He Called the Woods Home: Dead Squirrels Gone Viral

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(Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in a continuing fiction series by Richard Simms. Click here to read previous installments and please watch for future installments here on RheaReview.com.)

Roy Boone really never gave it a second thought when he clicked the “Post” button. After a moment’s hesitation, the iPhone Facebook App informed him that his picture was “Posted.” The caption read, “I whacked ’em good today.” He had tagged a couple of his buddies at school, the main ones he wanted to share with. But, the picture of several dead squirrels, most shot squarely in the head with a single .22 caliber slug, was a “Public” post.

From there, Roy went on to the business at hand — skinning his squirrels and carefully removing the tails he would sell to the Mepps fishing lure company. They were worth about 20 cents apiece, more if he gathered and stored enough of them. The meat he carried in to his mother to freeze, although she left a few out to parboil and add to the stew she was making.

The next day, after second period English, Roy’s friend, Wayland, said with a big smile, “”Hey Roy, you got ’em all stirred up good didn’t you.”

Confused, Roy asked, “What are you talking about?”

“On Facebook dummy, your dead squirrel picture has all them PETA-lovers freakin’ out,” said Wayland.

The bell rang and Roy went on to geometry class. But he found it very hard to concentrate on equilateral triangles or obtuse angles. He had to resist the urge to slip the iPhone out of his pocket and open up Facebook.

Finally class ended. Roy rushed for the cafeteria but he wasn’t thinking about food. He thumbed his iPhone and went straight to his Facebook page.

He was shocked when he saw more than a hundred comments beneath his dead squirrel picture. He’d never gotten more than a dozen comments on anything else he’d ever posted and he didn’t understand. He just wanted to show off his successful hunt to Wayland and Little John. The comments were too numerous to read them all, but he started scrolling through some of them.

Scattered here and there were comments like, “Nice shooting,” or “Those are gonna be good fried up for dinner.” But the majority of the comments spewed hate — the kind of hate Roy had never experienced before.

“You scumbag! Why would you murder those poor little creatures? What did they ever do to you?”

“This is gross. Why would you make the rest of us look at something so disgusting?”

“You are pure evil. There is no need to kill helpless animals. I bet these were eating out of the bird feeder in your backyard.”

“I hope you rot in hell!”

Most comments were from total strangers, but occasionally he recognized some names from school. He had posted “dead animal” pictures before, but for some reason this one had seemingly gone viral. He was baffled… and upset. He had read about hunters over in Africa that had stirred global controversy for their kills, but that always seemed very far away and didn’t affect him in any way. Suddenly, however, the same kind of hatred those men and women on expensive safaris experienced, was hitting him where it hurt.

He wanted to just hit “Delete” and make it all go away. On the other hand, Roy felt a strong desire to explain himself — to somehow share why he does what he does. But right now, sitting in the noisy lunchroom, he couldn’t find the right words.

Back home that afternoon, Grandpa said, “I ain’t sure there are ‘right words’ Roy. I don’t really understand all that Innernet and Facepage stuff, but I’ve heared enough to know it can cause folks lots of trouble. But it don’t rightly matter if it’s on the Innernet, or face-to-face… I been around long enough to know that there’s plenty of folks who don’t take kindly to huntin’. Fact is, I believe they got a right to their opinion.”

Roy was shocked to hear the last part.

“You think hunting is wrong,” Roy asked incredulously.

“That ain’t what I said now,” exclaimed Grandpa. “I said people got a right to think huntin’ is wrong if they want. They’s a difference.”

Roy, 14 years old and still trying to decide what is “right” and “wrong” in life, wasn’t quite sure he got it.

“What’s the difference,” he asked.

“You and I know exactly why we hunt and why we kill stuff, at least we do on the inside” said Grandpa. “It’s just somethin’ that’s in us, buried deep in our souls. It’s been there ever since people were cavemen. We may not live in caves much anymore, but the need to hunt still lives in us.”

Grandpa continued, “But it don’t live in everybody. There’s so many people in the world nowadays… most of ’em were raised on concrete and the only dead meat they ever see is at the grocery store or McDonald’s or a fancy restaurant. For some reason, that desire to hunt and kill has gone out of ’em. As more and more of ’em get raised on concrete, more and more of ’em think that other people are supposed to do their killin’ for ’em. They got no stomach for blood on their own hands. And the fact is, they got a right to think that way because they ain’t never been taught no different. It’s all they know.”

Roy thought for a minute and sort of understood that, but asked, “So what gives them the right to say I’m a bad person because I do like to hunt.”

