In Which I Take The First Steps Towards An Alarming New Skill

Here we have a post that I am more than a little afraid to write, but I will do it because I am me and I do not let good sense stop me. And also I have written sagas of having electrodes taped to my butt, and if y’all can handle that, you can handle anything.

And, perhaps most obviously, if I can do this, anybody can do it, and perhaps my stark terror will be of use to someone.

I have decided that I want to learn to hunt deer.

There are good sound ecological reasons–deer are massively overpopulated on the East Coast, particularly in the Southeast, and I have frequently muttered to myself that a nuisance deer permit would be really handy right about now, while staring out the window at a doe who is gazing around vaguely wondering who is yelling “SHOO! SHOO!” at her.

And as a gardener I have become more and more enamored of the notion of being able to feed myself–not that I DO (far from it) but that if I really wanted to, I COULD. And I am not the sort of personality who can keep livestock, nor do I have the space, so this seemed like the best compromise position.

There’s more to it than that, but the thoughts are still kind of tangled up in my head, so I’m not confident that I’m gonna say this next bit well–something about how if I am going to eat meat, I feel like I owe it to…something…to dispatch my own food at least once, so that I do not have the bloodless illusion of neatly packaged cuts on styrofoam trays. It may be that when the moment comes, I walk away and go “I can’t do this again and will become a vegetarian forthwith,” but I want to know. The more I learn about factory farming, the more I get angry at how we have turned a life into a commodity, and somehow I feel like if I can step away from that, I’ll learn…something. I don’t know what. I want to take responsibility for a life being sacrificed so I can eat, and own that debt. Even if it’s horrible (and it might very well be) at least I’ll know.

I have no idea if that makes any sense to anybody but me.

Having mulled over this decision, I wrote to my father, who is a lifelong hunter, and said “How do I learn to hunt a deer?”

The e-mail that came back said “Is this for a book?” and carried a strong overtone of “Wut.”

I explained that I felt strongly about local food and that no, I wished to actually go through the process at least once.

We repeated this once or twice, and then, presumably confident that I had not actually been replaced by a lizard person, my father said “If you’re sure you want to try, then I will teach you everything I know.”

Unfortunately, this involves firearms.

I am a liberal. I am a liberal to the nth degree. Also, I’m a little scared of my Dremel, for god’s sake.

Okay. Well, I have always said that I had no problem with people using guns to hunt. Let’s see if I was telling the truth or not.

When Dad drove up for Christmas, he showed me the sort of gun he uses. It seemed to be approximately ten feet long. I could not imagine holding it level for any length of time.

However, apparently they make a whole bunch of types of guns. A whole bunch. Like…lots.

Possibly some of you are aware of this fact already.

“It’s pronounced “thirty-ought” he said. “People laugh at you when you mispronounce it. God, it’s so annoying. And this is a clip and this is a magazine and if you ask for the magazine when you mean the clip, there is always someone who will correct you even though they know what you mean.”

Apparently firearms bring out the pedantic side of many people.

We went through the basic process of “this is how you check if it’s loaded. Always check if it’s loaded. No one will ever get mad at you for checking. Ever. Even if they have just told you it is, check for yourself.”

Have I mentioned that I’m a liberal? I am. So very liberal. Really really liberal.

I screwed up my nerve for some days after this, and then off I went.

Now, my father tells me right off that he is intimidated standing at the rifle counter because there are a lot of people who are…y’know…(There were vague hand gestures at this point, expressing phallic substitutes and ammosexuals and people who are reallllllly into it in weird ways and so forth.) He was genuinely a bit worried about what would happen when I went into a gun shop, because misogyny runs rampant in many such places, and I was gonna get all the condescension with an extra helping of “Hey, little lady” on top.

(The shop I had planned to go to, everyone at the coffee shop said “DON’T DO IT THE OWNER IS–IS–JUST–DON’T DO IT!” Also the windows were wall-to-wall NRA signs. And Trump signs.

I googled for liberal gun stores. The less said about that, the better. And then a woman in the corner piped up that one had literally just opened a month ago, and off I went.)

