Thoughts for boys with BB guns

The orchard oriole is a bird that has always fascinated me. The black and burnt orange color combinations of the male, balanced with the olive green and yellow of the female, make for an extremely attractive pair.

The song, a lilting melody usually sung from the highest branch of a tall tree, is appealing. The nest is an unusual swinging basket that can withstand the most violent summer storm; most impressive.

That’s why to this day, I still don’t know what possessed me as a youngster of eight to take aim with my BB gun at the beautiful male oriole singing from the top branch of a big oak in my grandma’s yard.

It was a quick, careless shot; I even shot left-handed to assure I’d miss. Maybe it was the curiosity and impulsiveness of a typical 8-year-old boy that made me do it. Maybe I thought there is no way I could hit that bird with my Daisy Red Rider, it being up so high and my shooting left-handed. But I did. My heart sank as the oriole tumbled from the branch to land fluttering at my feet. I never told anyone about it; I was too ashamed at what I’d done.

I grew up during an age when if you lived out in the country and you were a boy, you bird hunted. Starting out with a double-barreled sling shot made from a forked branch, two strips of rubber cut from an inner tube and a square of leather cut from a shoe tongue to hold a rock, we spent long summer days bird hunting. There were very few species that were off-limits to us. Orioles, however, were.

We didn’t decimate bird populations because those old sling shots weren’t very accurate. However, when we graduated to Red Riders, that was a different story.

Looking through the eyes of age and experience, I feel pangs of guilt about my bird killing as a youngster. Regular readers of my columns will attest to my fascination with watching, feeding and identifying birds today.

Back then, I didn’t know any better; that’s what we all did. Most boys growing up today have traded their BB guns for video games and such electronic gadgets but for those still clinging to their BB guns, all I can offer them a plea to pass up shots at song birds. One reason is that song birds are protected and you break the law when you shoot a song bird.

Here it gets difficult to try and impress youngsters to hold off on shooting song birds when their dads did it, their granddads did it and this writer did it.

We as parents need to feed these young minds, these inquisitive and curious minds, with positive, ethically-correct teaching about shooting and hunting. Things such as shooting safety and marksmanship are important. So are ethics and teaching about when to hold back and let something go.

Although I have wished many times that I could give that little oriole its life back but that’s impossible.

The only thing I might hope to accomplish by sharing my story is that after reading it, some youngster might think twice before drawing a bead on a song bird.

I still get flashbacks today every time I see or hear an oriole.

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