In reading my outdoors magazines, listening to hunters’ conversations, this is not what I’d hoped for. I’d pictured cross hairs on a shoulder blade. I’d heard the crack of a round and the thud of the buck dropping, cleanly, mercifully. One precise shot, like a good rifleman, which of course, at 12, I was not.
Falling asleep that night, I thought of the deer. The panic it must have felt when the bullet pierced its flesh. The suffering it went through or, possibly, was still going through. I thought too of myself. The story I was going to have to tell friends who did manage to bag a deer. And I cursed myself. For pulling the trigger instead of squeezing, for holding my breath, for missing.
Time compresses in the second before you fire a gun, like a spring storing energy and memory. The explosion as the slug exits the barrel affects the events surrounding. If your target is flesh and bone, what came before is given a purpose, a gravity. What comes after, a sense of acceleration and irreversibility. I try to remember that when I’m poking holes in paper. I try to remember the elation and regret of my first clean kill. The innocent sadness that lingered as I dragged the heavy animal through snow-covered forest.
Sometimes, remembering, I see the face of a man called Peanut who lived in the burg near our hunting grounds. Peanut, in his 40s, still lived with his mother. As far as I knew he never held a job. To see him walking his two small dogs along the river, you might mistake him for a younger man — except for his eyes. They sagged tired. They said what every man in town knew. They said, "Years ago I shot and killed my brother." It’d be impossible to tally those who’ve fired a weapon and felt remorse. But it was possible, easy even, to see that remorse living in Peanut.
And while these feelings are not exclusive to gun deaths, these are the memories I conjure today when I roll up my spent targets and head for the counter to pay my range fees. As I slide my rented firearm to the woman behind the counter, my eyes scan the display case below. Filled with blackened, machined steel, it is an altar to precision and, maybe, killing. I’d love to have a gun for reasons sentimental and reckless, but not today.