I sat in front of the brand new store. It did not have any Trump signs or NRA signs. It said it was a hunting supply store. Okay. I like supplies. Everybody likes supplies, right?

What the hell was I doing? I treat the cordless drill like it could turn on me like a starving wolf.

I wondered if there was somebody I could text for an affirmation that I was a strong confident woman and I could totally do the thing. But what if they asked what I needed the affirmation for, though? Would I have to tell them I was going into a gun store? Now I needed an affirmation to have the nerve to talk to the affirmation people. Oh god, this was hard.

I took a deep breath. I shut off the truck. I went inside.

It was a very new store. It didn’t have carpet yet. There was a set of targets for sale on the wall. One of them was–I kid you not–a zombie jackalope.

This was sufficiently surreal that I felt like I was on safer ground. I understand zombie jackalopes.

There was one person in the store, standing behind the counter with the morose air of a man who is wondering if business is going to pick up in time to be worth it. I went up to the counter and said “Maybe you can help me.”

“Sure!” he said.

“I have no idea how to use a gun. My father has offered to teach me to hunt deer. I would like to do this. I am supposed to buy a twenty-two to practice shooting with first, though. Can you tell me what I need to do to make that happen?”

I was rather proud that I got all that out without blurting that I was a liberal and a registered Democrat.

“Sure,” he said, “this is the basic model I carry and if you’re just looking to get a feel for shooting, the ammo’s cheap.” He took one down from the wall.

It was gray. It looked like it was made mostly of plastic. Was I allowed to put a Hello Kitty sticker on the stock or the butt or whatever it was? Would that mark me as dangerously insane? If people thought I was dangerously insane, would they leave me alone or would they try to make conversation with me? Oh god.

He handed it to me. I held it like a mulch fork. Myke Cole on Twitter has hammered into a whole bunch of nice authors that you don’t put your finger on the trigger. I did not put my finger on the trigger.

“How do I check if it’s loaded?” I asked.

He showed me. There was a little gizmo that is orange. If you see the orange bit, there is not a bullet in the way. If you do not see the orange bit, you are looking at a bullet, which is recognizable to many of us because it looks like a gnome-sized vibrator.

There is a thing that I believe is called the bolt. A bolt-action is a type of gun. Okay, this had a bolt. Did that make it bolt action? (It does not, as it turns out, any more than having a transmission makes a car a manual.)

Speaking of manuals, I really hoped the gun came with one.

“Look through this bit here,” he said patiently, “and line it up with that bit there, and that should be your target.” The tiny bit at the end seemed very, very tiny. Jesus. Also, I had apparently drunk a LOT of coffee while trying to locate my courage.

I have a liberal arts degree, emphasis on the liberal. My political leanings are somewhere to the left of Dennis Kucinich.

“Okay,” I said, looking at the bit through the thing. Do not aim at anything you are not willing to put a hole into. Did Myke Cole say that? Anyway, I was aiming at a boar head on the wall. The boar looked very cheerful about something. “I see. Okay. I am supposed to get a scope.” (I think that makes the bit bigger when you look through the thing.)

“It will take me a few minutes to attach one,” he said, as if this were a perfectly reasonable request, “but this is a reliable and inexpensive scope for a twenty-two. It is what I would probably get.”

“Excellent,” I said. “Now, what do I have to do to buy a gun?”

He looked at me blankly. I looked at him equally blankly.

“Err…give me a driver’s license and pass a background check?”

“…I don’t need a gun permit?”

“Not for a hunting rifle,” he said.

This was insane. I could kill someone with this! I mean, if I could hit them, which honestly, it’d be easier to club them to death with the stock (or the butt?) at this point, because looking at the bit through the thing seemed very haphazard, so they would have to stand very still unless they were right in front of me, and I’d probably forget to take the safety off and I didn’t know how to load it yet and shouldn’t they make sure I knew what I was doing before they let me give them money for a gun?!

“I don’t need to take a class?” I said weakly.

“You will need to take a hunting safety class to get a hunting permit,” he explained. “You go to the NC dot gov website and you can find class listings from there.”

