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What I Learned from Shooting a Muskrat

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Here’s a funny story with a serious lesson.

A long time ago my friend Bryan and I were camping out on his parent’s farm in northern Indiana. Bryan was something of a gun collector, and when we were down there we’d shoot at targets with his various rifles and handguns. On this particular occasion we had a .22 rifle, but hadn’t bothered to use it; we were having too much fun grilling chicken, drinking beer, and solving life’s problems.

The next day we’re traipsing back to the farmhouse, following a muddy, near stagnant creek that wound through the corn fields. All of a sudden Bryan spots this fat, brown muskrat swimming fast upstream. It was maybe 50, 75 yards away. Now, Bryan’s a country boy and thinks nothing of taking pot shots at the local critters. As a city boy, I find it kind of strange – I had never shot an animal and couldn’t think of a reason why someone would want to.

But Bryan is firing away, hitting air but definitely inspiring the muskrat to swim faster. And then for no reason at all I say, “Hey, Bryan. Let me take a shot.” Bryan hands me the gun and I take aim. BANG – a single shot. I look through the scope and I see blood spurting out the neck of this poor muskrat. He starts flipping and flapping around in circles for half a minute and then goes absolutely limp, floating on top of the water like a pile of mud.

As I watch this through the scope, my eyes are bulging and I feel a lump in my throat. It was a million to one shot for me. I feel awful. Bryan is cheering and patting me on the back, but I think, Gee, if I thought I’d hit the thing, I never would have shot at it.

What I Learned
This tragi-comic episode taught me I had a lot more respect for life than I thought I did. Even though a muskrat is little more than a big, smelly rat, exterminating it provided no satisfaction whatsoever. Quite the opposite — it had quite a chilling effect. When I saw the poor muskrat flailing in the water, panicked, helpless, and doomed, it made me realize how precious life is, even to a big, smelly rat. And fragile. One minute, you’re going for a nice swim on your favorite river. The next minute, you’re dead.

I’m no animal rights activist, but ever since my muskrat encounter, I’ve been pretty convinced we should go out of our way to avoid killing animals to the extent it’s reasonable to do so. (There sure is a lot of debate right now about what constitutes “reasonable”!)

How about you? Have you ever done something and a split second later say, WHY DID I DO THAT??

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22 Responses to What I Learned from Shooting a Muskrat

  1. Thanks for appreciating my post.

  2. Dexter, you are most welcome. Jacob, did not know that, but I’ll be on the lookout for that episode. :) Robert, I’ve never been compared to Bart Simpson, but it should impress my youngest daughter! I wonder, Robert, do we respect life more as we get older because we begin to feel our own mortality?

  3. Thanks a lot Brad, your vote is much appreciated.

    Did you know that your experience is a real-life version of a classic Simpsons episode? Bart shoots at a bird to stop Nelson’s bullying, only to kill the bird with a fluke shot where he “even corrected for the defective gun sight.” Bart also had no intention of hitting the bird.

  4. So… according to Jacob, you’re Bart Simpson? :-\

    I’m afraid as a kid I didn’t think too much of doing the same thing, Brad. But over the years I’ve grown to appreciate life as you do. I mean, there’s a time and a place for management techniques, but I don’t think I could pull the trigger anymore.

    Powerful lesson, Brad. Thanks for daring to share it!

  5. Well, that may be part of it (hey! who you callin’ OLD?), but for me it’s that I understand more about how everything “fits together”, if you know what I mean. I never gave it much thought as a kid.

  6. Hi Joanna, speaking of culture, I can’t think of any better combination of guns, country living, and culture than an English fox hunt. :) But I think I know what you mean — guns are too much a part of the culture here in my opinion. Glad you enjoy the stories. It was your encouragement that inspired me to write them and I do enjoy it!

  7. Brad, this is an awful story in a lot of ways, but it’s told very vividly and does drive the message home. I’m afraid I find the whole guns and hunting thing totally alien – even in country areas over here it’s just not part of our culture in the same way that it is in the US. I think I’d also be terrified to handle a gun (for fearing of killing myself or my companion, never mind the poor rat!)

    Thanks for sharing the story though. I feel the stories you’ve told in the last few months have helped me to get to know you better. Hope you’re enjoying writing them too.


  8. this is such a classic line – if i thought i’d hit the thing I never would have shot it

    you had me in the creek bed right there with you, the clash of city vs rural

    and then the reality of life taken away – just like that

    as a youth what experience can you draw from to help you deal with something like that ?

    Great Story.

    I felf a gulp like that once when as a child I told a big fat white lie. I got caught and said to myself exactly that — why did I do that ?? It fostered truth in me though. I definitely learned my lesson

  9. I’m not sure if this makes it seem better or worse… more brutal in some ways… but English fox-hunting was done with hounds, not guns.


  10. Hi Brad
    Poor muskrat. It’s interesting how our life experiences shape us, isn’t it?

  11. Joanna, they don’t use guns in fox hunting? I thought the dogs just tracked the fox. Wow. Yvonne, the song Muskrat Love has a whole different meaning for me. :)

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  13. Ulla, When these playful accidents occur with people, then it becomes a real tragedy. Sadly, in the U.S. these things happen all too frequently with guns.

  14. Brad,
    thanks for this great story. You told it that vividly that I can see you and the other guy and the poor musk rat in front of my eyes. It reminds me of kids here in Germany who fool around with knifes, thinking they are having fun, and in the next moment one of them is dead, which was never intended by the other boy.

  15. Brad,

    Another great story with a lesson well learned!

    Thanks for sharing with us and have a wonderful day!


  16. Brad, Thank you for your authenticity, it made the whole piece for me. You wrote this very well, appreciate you sharing!

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  18. Yeah, that’d affect me much the same way. I can remember some acts of pointless cruelty from my youth and regret them as much. Thanks for sharing a difficult story and lesson.

  19. I really appreciated the lesson from this anecdote. Thanks for posting it.

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