Features Sep 28, 2006 at 4:00 am

A Summer Spent Killing—and Eating—Seattle's Small Game

As originally printed


Can I just say I found your article on urban rabbit hunting amusing to say the least. I live in the uk but am from South Africa, and when I can, I enjoy an urban hunt. The rabbits are abundant here in the UK, so if you are good you can use a lethal weapon you see everyday, a car. Had two rabbits in this manner yesterday, one by chance and the other planned.
I really enjoyed your article. I am 26 and my husband and I recently moved from Metrapolis Vancouver to earthy farmland on Vancouver Island. If you had told me a year ago that I would be able to break the neck of a chicken and be okay with it I would tell you that you were wrong. By the way, I recommended that technique for all small animals - just wear heavy gloves if you are conscerned about getting scratched or bitten - it is much 'cleaner' than shooting live animals - especially if they are already caged, or, get the rodent to attack your pistol - if it bitting you pistol you can really miss its head. I just wanted to say that I agree with your experiment, I often wonder how people will survive in the city when things become scarce. There is plenty of available meat in our public spaces and many of those creatures are overpopulated or invasive.

Although my voyage was a bit different then yours, I too had the same comming to terms with killing. In the end, I can kill Chicken, Duck and Rabbit. But I can't deal with big animals (deer - cattle - sheep) until they are headless and hanging. Somewhere in my mind I have the inkling feeling that if you can't kill it and feel okay about it the you shouldn't eat it. I can raise cattle, butcher cattle and eat them but for now I guess I remain a hippocrit in the areas of slaughter.

Ah... The farm stories I don't tell my grade one students.
Although I realize this was written two years ago and that similar pieces have since trickled into the mainstream, I'm getting tired of writers who claim a special authenticity by exercising their power to kill an animal.

There's an inherent assumption that the rest of us have no idea what it means to choose meat -- what that entails for the animal. And that one has to essentially torture a captive rabbit in order to understand what it means to live. Well, I grew up overseas where as a child I (unfortunately) witnessed the brutality of slaughter and of hunting. And contrary to the opinions expressed by the letter writers here, those experiences did not invigorate me and connect me with life. They served to illuminate how the choices we as humans have, by virtue of our power and technology, are so brutally abused at the expense of those less powerful. And they caused me to make better choices that did not involve the suffering of other people or animals on this planet. I didn't have to kill an animal to feel a connection to the beautiful world around me.

It's a shame that after this experience, the author didn't derive a more compassionate ethic and understanding about his connection to animals -- by choosing to respect their inherent right to exist on this planets. Sorry, but the Buddhists have it right on this.

- Jacques
There is a further message in hunting and gathering. Be it animal or plant, something must die daily for you to exist. You may believe that your life leaves animals untouched, but glass, plastic and cosmetics and many other products you consume and use daily are the products of animal's deaths.

The object is to illustrate to ourselves that by existing, we destroy, and to justify our existence, we need to create as well. Those who only exist are a net loss to the world at large.
This is a wonderful article. As an urban deerhunter, it is humbling to feel some people understand where we are coming from. Killing to kill is a cruel ideaology. Killing to sustain and killing to understand are totally different processes that people simply cannot fathom in today's easy-access sustinance market.
I too enjoyed your article though I have never killed anything I’ve contemplated it. I live on the waterfront in an urban area in Australia and we have easy 30 ducks in our front yard and I’m also pretty tight when it comes to money so I think I might do it that is kill a duck for the meat that is. Also I think hat your articles are very well written with good descriptive and emotive language in reading I felt as if i was there with you poring the gust out of the rabbit in your bathtub your obviously a skilled writer
This article is a classic - the only Stranger article I've re-read, and this was for the third time. In my opinion it should be run in the Stranger again, as the world economic situation is becoming so dire that some readers might benefit from pondering these issues which they might soon face from necessity.

Did my urban hunt in Palo Alto,CA in the seventies. Quail. Slingshot. Read the section on dressing quail in the Foxfire book. Stanford shopping center. It was a bit tough and dry, but rather tasty. I liked this article, and understand completely.
following phrase ring any bells? "pets or meat?" (Flynt, Michigan)
great article

Reminds me a bit of what happened during the Siege of Leningrad. When you have food it may disgust you but people quickly change their minds when the other choice is starvation.
I'm reasonably sure that hunting waterfowl or game animals without a permit is ILLEGAL, no matter where you do it. I think it horribly irresponsible to not discuss this at all in the article. If Brendan did some research and found that yes, he COULD legally hunt Mallards and Canada Geese without a permit, then he should discuss what conditions made this legal. Or, if he DOES have a permit, then he should note this in the article, so as to not encourage readers without a permit to run out and willy nilly shoot, hunt and/or kill anything they want.

