Op-Ed

More young people need to be taught hunting culture, not killing culture

Hundreds gather for ‘Enough is Enough’ vigil in Lexington, call for action on gun violence

Hundreds gathered in Lexington’s Robert F. Stephens Courthouse plaza Thursday night to hold a vigil for the victims of gun violence from two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, this week.
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Hundreds gathered in Lexington’s Robert F. Stephens Courthouse plaza Thursday night to hold a vigil for the victims of gun violence from two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, this week.

As I pondered on my thoughts on writing this week’s article, we have experienced another mass shooting in three of America’s cities. People are lining up on both sides of the reasons for these horrific incidents and I thought I would add my feelings as a hunter to the discussions that go on each time an event like this happens.

While certainly not an expert on what causes people to come forth with a desire for mass killing, I do have some thoughts on the causes and maybe a feeble attempt at the solutions. As far back as I can remember my parents and relatives hunted in some capacity. Over the years none continued with the zeal that I carry, which is mostly about being outdoors with my beloved English setters. Before I could carry a shotgun my father made me learn how to take the gun apart totally, clean it and put it back together. Additionally I had to know what each working part was and how it interacted with the others. Shooting at articles that would blow apart was then introduced to let me know the power of a firearm.

My first hunting adventures were for squirrels along Elkhorn Creek. I can still remember the first squirrel that I killed and the ensuing emotions of excitement from my first harvested game, but also the complexity of emotion that I had also taken a life. Today, at sixty-seven years of age this emotion still exists. The responsibility of carrying a firearm that has the ability to kill is a great one. We don’t live in a “Pollyanna” world where killing does not exist and we also know that death must occur for us to eat. It might be the death of a beef animal, hog, fish or even the death of plants which must be harvested in order for us to survive. Hunting and gathering have existed for men since the beginning of time.

Today’s youth for the most part are not exposed to the life and death of animals. Most grow up in cities with parents who are long removed from the hunting ways of their fathers. Life on the farm produces life and death all the time. Every lamb that is born to my flock that does not live even though I might try mightily to save it, is a part of the life and death cycle. My dogs have a life span that does not approach mine and right now I am facing the nearing end of two of them. Video games do not come close to the realities of life and death and in some way today’s youth need to be exposed to these realities.

Also growing up, guns were taught to be respected but also admired for the craftsmanship and intricate beauty of the various woods utilized for stocks and the etchings on the metal receivers. Deer rifles made for deer hunting and most revolvers were imitations of the ones utilized in the old west. Guns were collected for their beauty and function and not for their ability to kill. When you walk into a gun store today, beauty is not what you will find, nor will you find many firearms that are there for hunting purposes. No, when you walk into a gun store today it seems more like a military supply room with assault weapons everywhere and revolvers that can pack a rapid punch.

It is my humble opinion that these type of military style weapons should have never been available to the general public. Home protection could have been and always has been supplied by six shot pistols, deer rifles, and a shotgun that generally does not miss as its pattern is sprayed.

There are probably too many assault weapons out there for a ban to have much effect now. But just as we have to pass a driver’s test, maybe we should have to pass a gun ownership test as well. Today’s young hunter must pass through a Hunter Safety course before being issued a license to hunt.

Our pattern of development and jobs in larger and larger cities prevents most young people from having contact with the natural forces that the rural world provides and maybe we ought to take a better look at how economic development should go forward. Rural America certainly needs more jobs and spreading out our population would be good for all concerned.

As a youngster I supported the NRA, but sadly today I think they have lost their way. Our focus should be on young people and how we can teach them responsible gun use and impart to them the ethics that go along with responsible use. To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth. That was the Ancient Law of Youth. Old Times are Past, Old Days are Done, But the Law Holds True O Little One was a big part of their main motto but I do not see that type of guidance for youth anywhere today. Hunting is still a big part of the American tradition and the ethics involved should be a moral compass for all youth and adults as well. Indiscriminate promotion of any type of weapon possible should not be their goal.

This is a complex issue with no easy answers but it is one that must be addressed with no more burying our head in the sand.

The future of outdoor experiences is at stake as this issue is examined. Our outdoor and hunting heritage is something to be preserved. It is a heritage that has been passed down from generation to generation and it is a heritage on which our country was founded. It is a profound way of life that by passing on to others we can make a difference.

Mark Reese is retired from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and lives on a small farm in Estill County, Kentucky where he raises sheep, and writes a weekly outdoor column for the Estill County Citizens Voice and Times.

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