“But I can just shoot the gun. Without a permit?” (Oh god, I wanted a piece of paper that said I wasn’t an idiot and knew not to point the end at anything I liked. Maybe that would make it true. Truer. Extra true. Maybe I should take the hunting safety class before I shot at anything. Maybe I should take the class before I loaded it. Or touched it. Maybe I should have my head examined.)

I have a particular gift–or curse–that occasionally I am so absolutely incompetent that I can negate the competence of others. This man owned a gun-store named after his father. He taught handgun certification classes. I had successfully baffled him so hard that he began to sound as uncertain as I was.

“It’s a twenty-two?” he said, as if this explained something.

“And I can just buy it?”

“If you have money? You can buy a rifle? Err…are…are you a felon?”

“I don’t think so?” I said.

We both briefly contemplated the possibility of my felonhood. Apparently this did not strike him as likely. I was no longer so certain.

“You don’t need a permit to own it,” he said.

“What do I do if I want to shoot it, though?” (Maybe this was like a driver’s license, and I could buy it, but not drive it.)

“You…you buy ammunition…?” One of us was clearly out of their mind, and I believe he was starting to worry that it was him. “It’s a twenty-two. Um. I have ammo. This is ammo.” He looked at a box on the counter as if to reassure himself that he did indeed still sell bullets. “Um. Do you live in the county?”

“Yes? Uh, it’s not incorporated?”

“Do you have something to shoot into?”

“There’s a hunting property right behind the house. Trees for miles. I mean, it’s not my hunting property, obviously. But we own some of the woods.” I considered this, then added “They’re trees. Yes,” in case he doubted the existence of the trees.

“You…you just need one tree…” I think at this point he was starting to wonder if he was the subject of one of those sting videos, except that presumably I’d be better at it. “You put a target on the tree. If you’re not in city limits and not right up by your neighbors, you can target shoot in the backyard. It’s a twenty-two. Nobody cares. If the police come, tell them exactly what you’re doing. They won’t care. Believe me.” He rallied a bit. “They’ve been out to my place plenty of times. Just tell them exactly what you’re doing. You can hardly hear a twenty-two anyway, it’s just a crack.”

In fact, I hear what sounds like gunfire fairly often in the neighborhood, but I made a mental note to check all relevant statutes involving shooting at trees before I did anything. Maybe I needed to go to a gun range. Could I do that? Did you take rifles to a gun range? I thought ranges were for handguns. Could I find a range? Would they be able to smell that I had once voted for Ralph Nader in a fit of youthful madness?

“How long does the background check take?” I asked. “Do I need to come back later?”

“It..I…it only takes a minute, if the internet is working? Err. Fill out this form.”

Forms! I am good with forms. I can fill out a form like a boss. I filled out the form while he collected himself.

There was a question that said “Are you a fugitive from justice?” I stared at it for a brief period, wondering if anyone ever said Yes. People say yes to very stupid things sometimes.

“Does anyone ever say yes to this?”


He took the form. He looked at it. He said “Congratulations.”


“You’re the first person who’s ever filled it out right on the first try.”


“The bit here, where you checked this box and then this other box, people only ever check one box.”

“But it says right there that you have to check both boxes.” I began to think that possibly I was not the least competent person to ever purchase a firearm.

I went away while he worked the scope. I frantically texted my friend Crimson who has all the certifications in all the things and I think is legally allowed to harpoon whales under seventy-two inches and asked him if I was forgetting a thing, or all the things.

He asked what brand it was. I said it was gray. Gray, as it turns out, is not a brand.

He asked if it was bolt action. I allowed as how there was a thing on it that resembled a bolt in some fashion.

He said I needed a cleaning kit. Oh jesus, of course, you have to clean these things. I saw that movie with Ice-T. Oh god. Were there, like, Youtube videos?

Crimson said that there were indeed a great many videos.

I asked him where I was supposed to put it when I wasn’t shooting at things. I did not want to put it in a corner with my sword and my machete. What if it fell over? What if I was hyper-aware that it was there because I am a liberal and the presence of guns makes me break out in hives and the hives spell out the statistics of those killed annually by guns in the United States except we don’t know all the statistics because the NRA blocked all those studies by the CDC and maybe my hives would be the only accurate source of data and I would have to volunteer to be studied without pants on?

