matt was with his wife’s family that year, so my dad brought me instead. He called it a father-daughter outing. He hoped it would be the beginning of an annual tradition.

I remember I wore a white and green striped Abercrombie & Fitch shirt that morning. It was tight and smelled overpoweringly of the teenage-boy cologne the store sells. When I wore it, I felt old and hot, and I considered it an appropriately fashionable interpretation of the oversized camouflage vest my dad was trying to get me to wear. He surrendered, and I won. I did wear his big neon orange baseball hat, though. “You have to wear it so that everyone can see you in the field. So that nobody shoots you by accident,” he said.

I rode to the farm in a booster seat in the back of my dad’s Suburban. The truck was a metallic forest green. He kept his screwdrivers in the cupholders in the backseat. He kept his rifles in a pile in the trunk. My dad drives fast always and he drove fast that morning. The cops pulled us over and gave him a ticket for speeding. I was scared. I thought they might check the trunk and see all his guns and think that he was lying about being my dad, and suspect that actually he was kidnapping me. They didn’t check the trunk for guns. We drove on, safe.

Illustration by Paige Davis

Last week, my best friend from high school, Mebane, went to a fundraiser for Ducks Unlimited in Charlottesville, Va. . There was an all-you-can-eat buffet and an open bar and fraternity boys in button-down shirts and silver cufflinks and plain white Vans. All the girls wore cocktail dresses. After dessert, they auctioned off a semi-automatic rifle. The winner was a fourteen-year-old girl. She went up to the stage to accept the weapon, and people clapped. Later that night, she decided she didn’t want it. Maybe she’d been drilled enough times on the lock-down protocol to know better. Or maybe it was too heavy for her to carry home by herself. She gave it back to the showrunners and an old man took it instead. Probably, it made another addition to an extensive collection.

When I was eight and shot the pheasant, it wasn’t flying. It was on the ground. You’re not supposed to shoot birds when they’re on the ground because it takes the challenge out of the sport. It makes it too easy. You’re supposed to shoot birds when they’re flying, when they’re so far away that they don’t even look like birds, but just black specks moving through the sky in swarms or V-shapes or sometimes, if you’re unlucky, alone. It’s hard to shoot a bird when it’s flying alone but not in a way that makes it a sport. The target is smaller, and the pay-off is smaller too. You’re supposed to shoot birds in packs, when they’re far enough away that you forget that they’re alive and can’t tell that they’re dead until your dog is at your feet holding the the limp feathered bodies between its jaws.

When my brothers and I watched Kill Bill with my mother one Sunday night last summer, she shouted every time a gun sounded.

“Shush, Mom. I can’t hear what they’re saying,” my younger brother said.

“Oh! She screamed again, and covered her mouth. “Sorry, sorry.” When it finished, she said, “You can tell that movie was made by a man.”

When my mom was thirty, her younger cousin used a gun to shoot himself by the pond in his mother’s backyard. Since then she hasn’t gone to a shooting range with my dad. When he asks her to go with her, she tells him that she has sensitive ears, and the kick-back leaves an ugly bruise between her breast and armpit.

I’m not a good shot anymore. Maybe I would be if the father-daughter hunting outing had become a tradition, but my uncle started spending Thanksgivings in Charlotte and Christmases with his wife’s family, and my little brothers got old enough to shoot soon after I did. Together, we used to prop old soup cans and empty milk jugs on tree stumps in our backyard and shoot them with our BB guns. It was fun until the BB guns lost their novelty and my brothers moved on to real guns, the ones my dad keeps locked in a metal safe next to his bookshelf. Shooting became a boys’ thing again.

My dad still talks about the day I shot that pheasant at dinner parties and on my birthday and during most Thanksgivings. Like my mother, I’ve learned to hate the bruise a gun leaves between my armpit and breast. A gun is too heavy and too loud for me to hold anymore. I can’t see killing as a sport. But when my dad tells the story, I still smile.

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