Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The rifle, the rabbits, the 55 Chevrolet, and me

I'm 7 (or just turned 8) years old here
I had my own rifle since I was 6

I shot rabbits, squirrels, and pretty much anything else that moved. I didn't just shoot them for the fun of it. I learned early on how to dress out small animals, and could do it pretty quickly.

I don't know what you've already read coming into this one, or what I've said in past posts about it. But my mom was special and I don't mean that in a good way. My grandma Connie would take my brother(s) and I out to her place in BFE.  Although the area is pretty much all houses now, when we went there it was desolate, there was nothing.  Connie pretty much let us loose to do what we wanted. There were very few people, and even less buildings within several square miles.

There was a lot of ravines, dry creek beds, hills, groves of tress, and tons of rabbits and snakes. My grandma had no trouble giving me my own rifle at 6 and letting me explore. Of course there was some safety training, and the picture above shows my step grandfather Don Kraft giving me some instruction. The only advice Connie gave me and my older brother was to watch out for rattle snakes. Don't mess with them because they can kill you. She also told us that the powder from their rattles will make you blind, if you get it in your eye. Well me and my brother Mike didn't buy this for a minute. And within a day or two she had taken a picture of us holding up a rattle snake a lot longer than we were tall. I was six at the time, and had no rifle, so we killed it with rocks. It was the first one, but it wasn't the last.

OK, back to the subject at hand. There wasn't much to do at GM's house in BFE. As bad as it was at home, I don't think I could have stood living out there full time (BFE does have a name, it is Wildomar). Anyway, I'd get there on Friday night, and first thing Saturday morning it was me and my rifle going exploring. I was a very good shot and bagged many rabbits. We either ate them ourselves, or gave them to the "cats" to eat. They had several cats that were semi-wild living in a shed behind their house. They were Manx I believe, and they would eat all the rabbits I gave them.

One day my step GD said we should go out hunting at night. This sounded very interesting but I didn't understand how we would be able to see. "After dinner when it's good and dark, we will go and I'll show you how."  After dinner (rabbit no doubt) we climb in the car and went. The car is the subject of another story later. It was used by me in one of my best acts of revenge towards my mother.

Back to the story...we drive away from the house on some dirt roads and it is dark. Without the headlights you couldn't see anything. Don stops the car and tells me to get out. I do and he doesn't! He tells me to get on the hood with my rifle. Now I had no idea what "spot light" hunting was (nor did I know that is was illegal) but apparently I was about to find out. He told me that he was going to drive very slowly down the road and he would only use his spot light to see, but mostly he would drive with the lights out. A little bit scary, but not too bad. We drive for a little while and we go around a curve and the spotlight catches six rabbits in the middle of the dirt road.

He stops the car but he keeps the light shined directly on them. They don't budge, they are looking directly at us, or at the light, and they don't move a muscle. I look back at Don and he makes a gesture to me like he is aiming a rifle. I get it, he wants me to shoot them. No problem. I shot the first one, and it drops. They other five still don't budge, cripes. I picked them all off, one by one. Three of them are dead. Three of them are on the ground kicking and squealing. Did you know that rabbits can squeal? Believe me, they can. It makes you want to shoot them again in a hurry so they will stop. I was just about to do that, to put them out of their misery by shooting them in the head, like I always do.

Don grabs the barrel of my rifle, wrenches it out of my hands, and spins me around. I didn't hear him get out of the car, and he scared the crap out of me. He bent over and got right in my face and said "don't you ever waste a second bullet on an animal." Okay, so now what the hell do I do? I'm 7 years old, I'm in the middle of nowhere with a man who is hell bent on teaching me some type of object lesson.  And there are 3 rabbits kicking and screaming in front of me.

I want them to die.

So I look for a rock, he asks me what I'm doing. I tell him and he says NO.

I need them to die.

"How do I kill them? I asked." I knew what he was going to say even before I asked him the question. I asked him anyway, but I didn't want him to answer, I dreaded what the answer might be, I KNEW what the answer was going to be. "Use your hands he screamed at me." I don't know why he was mad. Maybe the squealing rabbits were getting on his nerves.

