The first thing I killed was a coyote. Grandpa pointed out that the coyote was a mother. Her belly sagged a few inches above the grass. Her front right leg caught in a wire trap. Grandpa handed me his rifle, safety off. "Think of a bullet as a line," he said. "And everything that line touches– disappears." I aimed at the coyote's head, watching her blink. I shot her in the lungs. After checking the rest of the traps, we dragged her carcass over to Dale's garage. Dale was a friend of the family who would skin and sell the pelt. It'd fetch a couple hundred dollars. I was seven years old. According to Grandpa, hunting was the most fun a man could have besides fucking and drinking.
The second thing I killed was a whitetail deer. My father and I had spent the summer shooting arrows at a deer-shaped target made of foam. I was just strong enough to pull the bowstring back. I wanted to make my father proud. I liked the sound of the arrows going thunk. We drove to the forest near Grandpa’s house and spent three days lying prone behind a persimmon tree. No deer. On the fourth day, walking back to our car, two does sprinted behind us. I whipped around, caught one in the stomach. She bled out for hours. I was twelve. A week later, we ate venison jerky.
The third was a dove. I’d been crouched behind a hay bale. I aimed at the sun, pulled the trigger. A bird fell half-flapping from the sky. I pulled off its head. Blood spurted out. I stuffed the decapitated feather ball in my pocket. We’d fry it in cornmeal. Around me, shotguns fired and more birds fell. Some men had dogs that went out and got them. Grandpa said his favorite part of hunting dove was watching the dogs. At sundown, we cleaned the meat with hoses, mopped up feathers, bloody water, discarded bones. I was fourteen years old.
The fourth thing I killed was a whitetail deer. I sat in a tree thirty feet off the ground. It was raining. My legs and ass all soggy. After four hours of nothing, an eight-point buck entered my sight line. I pulled the trigger and missed. I pulled the trigger again and the buck hit the ground. He struggled to stand back up. He was flailing, maybe having a seizure. I walked over and noticed a small cut on his back. The bullet had grazed his spine. He’d be paralyzed. I almost puked. Its mouth was foaming. Randal, our neighbor, came out and stepped on the buck’s stomach. I was fifteen. He shot him in the neck. "Next time, just shoot it again," Randal said. "We don't want nothin’ to suffer. "
The fifth thing I killed was a turkey. When I dragged the bird home, Grandpa was on the porch drinking bourbon from a plastic cup. He was sloshed. "Some people’ll never understand baggin’ a thing like that," he said. "Like them in there.” He nodded through the window where my mother and grandmother were laughing at something on the TV. “I knews you was born killer after you shot that coyote right through the head. You were barely up to my waist," Grandpa said, turning his thumb and index finger into a pistol. "Pew, pew.”
Since then, the only things I’ve killed have been ants stepped on by accident. I’m twenty-three. I have these nightmares about getting caught in wire traps, naked and bleeding. I still enjoy sitting in the woods alone.