I stopped myself before I had typed more than about a third of this, erased it, and asked what I was supposed to do about storage.

He explained about trigger locks, which I absolutely positively had to have, and then about gun safes bolted to the floor in case of theft, which seemed a little excessive. Could I get a case? A case seemed like a nice compromise. You can keep many things in cases, like birding scopes. They can be locked.

He agreed that this was a thing that was indeed possible. Also bags. Also, I needed eye and ear protection.

I texted my buddy Otter and told her I was scared and also a liberal. She agreed that I was, indeed, a liberal.

I went back. The gunshop owner, looking as if he was also having a slightly traumatic afternoon, showed me how to put bullets in the gun and then take them out again. We revisited the safety. He said something about lasers and the scope and the bore and I tried to look as if I had any idea what that meant. He showed me how to adjust the scope if I found it was not completely accurate, but said that I would want to try shooting it a few times first.

I looked through the scope. It was very dark.

He then showed me how to take the caps off the scope. I looked through it again. Yup, there was that boar on the wall again. Still looked happy.

“Get your head down on it,” he said, which sounded like English, anyway, and then tried to demonstrate putting my head down farther on the back end. I made a note to look up all the Youtube videos.

I bought eye protection and a cleaning kit and a target. (Not the zombie jackalope one.) He gave me several free targets, possibly out of pity, and threw in earplugs as well. “If you have any problems,” he said, “here is a card. And if you…err…if the shooting’s difficult…if…well, come back and I have air rifles that we can shoot here and I’ll show you what I can.” He looked as tired as I felt.

The gun went into a box and the box went into my car. I made a note that it was a Remington. I have heard that name before. I passed this information along to Crimson, who confirmed that yes, guns exist with that name on them. I asked if I could put a Hello Kitty sticker on it to make me feel better. He did not say no.

I mentioned that I’m a liberal, right?





15 thoughts on “In Which I Take The First Steps Towards An Alarming New Skill

  1. Sario says:

    So, you seem to have several people you can ask gun related questions to. This is a very good thing. Ask every question that comes to mind. If you don’t mind my presumption, I’ll try to answer some of your questions now. Yes, you can put a Hello Kitty sticker on your gun. The ranges you’re thinking of are the ones you see on tv and in the movies (Indoor with ‘stalls’ for the shooters) are indeed handgun ranges. There are also outdoor ranges that are made for rifles. Important note about shooting in general and at ranges specifically: NEVER shoot into the air (what goes up does indeed come down) also, never shoot at the ground. Bullets hitting the ground at shallow angles will often skip off the ground (think skipping stones on a pond, but with much bigger arcs) and again, what goes up will come down. There are a number of ways to secure your gun. Trigger locks are simple and effective. Most gun case have a place for one or more padlocks. Gun cases are not only good for keeping your gun(s) safe, they can also be used to secure other valuables.

    That’s all the rambling answers that I can think of right now. If you have other questions, please email me, I’ll be very happy to help in any way I can.

  2. ChesapeakeDalton says:

    Its possible to be liberal and a gun owner. In fact, if there were more of us open about it, and tried to get more liberals involved in a way like you’re doing, maybe the whole gun owner scene wouldn’t be so toxic so much of the time…
    That said, take the hunter safety course, it’ll cover a lot of the basics. Mostly, it comes down to “treat the gun like its loaded, even if you think it isn’t, and make sure whatever its pointed at is something you don’t mind a hole in, like a pile of dirt”
    Cleaning it will be like cleaning anything else–put solvent on it to remove residue (lead in the barrel, gunpowder elsewere) using rags (and the little rod down the barrel for that part), then wipe it off, and put gun oil on it so it doesn’t rust. If you’re not comfortable, go to a local outdoor range with somebody local you trust and practice-and start at short range. You may end up feeling a bit silly, but better to develop good habits, especially because a good bit of making sure the animal dies quick and doesn’t suffer is putting the bullet in the right spot. Also, if you don’t feel up to deer, .22LR is good enough to kill squirrel or groundhog cleanly, though I can’t vouch for the taste of either. Also, while it doesn’t matter as much with the .22, make sure you’ve got the butt (the shoulder bit) firmly into your shoulder in the fold of it, and make sure your cheek has good contact with the stock–if you go out hunting with the .30-06, not planting it firmly in your shoulder lets it get a good run-up and it’ll kick harder.