I prayed for them to die...

"Use your hands" he said.
"Use your hands and break their goddamned necks."

I told him I didn't know how!

He knocked me out of the way, grabbed one of the rabbits by it's rear legs, and made a chopping motion to the back of it's neck. He didn't do it though. He threw it back on the ground and told me to kill them. Every ounce of me wanted to run away from that place. But I knew it wasn't going to happen. I knew I was going to kill those rabbits with my hands. So I picked the first one up by the rear legs, it was hanging upside down and kicking and bucking and trying to get away. Don is screaming at me to do it. So I did...or at least I tried.

My first attempt hit the rabbit in the side of the head and did nothing except hurt him further. It must have taken me ten tries to finally hit it hard enough to break its neck. It was pretty much a repeat performance with the next two rabbits. When it was over, I was covered with sweat and rabbit blood...

At that moment I didn't know who I hated more, my step grand dad or those rabbits for not dying. He made me load them into the trunk of the car and we took them home. I had to dress them all out that night. Don said he was very proud of me and that I would make a good hunter in time.

I wanted to shoot that bastard. I pictured myself shooting him. And if he didn't die with the first bullet, I'd make sure to "waste" another bullet on him, or another, or as many as it took. I never shot another animal in my life. I didn't eat many either.


  1. Hey, you outlived that sadistic messed-up evil brute and I hope you had the opportunity to dance on his grave.

  2. I'll never understand people who act like this with children. :(

  3. Is this also your mother's step-father? Least you found the strength to break the mold, love, thank God. Words are useless. (((hugs)))

  4. thanks guys!
    Overall, looking back at it now. I think he did more good for me than bad. Yes, this incident was traumatic, but he taught me a lot of good things as a little kid also. But, I wasn't cut out to be a boy growing up on an isolated farm in Alberta, like he was. There was no need for it. I learned something else that day, that animals had feelings...I have a large soft spot for them.

    I know where you're going with that Shrinky, but my mom never lived with him. I don't think she was ever abused at all. She was just crazy!

  5. It's understandable that you wanted to shoot and kill the bastard, however many bullets it took? He sounds like another twisted, 'special' person in your history.
    You look cute, though, even with a gun in your hands.
    Be well, Pat.

  6. Spotlight shooting? Killing rabbits with your bare hands? How much trauma can one 7 yr. old take? Very tense story. Especially liked the headlight part. Felt like I was right there with you. I got chills just reading it. Now that's some good writing.

  7. I agree completely with Copyboy's comment. I think I was holding my breath as I read.

    Very intense!

  8. OK--the tension came to me with the six year old with a rifle and then hunting at night. Oh Mr. Tillett, you make this girl want to cry (and keep reading your posts--you are a terrific writer)

  9. Wow, that's awful. Unreal. If it's any consolation, I have to say the photo of you is adorable though.


  10. Hi Patrick,
    I'm sorry it has taken so long for me to get back to you - I hadn't noticed your comment on the bottom of my post! Thank you for the lovely comments about my blog (I feel a little pressure now to keep it interesting!)

    WRT this post:
    I grew up on a high-country farm in New Zealand and we consider rabbits as a very serious pest. Going out on night shoots was never illegal - the more you could kill the better as far as any farmer and indeed the government was concerned. (They were introduced during the colonisation of NZ for nothing more than the sport of hunting them).
    We bait them, poison them, shoot them (day & night) and also trap them.
    I know the sound of one rabbit screaming when you don't get a clean kill. I can't imagine standing there with three rabbits screaming and and Adult shouting at you to kill them with your hands. Kudos to you (and no wonder you remember it so clearly!) I can remember the day I tried to kill a sparrow with an air rifle - foolish me. I had to wring its neck too, and felt sick the whole time. I was older than 7 or 8 though.

    It sounds as though you've had an advanturous upbringing (with all that is good and bad in 'advernture') and I'm looking forward to reading more!



This blog is word verification free.
I love your comments and will do my best to respond to each and every one.