American psyche: George Saunders on hunting

There is perhaps no human activity as ancient as hunting. I mean, breathing, yes, OK. And sleeping. Sex was probably invented before hunting, as were eating, drinking and talking about someone as soon as he walks off, even though seconds earlier you were acting like his best friend.

Still, some people find the ancient art of hunting cruel. Especially since we invented laser sights and guns that kill from miles away. And grenades. But my feeling is, if you're eating meat, somebody hunted it for you. Unless you're eating a cow or chicken. Hunting cows/chickens is generally frowned upon - it's too easy. With chickens, just lay out some seed and start blasting away. Anyone can do it. Even a monkey. I used to have a trained monkey, Rex, who could do it. We'd often go out hunting chicken, Rex and I, until the day he got distracted, wandered out of the barnyard with my gun, climbed a tree, dropped the gun and started scratching manically under his armpit, then went swinging away on a vine, never to be seen again. It was sad about Rex.

With cows, just slip the farmer a sleeping pill and go into the barnyard, and let the hunt begin. Likewise pigs. The only hard thing about hunting pigs in a barnyard is that, before shooting them, you have to look at them, which makes it hard subsequently to eat them. Back when Rex and I used to pig-hunt, we'd sometimes wear blindfolds. Which is how I came to shoot Rex. It wasn't serious - I just shot off part of his curly tail - but he was a sensitive monkey, and let out a little monkey-shriek, which startled the pigs. I'll never forget poor Rex, looking down in horror at his shortened tail, shrieking and hopping up and down in that outraged way he had, amid that sea of fleeing pigs.

In this hi-tech age, it's important to keep the hunting challenging. Some of us, for example, hunt bear with a bow and arrow. One guy I know hunts bear by taking several Quaaludes beforehand, then smearing himself with sheep's blood, handcuffing himself to a tree à la Houdini and sitting there shouting bear-related insults. Another guy hunts lion by walking up to the lion and putting his arm in the lion's mouth, then reading aloud to the lion from a very dull 18th-century novel, attempting to bore the lion to death before passing out from his arm wound. One guy I know hunts monkeys by sending the monkey an apologetic letter about, say, an unfortunate shooting incident, along with a photograph of himself and the monkey in happier times, and a note saying: Rex, I miss you, I was careless, please call. And then he - this hunter - waits sadly by the phone.

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