    Remington is a decent and reputable manufacturer. Also, there’s nothing wrong with a hello kitty rifle, even if this was originally a joke at us liberals expense:

    And like Sario said, feel free to ask questions, most gun owners aren’t jerks, many are actually liberals, and we’re usually quite happy to help and share our hobby. Hope this helps, and I love your writing!

  3. Seth says:

    I’m a liberal. I own a bunch of guns. Guns are really cool tech with lots of history. Shooting guns is fun. Find yourself an NRA First Steps class, they’re good people and they’ll teach you the basics. Stay out of New Jersey. You’ll be fine. 🙂

  4. Sevesteen says:

    Learn Cooper’s 4 rules for gun handling:
    1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
    2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. …
    3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target. …
    4. Identify your target, and what is behind it.

    Pay particular attention to rule 3–Booger Hook Off the Bang Switch! That is likely the most common safety mistake I see, and the one most likely to end badly. (Note that these are gun handling rules, not gun nobody is touching rules, walking in front of unloaded guns on a table isn’t a violation)

    I would highly recommend the Appleseed project weekend clinics if there is an event near you. It will use up most of a weekend, but it is worth both the time and money.

  5. Katie Bug says:

    I am a liberal gun owner. 🙂 It’s not an oxymoron. It’ll be OK. A .22 is a great starter gun. I too want to learn to hunt, but I’m squeamish about field dressing a deer. ….Ew. good luck in your endeavors and remember, safety first.

  6. wolflahti says:

    I too am a gun-toting liberal. How anyone can object to requiring background checks is beyond my understanding. Indeed, I believe that to own a gun, one should have to pass a class in basic gun safety.

    To the uninitiated (hell, to people with vast experience), guns are complex and mysterious things. In rifles, you have a variety of different actions: bolt, lever, pump, semi-auto… There’s barrel twist, stock style and type (laminated, embedded, solid, synthetic, free-floated…); there are even different actions of trigger that get really esoteric.

    Once you decide between the hundreds of different calibers available (each with its own weird designation that is inconsistent with most any other), there is bullet shape, weight, cladding, and a host of other variations. Any given manufacturer of .22 ammunition, for instance, with offer at least dozen different varieties.

    By the way, what you were calling a bullet is correctly referred to as a cartridge. A cartridge consists of the bullet (usually lead), the casing (usually brass), the primer, and the powder (which doesn’t look anything like what anyone would call powder).

    Hello Kitty stickers are, dare I say, common decorations on guns. Indeed, you can buy pink Hello Kitty AR-15s. (Speaking of AR-15’s -the Pit Bull of rifles, unfairly demonized as a breed – there is no such thing as an “assault rifle”. That is a term made up by the media to sensationalize mass shootings – as if they need to be sensationalized. [AR stands for Armalite Rifle, the original mass manufacturer.] It is a semi-automatic rifle just like the majority of hunting rifles out there. It has a modern military look to it, but the look of pretty much all rifles was once “military”. What the AR-15 does have that is arguable is a large magazine, carrying 30 rounds or more. Most rifles hold ten or fewer.)

    I know a lot and could therefore go on for pages, but you probably wouldn’t understand a lot of it. And, really, as complicated as guns can be, what you *need* to know is fairly simple, and I’m sure your dad can fill all that in neatly.

    Probably, the single most-important thing to remember: A gun is *always* loaded. Even if you know it isn’t, behave as if it is. Because it is.

    • C. S. P. Schofield says:

      I just came upon this post recently, so I suppose I’m preaching in an empty theatre now. Oh well.

      The reason to object to background checks is twofold;

      1) The Second Amendment is the broadest right in the bill of rights. Even the First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law” abridging first amendment rights. What the States want to do was left up to them (until later amendments changed that). The Second simply says “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. It doesn’t say “Unless the guns are scary.” it doesn’t say “Unless the Proper People can come up with a reason that a particular citizen should have a gun.”

