BY WAY OF THE SQUIRREL

The author’s oldest son Daniel crosses a field after shooting a good, mature tom turkey during the spring season. Daniel and his brothers learned about hunting by first going after squirrels. PHOTO BY DENNIS JENSEN

Coming up the driveway with the Aug. 20 issue of The New Yorker, I was both troubled and confused by the cover of the magazine. What was it trying to convey?

The cover of the New Yorker, the only magazine I subscribe to, showed a father holding paddles, and a kayak atop his vehicle. A woman who is in all likelihood the mother is securing a life jacket on one of the two young children in the drawing. Next to the man is a red pickup truck with a pump shotgun in a gun rack. The bumper of the truck carries two American flags and the Christian cross. The bottom of the tailgate shows some rust, giving the impression that the truck is most likely owned by a man best described as a “Bubba.”

The look on the man’s face is hard to describe — is it concern or just something else?

Anyway, all of this was rolling around in my head after I received an e-mail from a woman, dated Aug. 27. Here it is, in its entirety:

“Mr. Jensen,

Neither you nor your children need to kill squirrels to survive. Your lofty ‘rules’ do not justify killing for sport or ‘valuable practice’ or smiling faces as your kids are introduced to taking lives for no good reason. Squirrels have the same right to be/live as you and your children. Your complaint that the targeted squirrels so annoyingly screech — So frustrating! What a disaster! How irritating! — as their lives are threatened and taken (a disaster for them, for sure) is apparently meant to be funny. It’s NOT funny. The squirrels do what their instinct correctly teaches them. Do you seriously not understand that? And their meat is tough — well, you are not forced to eat it. I bet you have enough money to buy food. Yet, how manly, to go into the woods with your .22 and show off to your kids how to survive in the woods, with man-made weapons. The squirrels have no such advantage, being reduced to nothing more than target practice and a ‘great start’ for learning to kill. And when your kids have mastered that, why not take some aim at a few cats and dogs? They are pretty good targets, too, I bet, and probably not trying to save themselves away from you. Your proud, chest-beating superiority over wildlife that’s going about their own business is a sad statement and just an offensive way to dress up your own cruelty with ‘clever’ journalistic bravado. And it’s sure not teaching your kids empathy or respect for others, may they be humans or animals.”

I will refrain from naming the woman but I can say that she is a high-level employee for the State of Vermont. I do believe that much of what she had to say about me and my sons was way out there in never-never land.

I will try to address how this person misconstrued what I wrote in my column of Aug. 25. There was nothing in the piece that even suggested any humor (funny) in taking my boys out, in their teens, to learn about hunting. And the reference to “how manly” of me to take the boys out squirrel hunting is just more of that old, wornout myth that men hunt only to demonstrate their masculinity, and the suggestion that we are lesser men, limper men, in fact, because of what we do.

As far as, in their next phase of hunting, my boys will next likely take “aim at a few cats and dogs,” it only shows how far some folks will go to slander even the young among us who have taken to hunting.

I’m surprised that the dear reader didn’t take it to its next logical step: Why not shoot humans, as well? And you know, when that thought came to me, I got to thinking: The rash of multiple killings with firearms, even at our schools, has alarmed us all, and that includes hunters. But ponder this: When was the last time they did a background check on these homicidal killers and found that their dad took them out hunting?

From what I can glean from her e-mail, my guess is her real rant is about hunting and the fact that she is an anti-hunter. That’s fine by me. But this Bubba would have respected her rude comments more if she just came out and said that.

I live among plenty of people who do not hunt, but I can say this: They understand what I do and why I do it. And it’s OK with them. I only pray that the general, non-hunting population in this wonderful state continue to view hunting through that lens.

Since the dear reader was so willing to offer her view on my passion for hunting, I believe that I have the right to give my view on what she had to say. Maybe she should move to another state, say Connecticut or New Jersey, where most of the public view hunters as barbarians.

Meanwhile, I will continue to deeply appreciate those days afield while hunting with my sons. Some of the finest moments we have ever shared transpired while we were hunting wild turkeys and deer.

And, if things go along as I surely hope they will, perhaps one day I will get the opportunity to take out my grandchildren for an introduction to hunting, by way of the squirrel. And then we’ll take those critters home and skin them and fry them and put them in a crockpot and eat them, relishing every last morsel.

Contact Dennis Jensen at d.jensen62@yahoo.com

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