On Christmas Day, 1959, my brother Craig and I found 410-gauge shotguns under the tree, and we wasted no time taking our first hunting expedition through the field behind our house toward Tierra Blanca Creek.
We were looking for jackrabbits, but when we found none, we decided to try our luck with ducks. If you’ve done any duck hunting, you know that one hunts waterfowl from a blind with decoys deployed immediately in front of you, from where one of the hunters uses a call to lure them down from the sky. You can’t sneak up on wild ducks, something we soon found out.
But we continued walking west on the creek, hoping to surprise a flock of stupid ducks.
And we did. They weren’t stupid exactly; they were Tommy Hunter’s tame ducks. I know what you’re thinking.
Surely they wouldn’t; they couldn’t; they didn’t.
Yep, we would, we could and we did. We coaxed a particularly friendly bird away from his friends and assassinated him. In my mind, I still see him flopping on the ground, a sight that for the remainder of my life made me an infrequent hunter.
I think both brothers had the same feeling, not triumph as we had expected, but sadness and guilt. When we got home, we told Mom, and she told Dad, and Dad told Mr. Hunter. Actually, Dad didn’t call Mr. Hunter; he took his boys to the man’s front door, and they told him what they had done.
My dad and Mr. Hunter did some figuring and decided that the cost of one duck was 30 days of rounding up the Hunter dairy cows for their evening milking, something Craig and I did on horseback every afternoon in January of 1960.
We Protestants don’t believe in penance. At least we don’t believe our good deeds can gain forgiveness for sin; however, my experience with the slain duck taught me the value of restitution for crimes where restitution is possible. While doing good deeds for the wronged party may not alleviate divine guilt, it does help with the human kind, with the feelings one bears as the result of having hurt another human being.
Craig and I felt better about ourselves after our service. We also made a friend of Mr. Hunter.
And we didn’t hunt illegal game ever again—well, there was that errant arrow and New Mexico mule deer in 1966.
Ask my brother.*
*Today’s blog was taken from my book Bicycling through the Midlife Crisis, published as an ebook by Fortis Press in 2011 but no longer available.