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Tuesday, 10 February
Bad Will Hunting

When I was twelve years old, I went out to shoot gophers with my father and some of his friends. Basically, we just drove around on dirt roads and shot them in various fields; this was what passed for Grand Theft Auto in my youth. So in thirty years, when you're fondly recalling your memories of rocking out with Guitar Hero, your prepubescent children will be getting blow jobs from hairy roadies named Gordon. Hey, sorry, I don't make the future, I just report it.

So there we were, hanging out in the back of someone's pickup, shooting gophers. The adults were drinking beer out of cans; I probably was sucking on a lolly or something equally nineteenth-century dandyish. On the other hand, I was killing the holy fuck out of some gophers; for whatever reason, I've always been an excellent shot. It might have something to do with my ex-Marine father and growing up surrounded by guns. Or it might be my utter disdain for anything covered in fur, which would also explain why I shot my first three girlfriends in the vagina, but we don't have to bring up unpleasant mistakes of my youth.

Presently, in the midst of our rodent holocaust, a dust trail appeared down the road. It turned out to be a local cop--yes, it is true, rural Idaho cops often have nothing better to do than to patrol rural farmlands, looking for ne'er-do-wells or occasionally finding the odd near-death gopher to resuscitate. He pulled up to the truck, completely nonplussed by the fact that the truck bed was full of half-drunk men with rifles and one improbably lolly-sucking waif out of Dickens.

"You fellows got permission to shoot in that field?" he asked. Everyone laughed, but the cop didn't seem to mind. "You oughta get permission, fellas," he said. Then he noticed me, cradling my .22.

"Son, how old are you?"

I flicked a look at my father, who betrayed nothing. You were supposed to be 14 at the time in order to be shooting firearms.

"Sixteen," I warbled. The cop couldn't help but roll his eyes. So I shot him in the face. Fucking pigs!

Oh, wait! That wasn't me, that was a Joseph Wambaugh novel! (Wambaugh's middle name is Aloysius! Here at Izzle Pfaff, I'm all about dropping the knowledge that you never cared about.)

To make a long story even more endlessly boring, nothing happened. The cop warned everyone about the complicated gopher-slaughtering laws of Idaho state, and then drove off.

This was my first nominal experience with anything close to "hunting."

A couple years later, as every Idaho boy does, I took "hunter's safety," an extracurricular course that was required in order for one to obtain a hunting license. There really was never any question that any lad who wasn't plainly feeble would ever not take hunter's safety. You might as well have said, "Well, I've thought about it, and I've just decided not to grow a dick."

And soon enough, hunting season came along, back before my father's knees hadn't completely betrayed him; back when we were poor enough that bagging a deer or an elk in the fall meant the difference between a lean winter and a relatively hale winter in terms of meals. It was important. My father, for years, would (illegally) obtain hunter's permits for himself, my mom and me, just on the odds that he'd pull down more than one animal (though that never happened).

I hated every moment of it. I hated getting woken up at 3:30 in the morning, I hated being told weird, unsupportable things ("Don't eat so much snow--it'll fuck with your stomach"); I hated traipsing all over hell and fucking gone. I was a lazy little shit who wanted to sleep in. Shooting those fucking gophers was a lot less work.

We went out all the time during hunting season. (By the way, poachers are regarded as something less than human by actual hunters, and violators are subject to some really eye-popping punishments when caught.) I also learned one of the most venerable, weird maxims of hunting: your first kill should be a buck. I'm sure there's some juicy psychoanalysis going on behind this, but as I said before, I didn't really give a fuck. I went out because my dad expected me to.

One morning, driving out to the hunting ground of Dad's choice that morning, a deer flashed across the road while we were driving. My father skidded to the side of the road and grabbed his rifle.

"Let's go!" he breathed. "It doesn't matter if it's a doe." I was really confused now. "It doesn't matter," he repeated.

We loped as quietly as possible through the trees, following the doe's path as best we could figure, but she was gone. I was sort of disappointed, but for all the wrong reasons: I really wanted to shoot that deer just so I could get the thing over with, to pop my cherry and have done with it. I had been extensively schooled on where to shoot the deer; I could see it in my mind. I had aced my hunter's safety course; I had received a rather nice hunting knife for having the highest test scores.

Some days later, we were driving home at night, back to our place out on the prairie. And, again, a deer flashed in front of the car, missing us by mere feet. This was a buck--not much of one, really, but a handsome three-pointer for all that. Dad reamed out the brakes pulling over, and I whacked myself a good one on the dash, and then he was out of the car, screaming "Fuck!" I was still dazedly fumbling for my 30.06 when I heard a shot ring out.

That stupid deer. It got about thirty feet towards some undergrowth before my dad killed the beast; we were able to pull the truck right up to it so it lay dolefully in the headlights. I don't know what the fuck it was doing out in the open.

There in the headlights' yellow glow, my father instructed me. "We've got to clean this guy," he said, and smoothly pulled out his hunting knife, and then opened a large incision in the animal's belly. The deer's guts fell out onto the ground, and I immediately turned around and retched.

I still to this day recall my father's look when I could turn around. It was one of disappointment and, worse, contempt.

He never asked me to go hunting again.

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Damn. Yet awesome.

Comment number: 017839   Posted by: deirdre on February 11, 2009 02:16 PM from IP:

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