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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??