      This may be a bad idea. Certainly the argument can be made. But if it IS a bad idea, it requires an amendment to solve. Anyone who wants to impose background checks, or magazine limits, or anything of that kind who isn’t ready with an Amendment proposal is a scofflaw and should be watched carefully; he probably has other Civil Rights he’d like to undermine.

      2) The Government has an abysmal record where keeping this kind of information secure is concerned, and a worse one for engaging in mission creep. The core issue is do you trust your fellow citizens with the right to buy guns without asking “mother, may I?” or do you trust the government with the means to harass gun owners?

  7. Alyssa says:

    My family does a lot of hunting and we kill and butcher our own meat cows, so weirdly I’ve done all the messy butchering work but never shot anything. My dad tried to teach me but I just didn’t like guns; they’re surprisingly heavy, smell bad and make a lot of noise. I’ll give you the same advice my cousin Billy gave my brother and me: everybody throws up the first time, deer stink when you cut them open and it is okay to throw up. That said, we didn’t throw up but that’s probably cause we’d been watching cows being shot and butchered since we could stand. Everybody at school when I was growing up thought my family were freaks for raising our own meat, but our cows are way better off than any cow who becomes beef in a restaurant or grocery store, also they taste way better too.

  8. Kevin J. Maroney says:

    One of the Ukrainian programmers I used to work with shared a rule of thumb he had learned during basic training in the Soviet Army: “Even a broom can go off sometimes.” Which is a more surreal version of Cooper’s rule #1 above.

    (I’ve never been a gun person, but Nellorat has been–she did shooting with her father and also with at least one earlier boyfriend.)

  9. Nanette furman says:

    I think this is a brilliant and very worthwhile endeavor. Do not feel that this has to do with “liberal”. I am a Berniecrat to my toes. Grew up on a ranch. Ate hunted meat. Yum. And our own cows. Yum. Humans are omnivores. So by the way are chickens. They will eat each other. Fact. Guns are no scarier than that machete you own ( I have three). I don’t hunt because I don’t much like hiking or cold and never had time while raising kids and am now 70. Lol. But go for it lady. No reason to not.

  10. Rita says:

    I’m grew up in a deer hunting family – for us, it was grocery shopping. It don’t see it conflicting with liberal-ness (when properly stored/trained), but understand how others may differ. Oddly, I specifically don’t like noisy activities, but a rifle doesn’t bother me. Also: field dressing a smaller critter is actually harder than a deer. You can possibly have a less stinky dressing situation but not breaking the sack – but some of that will be luck the first time. If you do, yeah, most people hurl. And then the smell wafts away in the wind and you get back to business, dealing with the bits to get the remains turned into future meals.

    Tenderloin should be savored immediately as part of appreciating what the creature has provide, all else can get packaged and frozen for later bounty.

  11. The_L says:

    I find guns interesting as a thing that can be studied from afar. The history and tech is fascinating, but I feel a deep, overpowering dread if someone asks me to hold one even for a moment. Even if it’s unloaded, and I saw them unload it, and I have it carefully pointed at an unoccupied patch of ground.

    That said, I totally understand your reasons for wanting to hunt. My grandfather used to hunt deer; if you’d like, I can get some further pointers from him?

  12. Athena PN says:

    Probably talking to air this late, but yet another left-of-Bernie gun-owner/hunter here (more of us should speak up). You’ve got the weapons safety idea but my questions for you are about the food:

    – do you like the taste of venison?
    – if not, is there a food bank/friend that will accept a donation of a lot of pounds of meat?
    – do you have reliable recipes for venison? (if your Dad hunts, probably yes)
    – do you have a good smokehouse near you to turn it into the type of sausage you like?

    My husband grew up eating more venison than other meat, by necessity of being poor in America, and now he mostly loathes it. It’s a very lean meat that can be quite gamey & is easy to overcook/cook badly. He (and most folks) like it as smoked sausage which typically has added fat & lots of spicing. I like what I cook, but not usually what others do with it (hint: gin & juniper berries make a great marinade base, at least for PacNW deer taken east of the Cascades).

    Thanks for sharing your process.

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