Grandpa had to ponder on that a while himself. After glancing around to be sure Roy’s mother wasn’t in sight, he rolled himself a cigarette with nicotine-stained fingers. Just like the fried food he wasn’t supposed to eat, Grandpa just had to have one now and then, bad heart or not. As he lit up and took the first drag, he said, “In a way Roy, you sort of asked for it.”

“How’s that Grandpa,” said Roy. “I just put it on Facebook for my friends to see. Now all these people out there hate me, and I really want to tell them why they shouldn’t.”

“What I hear about that Innernet-thing is that if you put something out there, there ain’t really no way to completely hide it from other folks you might not want to see it,” said Grandpa. “So you just gave ammunition to all them folks who think we’re bad people for wantin’ to kill and eat wild critters. Think about it for a minute… why do you like to hunt? Can you say it out loud?”

Roy said, “A wildlife biologist who came to my school said we need to. He said since we’re building houses and stuff on all the land, we need to keep wildlife populations in check or else the animals will eat all their food and then starve to death.”

Grandpa took a drag, slowly exhaled and as the blue smoke hung like a cloud around him said, “I know all that and lots of folks like to claim that’s the reason they hunt. But is that really the reason you get out of bed at 4 in the mornin’ and head off to the woods whether it’s cold, rainin’ or even snowin’? Or is it just something folks say ’cause it sounds good?”

Roy thought hard and finally had to admit, “It sounds good and it’s true, but that isn’t the reason I hunt. I guess I don’t really know.”

It was almost dinnertime so Grandpa snuffed out the stub of a cigarette, pushed himself up out of his rocking chair and as he headed inside said, “Maybe if you figure that out you’ll know what to tell all them other folks.”

After dinner, which included the squirrel stew his Mom made, Roy got back on the Internet and started reading. He found the PETA web page (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). He read their words, “Although it was a crucial part of humans’ survival 100,000 years ago, hunting is now nothing more than a violent form of recreation that the vast majority of hunters do not need for subsistence. Natural predators help maintain this balance by killing only the sickest and weakest individuals. Hunters, however, kill any animal whose head they would like to hang over the fireplace – including large, healthy animals who are needed to keep the population strong.”

Roy knew he didn’t have any “large, healthy animals” hanging over his fireplace. He knew he shot whatever presented itself, as long as it was legal. Hanging a head over the fireplace had really never occurred to him. It was also expensive.

Being 14 years old, he also found words written by Salome de Villiers, a hot model and professional hunter who has been attacked on the Internet by what she calls, “Keyboard Warriors,” some of which had actually threatened her life. She wrote, “To the Keyboard Warrior who threatened me: The main difference between a hunter and an anti-hunter is we do and we don’t just talk. Firstly, we do our own hunting/killing, whereas you have it done for you. Who kills the chicken you eat at KFC or McDonald’s, the beef you buy in the store, the whale fat in your soap, the animal testing for your deodorants, the gelatin in your favorite jelly sweets? And you say you have never killed. This is the ignorance and it’s pathetic.”

Roy also watched a video made by goose hunters in the field being accosted by an anti-hunter. Following up on what he heard there, he learned that most states actually do have laws making it illegal to harass hunters.

It was easy to search and find arguments on both sides of the issue. He read more and thought more. Finally he wrote on the Facebook thread where he’d been attacked.

“I am sorry to those of you I have offended. I am not sorry for doing what I do. My family just enjoyed a meal of delicious stew made from the dead squirrels you see here. I am proud for having fed my family. No, we’re not poor and we do not have to hunt for food. But we use all we kill and indeed, I do have to hunt. Hunting lives in my heart. To tell me not to love the hunt is the same as telling me not to love my parents. I can’t comprehend it. My Grandpa taught me that there is a right way and wrong way to pursue the game we hunt. And yes, I do get enjoyment and satisfaction when I make a clean kill. But I often fail in the hunt when the animals are smarter than me, and I come home empty-handed. But I am only driven to go back again with the hope that the next time I will be smarter and get to pull the trigger. If you think it is wrong, I’ll respect that. I only ask that you respect me and my family’s beliefs.”

Roy had no way of knowing who would read his words, except for those who “Liked” his post, and he knew it obviously didn’t work for everyone. The hateful comments from the “Keyboard Warriors” continued, although more posters, apparent hunters, came to his defense until his thread finally reached its Facebook life span and like a wounded animal, died a slow, painful death.

But Roy now knew where he stood. He also understood that the haters did accomplish something. They made him think, to look inside himself and come to grips with what he believed and why he believed it. And he was good with that.

He would, however, think twice and choose his words carefully when he shared his hunting successes on the Internet in the future.

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