Kids, BB guns, and shooting birds for sport

When I left the house at noon, Mrs. Robin had made great progress on the nest.

Last spring, I watched Mrs. Robin build her nest and lay her eggs, and then followed their progress until the fledglings left the nest. It’s hard for me to imagine any of them being shot for sport.

I was visiting with friends recently when one of the kids – we’ll call him Joey – came from behind the house to ask a question.

“Dad, can I shoot a woodcock?” The youngster, about 10 years old, had a BB gun and had apparently spent the morning shooting birds.

His dad told him there’s an actual season for shooting woodcocks, so no, he couldn’t kill one. So Joey went back to shooting robins and grackles and sparrows. When I asked Joey how many birds he’d shot that day, he said eight. When I asked him what he did with the dead birds, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I take my picture with them.”

“That’s it?” I asked. “You don’t eat them or stuff them for display or something?”

He shrugged again and gave me a look like I’d just asked a really stupid question.

Truth be told, I’m not a fan of shooting birds – or deer or bears or fox or coyote or any other living creature, at least not for sport. If you’re using an animal for food, that’s a “circle of life” kind of thing and, I think, a different discussion.

But to shoot an animal to hang its head on the wall or take a trophy photo and leave the carcass where it landed? Not a fan.

Of course, I didn’t grow up in the country, so whenever I question shooting birds or squirrels, I get a lot of flack (often with eye rolls) from people who did about how I don’t understand country living.

Maybe I don’t. There’s a part of me that’s bothered by a kid who kills a bird for fun. Is that a sign of dangerous behavior to come down the road? Or maybe it’s only the kids who pull the wings off flies who end up serial killers?

Then again, Atticus Finch said these immortal words to Jem in “To Kill A Mockingbird”:

“Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

There’s a greater analogy in there, but still, the cinematic model of morality was giving the go ahead to kill blue jays. Once upon a time, it was a rite of passage for a kid to get a BB gun and shoot targets, tin cans and other stuff, critters included.

So the question I’m left struggling with today: is it OK for kids to shoot birds with BB guns? Where do you draw the line between sport and cruelty – and is there even a line to identify? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And if you want to see the photos from last spring of Mrs. Robin and her babies, you can check them out here.

(This originally appeared at Patheos.com)

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