The first time I seriously went hunting with my Grandfather, I was twelve. He taught me to shoot a rifle, his old 22, and to carry it, muzzle down. I nearly shot my foot off as I forgot about the safety catch, but I was game, the only girl in the family to go hunting.
He had started me on easy tasks at first, using his hunting knife to gut fish or strip game birds of their feathers. After I was grown and gone, he called me once to come over and help him with a deer. We worked through that hot October afternoon, peeling the hide off that deer, the fleas still jumping. My grandfather's gone now, though he lived to be 100. I could dress out a deer today if I had to. I still know how to use a knife.
When I was a kid, I only saw my grandfather excited once. We were camped in the Siskiyous. Early mornings, we two were the only ones awake, hiking through the trees, our feet crunching on pine needles, our breath coming out in little white puffs.
“Hush,” he said, and we took off as fast as I could walk, following the ridge line. He stopped suddenly and stared at the track in the path, pointing out the soft indentations in the muddy trail, and hand signalling me to follow.
We crested the hill and looked over the lake just in time to see an elk with a tremendous rack enter the water and then swim across the lake to an island. The mist rose above him. He walked up the beach, shook his mighty head, and disappeared into the brush. My grandfather said, “You don't see that often.” I knew he regretted that elk season hadn't opened, but I was glad. The lake was as still as if the elk had never come or gone.
Then the day came when my grandfather decided I needed to shoot the gun for real. We had been car-hunting along some backwoods road that twisted through the wooded hills, getting ready for deer season. He pulled the car over to the side, as close to the dropoff as he could. We looked out on a deep gully, a brushy hill on the other side.
“Think you can hit that?”
I was game. I nodded. I levelled the shotgun as good as I could, and squinted my eye down the sight. I could barely see the rabbit he wanted me to shoot. I took my time, waiting, following the rabbit's slow movements along the hill.
“Nah,” he said. “I don't think you'll do it. You're a girl, just like the rest of them.”
At that, I shot. I felt a thrill of exultation. I had done it. What he said I couldn't do. And then the rabbit started screaming. The shot wasn't a killing shot. The distance had been too long.
We were silent all the way back to camp. I remember everything my grandfather taught me, but I never went hunting again.
This week, Sunday Scribblings asks us to write on "game". This story came immediately to mind. I was raised in a family of women, so my grandfather was pretty important in my life. I still wonder if I could stand up to a hard task if I were needed. I completed a Police Academy training for citizens a few years ago. When we got to the firing range, I held that gun as if I knew every aspect of it and hit a bulls eye. I like to think my grandfather would have been proud of me, though there are no guns in my house and I hope never to use one.