When I was about 8, I was racing a friend up a steep hillside and stepped on a mole. It squawked, and I jumped and fled. Later I returned to find it dead. I don't recall I felt much guilt about it. I hadn't meant to hurt it, and it was a peculiar looking creature, like a movie monster. And those got killed all the time.
We moved to Alaska when I was ten or so. We moved into a neglected log house. I helped my eldest brother George put tin roofing on, while my sister Mary helped my Dad install electric wiring. We all helped with the horribly itchy business of putting pink fibreglas insulation in the attic. Insulation was absolutely essential in Fairbanks. I was the smallest one on the team, so I drew the part where it has to be tucked to the very edges of the eaves. Nasty work, and we had no running water for a hot shower afterwards to wash off the itchy. But it was done!
So we were all horrified when a later check on the attic showed that substantial quantities of the insulation was gone, stolen by the ever inventive red squirrels native to the area.
A single shot Stevens .22 caliber rifle and instruction from my father. All firearms are always loaded (so we treat them that way.) Never point a gun at anything unless you intend to kill it. (No threatening or idle plinking.) I became a good shot and I kept squirrels cleared from our 3 acres. And helped replace the insulation.
I never shot a moose or caribou, but I've helped gut and skin and butcher many, both as a kid and in our Alaskan years of my marriage. We never shot anything that we didn't use completely to the best of our ability. That was true for fishing, too. You catch it, you either release it immediaely or you eat it. No exceptions. Taking a life was never casual, but it was routine.
On our little farm, we raise chickens, ducks and geese. Mostly they are for eggs, but when we get too many drakes, roosters or ganders, then we butcher. A chopping block and hatchet, a big kettle of boiling water, and a 'laundry line' to hang the dead birds on to bleed them. It's nasty, noisy work. Blood flies hwen you chop off a bird's head, and yes, they will run around spouting blood from their headless necks if you lose your grip on one. I don't like it. We try to do it no more than once a year, with the birds going into the freezer. Give them a good life right up to the time I take it.
So, I should be inured to it, right?
Maybe it's the pandemic, with the death toll rising past half a million. Maybe I'm just older and more aware of my own mortality.
Yesterday, my Ginger dog alerted me to a mouse nest in the feed shed. I can't have mice in the feed shed. I keep the feed in metal containers, so they are not attracted. But the shed is warm and dry and sheltered from most predators. So from time to time, mice move in. And I can't allow that. Hantavirus is a problem int he Pacific North West. Humans can get it from breathing in the dust from sweeping up mouse dung. Not to mention that mice chew and can spoil lots of things with their waste and their chewing.
This one had chewed through a plastic garbage can where I keep metal stakes for marking garden rows. I took the garbag can out of the shed, and tipped out the stakes and Ginger eliminated the mouse. But there was a nest there, and as I was putting the stakes back into the can, two blind, naked baby mice fell out of it. Ginger and Molly weren't interested. There they were, squirming helplessly on the ground. Little creatures. No malice. Just being mice. Filling the place in the world that only mice can fill. We are seeing a die off of species. Creatures we were always sure could be around for our kids are trudging toward extinction.
I knew I could walk away and they would die. Eventually. Or I could end it quickly.
So I gave them a quick end. Cleaned up the mess. I knew it for a necessary and inevitable task.
But still a regrettable one.