I’ve handled and shot guns since I was a kid. I was probably about five years old when I fired my first gun under my dad’s strict direction (a small .22 LR if I remember correctly). At age ten I inherited two rifles from my grandfather and by twelve I had my first 20-gauge shotgun, a Winchester Model 12. That same year I attended and graduated from the NRA Hunter Safety Course and got my first hunting license. I used to go with my dad to Imperial Valley every year to take part in opening day of dove season.
I loved going out with my dad (hunting and fishing) and getting out into the wild. I loved the skill it took to accurately and safely shoot a gun. I loved the fieldcraft I learned while hunting. I loved everything about it except the kill. Even as a kid it felt wrong, but back then it was part of becoming a man.
Then at seventeen I joined the Marine Corps and I learned even more about weapons and how to use them. I fired every weapon in the Marine Corps arsenal up to light artillery: the .45 ACP 1911 pistol, the M-14 assault rifle, the B.A.R. (Browning automatic rifle), the M-60 and M-2 machine-gun, the M-79 grenade launcher, the L.A.W. (light anti-tank weapon), the 3.5 rocket launcher (Bazooka) and even a flamethrower.
Then I spent a 13-month combat tour in Vietnam. The love of hunting ceased. When I came home I never hunted or killed again. I still liked to shoot guns but not to kill. I am also a strong believer in Second Amendment rights and freedoms (but admit there are too many crazies with guns these days). The camera has replaced the gun. I get out into nature, the fieldcraft is the same (sneak & creep & shoot) but now when I pull the trigger it’s on my camera and not on a gun. I come back with a photographic trophy and not a head on the wall or a bird in my bag. The pleasure is the same without the guilt.
I have no problem with responsible sustainable hunting per se. I don’t think much of trophy hunting but I can appreciate hunting for food. I just can’t do it anymore, it’s not in me. I can’t kill a damn thing except maybe a bug—and even that has become difficult. Does that make me less of a man? I don’t think so. I get the same thrill when I hunt with a camera that I used to get when I hunted with a gun. I don’t need to kill a squirrel, rabbit, quail, dove or deer—taking a picture is better (much better). I can’t even fish anymore. Life is sacred on all levels and I value it.