Thursday, July 09, 2015

There Is No Skill to Killing

There's no skill in killing.

Say that to the gum-chewing vegan, and they will nod with vigor.

"Absolutely," they will say. "I'm against all killing."

"I'm not," I will say, and I then I will move in, a little too close for comfort, subtly invading their personal space and looking them in the eye.

"I'm damn good at it. I'm just saying there's no skill in it. The skill is in hunting."

And, of course, they have no idea what I am talking about.

Killing is like writing.

Anyone who has passed second grade can write. Writing is simply making block letters with a crayola.

A trained monkey can write. It's easy.

Research is hard. Thinking is hard. Developing a sense of place and time and the immediacy of now takes attention to detail. Developing a sense of craft takes discipline. Putting together a new synthesis takes knowledge. Fleshing out character requires an understanding of human failing. Fusing plot and voice requires an understanding of story and a sense of character and self. A sustained voice is suspiciously like work.

But writing is pretty damn easy.

Look at all all the people who write. The Internet is full of them, banging away on their keyboards without a moment's bit of research or thought, like monkeys looking for Shakespeare.

They are all writers.

By the same token, the boys running the line down at the Perdue chicken plant are certified killers, same as anyone who sprays bug spray on their garden.

Killing is not hunting. Killing is easy.

And yet, people who know nothing about hunting are more interested in the killing part than they are in any other part.

This is the part they want to talk about.


But I wonder if, when they finally get a chance to meet a real writer, do they ask him how he makes the letter "A"??

Never mind.

People are fascinated in killing, and when it comes to terrier work, they are very confused about it too.

So let's get to the first point: The dogs do not do the killing. I do. And I am very good at it.

The job of the dogs is to locate, to push the critter to a stop end, to bolt it from the ground if possible.

The job of the dogs is to sort out rumor from fact and to read the complex tapestry of story that is written in urine, scat and saliva on twisted vine and moldy ground.

The job of the dogs is to find, and then when found, to go from room to room in the darkness, armed with nothing but a heroes heart.

And then, at the end of that dark hallway, their job is to hold, to push, to put in voice and perhaps teeth if voice alone will not do.

And yet, in all of the excitement, their job is also to never forget their mission.

The goal here, as Patton so famously said, is not to die for your country, but to get the other son-of-a-bitch to die for his.

A good working dog will not come away knackered very often, as he has learned the power of voice and the importance of discretion. He has learned his job. And his job is not to kill. That, he knows, is my job.

Of course, a lot of the young people today have never learned how to do proper terrier work, and that story is told on the wrecked faces of their dogs.

At the end of a dig, these young toughs are too timid to reach in and tail out a living animal, and they have no idea of how do deal with an animal that is teeth out and snapping.

And so they ask the dog to do what they are too cowardly to do themselves, and which they are too ignorant to know how to do any other way.

What's that? A shoelace can make a snare? Or better yet, you have one in your pack already made up because you read a practical book on working terriers rather than a book of fanciful stories danced up by a Brian Plummer wannabe?

Amazing! And what's that? The man with the book gives instruction on his web site for free? Where's the profit in that?

* * * * * *

So how do you kill the vegan asks? (They never ask how to hunt.)

"Each to his own, but I do not like guns for dispatch," I reply, carefully looking at that part of their skull located three inches above their eyebrow, and assessing their total body weight.

"At the end of a dig there is too much chaos and movement, and excitable people with guns is a recipe for regret. I generally dispatch critters by hitting them on the top of the head with a blow from the blunt side of a machete."

What? The sharp side?

"No, the dull side. It's the blow that kills, same as if I slammed a paving brick into your head and staved in your frontal lobe. If I did that, you would be dead in an instant, and there would be no coming back for you. It's quite painless.

"I do not shoot things from a distance. When I kill it is up close, and is by hand, and it is very fast and quite assured.

"I tell you there is no skill to killing, and I am very good at it."


Kate Marden said...

Thank you, Patrick, for you posts. As a falconer, this credo resonates. Most of the game we hunt is far too big for out bird to take 'naturally'. It is for us to get our butt in there, protect our bird and dispatch the prey as quickly and as cleanly as possible. I get a lot of push-back from 'anti-hunters'; I tell them that they hire killers and use their debit cards to do so.

PBurns said...

People get confused between ethics and aesthetics, same as hunting and killing. They simply have not though too much about it.

Mary Pang said...

I think to do it effectively with minimal suffering is a skill. I keep a type of fish that's prone to tumours as they age. I dispatch them when they look too miserable and am much better at it than I used to be. I'm certainly not going to be flushing, poisoning or freezing, too slow, I favour head crushing. I don't like doing it, but it's necessary.