What you kill is not important, but the actual taking of a life, even a small life, is crucial in many ways. It proves to yourself that you and your gun are able to tango as intended. A person who is unable to bring himself to shoot a rabbit is unlikely to be able to shoot a fellow human being whatever the provocation. It demonstrates quite graphically what your bullets are designed to do to actual flesh, blood and bone. If you ever needed a reminder of the importance of safe behavior around firearms, the lesson will be brought home to you the moment you take personal responsibility for purposely causing violent death. You will also discover that your gun is not a magical death-ray, but simply a catapult for launching a small lead projectile which may or may not be effective depending on where and with how much force it’s inserted into a living organism. Experienced hunters seldom go into the field unpracticed, or unaware of the terminal performance their bullets are designed to deliver, or undergunned in a misguided attempt to avoid the sensation of recoil.
Many people are walking around today with guns in their holsters they’ve used only to punch small symmetrical holes in paper targets. That’s much like trying to practice driving a race car with the wheels never touching the ground. You might learn how to operate the gearbox, but you’ll never know how fast you can take a hairpin curve.
Over the years I’ve heard a few rather dim-witted people announce that they could never shoot a cuddly innocent animal but would have no trouble shooting an evil human being. These people, of course, have watched far too many Walt Disney movies, are incapable of being honest with themselves, have no experience shooting anything to death, and are highly likely to dissolve in a state of ineffectual hysteria if ever faced with making a critical decision under heavy pressure. Even though they have a perfect right to do it, let’s hope these people don’t carry guns.
Rather than trying to realize the harebrained Hollywood fantasy of the Wild West, where you just walk into any saloon and start practicing your pistol skills on the nearest handful of belligerent cowboys, the proper way to blood your carry gun is in the hunting field.
Your actual daily carry gun, loaded with the self-defense ammo you have chosen, may be perfectly fine. You may decide to have a longer alternate barrel fitted to your semiauto, maybe even chambered for a more powerful caliber compatible with your frame, so that you can quickly switch from a .40 defense configuration to a 10mm hunting configuration for instance. You may have a longer-barreled version of your carry revolver. You may use a different and larger handgun entirely, but it should be of the same type as your carry gun, and equipped with the same type of iron sights you rely on for defense. Red-dot or other kinds of scope sights may be useful for hunting or for competition but, since not a single person on the planet carries a concealed gun so equipped, they are of little or no use in developing your defensive shooting skills.
Handgun hunting, for varmints, small game and big game, is an increasingly popular sport in its own right. As long as you avoid the more specialized weapons -– configured to be less handgun and more short rifle –- hunting with your handgun is great training for defensive purposes, and the only opportunity you’re likely to get to blood your carry gun and consummate your relationship with it.
A varmint is a pest, a menace, an economic troublemaker, crop spoiler, threat to pets and livestock, sometimes even a danger to humans. Virtually all rodents are varmints -– from prairie dogs in the west to ground hogs in the east, and certainly including New York City’s notorious baby-eating rats and Hollywood’s entire family of Mickey Mice. Coyotes are among the most hunted North American varmints, yet they’re still as comfortable in many of our big cities as they are in the desert hills. There are times and places when animals like rabbits and kangaroos become varmints on a major scale. Varmints are not usually protected by bag limits, hunting seasons and other game laws, though the state will insist on collecting its taxes in the form of a hunting license before you’re allowed to do your civic duty.
During the early days in parts of Africa, lions were sometimes classified as varmints. Their cattle-killing, man-eating ways made them a public enemy with no redeeming social value, and they were routinely shot on sight. Sometimes the lion hunter even collected a bounty, in contrast to the trophy fees charged to lion hunters today which can be upwards of $25,000. In certain parts of Africa, lions are still varmints. A South African wildlife expert recently reported that in 18 months in just one of Mozambique’s 10 provinces at least 70 people were killed and eaten by lions. In neighboring Tanzania, a lion researcher recently recorded that lion attacks on people are running to more than 100 a year. This is not to suggest that you go lion hunting with your 9mm, though there are handguns suitable for carry that are up to the job.
Small game, more appropriate prey for your 9mm or other popular carry gun, includes all those edible little Disney characters often portrayed by certain fruitcakes as miniature, mentally handicapped people who differ from you and me only in that they tend to wear funnier, hairier suits. Killing them has always been good clean fun and the way a lot of kids learn how to shoot. It’s also the way adults learn the fundamental arts of the hunter -– silent stalking, blending in with the scenery, keeping your eyes and ears open, shooting straight under less than ideal conditions, maintaining your cool in the face of a charging kangaroo rat. Hunting and urban survival skills are pretty much the same.
Big game, which should be hunted only with the most powerful carry guns or more potent configurations of same, is big enough to give your bullet a proper test, let you examine your behavior in the presence of a large and hostile or frightened animal, feed a whole family for a while, maybe even big enough to bite back. The requirements of the dangerous-game hunter and the combat shooter are quite similar, and hunting animals who wouldn’t give a second thought to poking gaping holes in your chest or stomping your face flat into the ground is excellent practice for the defensive handgunner.
At the successful completion of your hunt -- whether your downed prey is prairie dog or wild boar, whitetail deer or red hartebeest, coyote or Cape buffalo -- take some time to contemplate the meaning of life and death. Touch the still-warm flesh of the beast whose life you have taken, look at the mortal and irreversible damage your bullet has caused, feel your primal connection to the dinosaur-slayers who hunted a million years ago, the tribal warriors who honored every victory with joy and respect.
Get a little blood on your hands. Celebrate. Because now you’ve really earned the right to carry your gun.