Editor’s note: To celebrate David E. Petzal’s 50th birthday at F&S, we asked staff and contributors to choose and share their favorite Petzal story (not an easy task – there are many good ones). Today’s choice, “When is the time to stop pulling the trigger?” (December / January 2019) is made by Bill Heavey.
David E. Petzal has sincere faith like no one else who does not work right now, but the rubble he often plays is merely superficial gossip. Beneath this, there is an even closer son, one who does not suffer fools, as more and more humanity fits into that category. Under this, things become interesting. A former editor of this publication once described his writing to me this way. “He writes as if he speaks, but in full paragraphs. “I can tell him I need 2,500 words on the ethics of the killing game and it will be on my desk by the end of the day, with little or no modification.”
One of Dave’s many secrets are what he finds in almost all hunters if he digs deep enough and knows where to look: a heart made soft by deep experience in the field and with other hunters. Read “When is the time to stop pulling the trigger,” below, which is both a thought-provoking answer to a reader’s question and a summary of his evolution as a hunter. Hunting has given him excitement, adventure and a test of aptitude. But he realizes that for his quarry, adventure means death. He ends his thoughts – as he often does – with a brief but insurmountable dimension of the human dilemma. “No one knows how long they have. “And because life is insecure, it becomes more valuable, and because it becomes more valuable to you, you may be reluctant to extinguish it in other creatures.” I challenge anyone to be more touching and concise than that. – BH
Not long ago, I received this email from a reader:
I have been a serious hunter for all my 61 years. I have attended almost every game species in the western US and Alaska.
But I have a problem. For the past two years, I have had difficulty pulling the trigger. Mechanically I am fine. Mentally, not so much. I just don’t like the murder part anymore. What the hell is wrong with me?
My answer: Maybe the same thing is wrong with me. Having hunted for 60 years, I now do very little, probably for the same reasons as you.
As hunters grow, and seemingly smarter, a number of things become clear. The first of these was told by a Greek philosopher who lived between 335 and 245 BC. His name was Bion of Boristen, and he wrote: “Boys throw stones at frogs for fun, but frogs do not die for fun, but diligently.” For us, hunting can be emotion, adventure, a test of aptitude and character, fulfillment of an obligation that is firmly entrenched in our brain, and a source of nourishment that you can not find otherwise.
And so it’s all. But for the animal involved, it’s the end. This is what they have struggled with every day of their short and hard lives. Look at the hooves of a dying creature scratching furiously to escape, trying to obey signals from its brain that its body can no longer execute. The lesson will arrive at home.
On television, there is an AARP ad featuring an actress in her 50s, who declares, “I’m in my 60s and I have a beautiful long life ahead of me.” Maybe. Maybe she will live to be 92. Maybe she will die exactly this afternoon courtesy of a confused driver. Maybe six months from now, her doctor will tell her to fix her chores because her time here is over.
This is the next thing you learn: No one knows how long it takes. And because life is insecure, it becomes more valuable, and because it becomes more valuable to you, you may be reluctant to extinguish it in other creatures.
Here is a quote from Assassins in Africa, by PH Alexander Lake. It is about an American named Nicobar Jones, who for decades was one of the most expert hunters in Africa. I read the book in 1952 when it was published and I never forgot:
“He saw beauty everywhere. I saw him standing watching a flowing bow bow, muttering, ‘Purty, purty’, until the last part of the herd disappeared, then returned to camp, meatless and hungry. Everything in Africa was ‘clean’ for Jones — the sky, the veil, the forest, the morning and the night, the noon and the sunset, the rain and the wind, a wild lion, a galloping giraffe – everything.
Jones was not hunting for adventure or character development, but because he was hungry. And yet he could not pull the trigger.
What the hell is wrong with you? Not a thing. It is good to pull the trigger for all the reasons mentioned above, just as it is good not to want to do it anymore.