Crouching in fields, freezing, over the last few months - trying not to fog the eyepiece of my scope up with my breath, trying to keep some feeling in my trigger finger - I found myself thinking a good deal about accuracy.
I'm new to this game: I got my first air gun in late Autumn last year and, in total since then, I've shot six rabbits only.
I've come to this, and have been learning how to do it, almost entirely via this medium called "The Internet". I went along to a gun club one time and a field target shoot another time and I had some good conversations with very friendly and helpful people at both of these places. But, since I wanted to shoot and eat rabbits, not hit tiny metal targets at challenging distances nor fire on a 25 yard indoor range, I have - unwisely perhaps - spent much the time that I haven't spent in fields reading things that people have written on the net about hunting rabbits.
And a large part of that was concerned with accuracy: "Never take a shot until you can absolutely guarantee that it will pass through the brain of the rabbit and turn that animal off like you would turn off a light" - was the impression I got from reading the forums. "Any other shot, any failure to instantly and painlessly transfer this animal from the state of being alive to the state of being dead is inhumane and has no place in our sport" - this was, more or less, the message I absorbed from what was written there.
And, while I was reading, I was doing my target practise and getting better at grouping and changing guns and trying to find one that had the power to do the job and doing more target practise. And then I started trying to hunt rabbits in the field.
The first rabbit I shot was a 'perfect' head shot at 25 to 30 yards; it jumped straight up into the air about three feet and when it hit the ground again it was stone dead - and this was just like I'd read in the forums: on/off.
But the rest of them, to be honest, haven't really been like that. I haven't been able to convince myself that my shooting has been operating at the level of clinical precision that seems to be, if I judge the matter by the standards upheld in the writing on the forums, the only humane and acceptable way of doing the job - the job of getting rabbits to put in the cook pot.
And I've sat in fields, , freezing and staring at hedgerows - and I've thought a good deal about this.
And it comes down to accuracy, I've decided. But not accuracy that's merely on the level of "Can you put five shots at thirty-five yards through the hole in the middle of a Polo Mint?" (to which the answer is, of course, simply, 'no') but rather the question of seeking for a greater and greater accuracy not only in shooting but also in finding the words to accurately and honestly describe what goes on when I'm out shooting. Since I've started to write this blog I've noticed that there's a real pressure - a pressure from within myself, mainly - to push what is pictured in my writing towards an ideal that is, in truth, quite remote from what is actual in my shooting.
I tap away at the keyboard and I'm very much aware of an imaginary, judgemental gaze looking at me, looking at what I've written, and sternly pointing out to me just how far that deviates from the ideal which I understand - from reading the forums - to be the only thing that's acceptable. So I conform to this pressure and write in such a way that I join in and thereby allow my aim, as it were, to drift. My initial aim of accurately describing what goes on in the field drifts, then, towards the different aim-point of acceptably describing what goes on in the field - and there's a gap, a distance, between what's actual and what's acceptable.
Does this matter?
I suppose that it does matter if this 'ideal' becomes a tyrant: if I, or we, can tolerate nothing that isn't this pristine ideal then life, I think, will become a very sterile thing indeed; it will become very un-life-like.
I watched a video on the net the other day about dog shit; a borough council official was saying to camera, "Obviously, we're responsible for the safety of the citizens in our community - it's our job to look after them. If just one child were to become blind as a result of catching a disease from dog mess that they'd come into contact with on a piece of common land in the Borough, well then, we - the members of the Borough Council - would be personally responsible for that child's blindness! So it's very clear to us that our legislation banning the exercise of dogs on the common is very much in the public interest and - despite the protests of dog-owners - will go ahead as planned".
Here, I thought, was a instance of the ideal (and it's a worthy one, of course) completely dictating what could actually - legally and practically - happen on a piece of public land. The gap was closed: no dogs, no shit, no discussion, no actual, just the ideal, and thank you very much.
The ideal thing, as regards shooting rabbits for the pot with an air rifle, would perhaps be if everyone ate only soy beans, no one owned an air rifle and rabbits were re-named 'hedge kittens'.
I'd like, somehow, to try to remember myself that not only is there a permanent and irresolvable gap - always and forever - between the ideal and the actual, but also that there's a value, a great value, in publicly admitting that this really is the case. Because I just can't accept that the Good Life - this thing that we're all looking for - does really consist in the extermination of our actual lives. That accurate, I just don't want to be.