A dad who hunts can teach more than just killing

August 21, 1994|By SUSAN REIMEER

Every man brings different gifts to fatherhood. The father of my children coaches soccer, rents stupid movies kids like, and once filled the garage with a miniature Jurassic Park.

But the last gun Gary carried came with its own holster and a roll of caps. If he had to hunt to feed his family, we'd be vegetarians. So the experience of stalking animals in the woods with his dad is not one of the many my son Joe will have.

And that is OK with me. Not only do I not see the purpose in people owning assault weapons, but I also do not see the point of people owning hunting rifles. Not as long as there are grocery stores. As a mother, I am instinctively drawn to the news stories of children accidentally shot by a gun everybody says they were sure was unloaded.

Children need to be taught how to act responsibly around guns, I have been told. But when you are convinced that the only contact your child will ever have with a gun is facing one at an ATM, prayer and cooperation are the only skills that need to be taught.

That's how I felt before Jack's dad took Joe to The Pond.

Jack and Joe are 10, and best friends even though Jack is taking hunter safety courses this summer while Joe is taking art classes. One is as good with a BB gun as the other is with a sketch pad, but they have Legos in common.

Jack's dad proposed the trip to The Pond with some trepidation, I'm sure. My feelings about guns are well-known. But I quickly agreed.

There is an economy in his speech that I am sure translates into thoughtful caution as a hunter. And there is this almost other-worldly tranquillity in the presence of noisy children that I sense translates into clearheadedness and an attention to the details of safety.

Besides, Jack's mom trusts Jack's dad. And I trust her.

The Pond is a 2-acre body of water on an inactive farm of about 100 acres in southern Anne Arundel County. The purpose of the trip was to fish. To practice with the BB gun and slingshots. To harass frogs. And to kill snapping turtles.

The Pond had been home to a pair of Canada geese and eight goslings. But the babies had disappeared, and the snapping turtles were the prime suspects. They have a reputation for sneaking under waterfowl, pulling them down, drowning them and then eating them.

In matters of nature, you often have to choose sides, and that was the case with the snapping turtles and the goslings. The choice is easier when you hope someday to hunt Canada geese, as Jack's dad does. But the children also swim in that pond, and a snapping turtle can take a child's foot off.

Joe watched as Jack's sister, Kate, lured the turtles with chicken necks, fed them one with a hook in it and then pulled them to shore, where Jack's dad finished the business with his .38.

(This is the same Kate who became a vegetarian after watching her father kill a dove by snapping its head off. "I would never have predicted that she would love being the hook man on a turtle-killing expedition," says Jack's dad.)

The kids spent the rest of the afternoon fishing. Joe caught a bluegill, watched Jack clean it, and then ate it, dipped in cornmeal and fried. (And I had wanted to send a beloved grilled cheese along with him. Foolish me.)

Jack's dad takes his four children and their friends on these kinds of outings often. In part because he knows he would have a hard time leaving the house unencumbered; in part to search for something in their faces that will tell him how he would have liked this as a child.

"One of the reasons you have kids is to go back and pick up the things you missed doing," says Jack's dad.

I return late that night and find Joe's muddy clothes in a pile in the hall and him in my bed. As I carry him to his room, he starts talking to me as if we are in the middle of a conversation.

". . . and then Kate pulled the line in and the snapping turtle had the bait. It was huge, Mom. You wouldn't believe it. Then Dad took out his pistol and shot it in the head. It was so cool, Mom."

"That wasn't your dad," I say, smiling to myself and petting my boy as he drifts back to sleep. "It was Jack's dad."

To hear Susan Reimer read one of her columns, call Sundial and punch in the 4-digit code 6156. See the SunSource directory on Page 2A for your Sundial number.

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