In most other circumstances, even seasoned hunters have to get a hunting permit and are restricted to hunting such game when it is the appropriate SEASON for that species. You rather disrespect and make a mockery of responsible and law-abiding hunters by not even addressing the issue. You also quite blatantly promote ignorance of regulations that are in place to protect wildlife. Yes, there are plenty of mallards and Canada geese in the world, but this is a horrible precedent to set.

And the commenter who bragged about hunting what were probably California Quail back in the seventies? Probably illegal too, if you did it without a permit and out of season.
Response to hunter/gatherer:

>> There is a further message in hunting and gathering. Be it animal or plant, something must die daily for you to exist.

... but nothing needs to suffer. By all scientific evidence available to us, plants, lacking central nervous systems, are not sentient. They are not aware of their own existence. To kill an organism that has no consciousness is qualitatively different from killing an organism that does. To conflate the two acts is asinine. Animals like cows, chickens, pigs, rabbits and ducks all have the ability to experience pain and suffering, and have an interest in avoiding such suffering. Slaughtering a cow is not comparable to pulling up a carrot.

>> You may believe that your life leaves animals untouched, but glass, plastic and cosmetics and many other products you consume and use daily are the products of animal's deaths.

The only people I know who attempt to "leave animals untouched" are vegans, and vegans are well aware that various products are produced using ingredients that were created through the exploitation and killing of animals. These products can be made without using animal-derived ingredients, but since animal exploitation is so prevalent, animal ingredients are, in many cases, cheaper and more readily available than plant-based or synthetic materials. Yet if everyone were to stop exploiting animals, there would be no animal ingredients to avoid. Thus, to speak of animal exploitation as inevitable is patently false.

Yes, in our violent society, it is almost impossible to avoid minute amounts of animal ingredients. The key is to realize that although there is widespread fallout from violent choices, our inability to live lives that are 100% untouched by industrialized animal exploitation does not absolve us from the responsibility to make peaceful choices. The presence of animal ingredients is not evidence that the violence cannot be stopped: it is evidence that the violence must be stopped.

>> The object is to illustrate to ourselves that by existing, we destroy

We need not destroy innocent, sentient lives. We can live peacefully upon delicious, varied plant-derived foods.

>> and to justify our existence, we need to create as well.

I imagine that if a person with a conscience willfully engages in harmful actions (like the killing of animals), they may feel the need to "justify their existence" in order to make up for the harm that they willfully commit. If a person commits to nonviolence (which by definition implies a commitment to veganism), the person removes a large millstone of guilt and debt from their soul. No one can live a perfect life, but we can do our best.

I do agree that humans have a drive to create, to create meaningful lives. I choose to create peace. What do you choose?
@ Proud Vegan. Many people would disagree with you based on spiritual beliefs killing in and of it self is a sin, regardless if there is suffering involved. I disagree with you, not to defend the killing of animals, but because I have looked into an electronic microscope and seen a different world than the one we see through the filter of our brain using our eyes as tools. Many other people would disagree with you as well; plant lovers, people with a certain sensitivity. Although shunned by the scientific community (which doesn't always mean much in this corporate crazed world), check out Cleve Backster.
Onion,I've read a few other similar articles,and from what I understand.Alot of animals living in urban areas are are introduced to the habitat or migrate and are not endangered nor do they require a permit to kill them.Like the rock pideons aren't indigenous,neither is the peking duck,(white duck you see at the park)so theres no laws protecting non-indigineous wildlife to my understanding..now canadian and mallards and rabbits ..they're probably a whole different story.But I agree with the writer on alot of different levels.One when I was a kid in boyscouts,I was at a jamboree.Well,we were on a rifle range shooting paper targets.Well,just so happened this stupid little blue bird flew down and perched it self right on top of my target.Me neing a an ignorant young man full of vin and vinegar, level my sight and shot the bird.I blew it head clean off.The range instructor yelled cease fire and then yelled" okey,who shot that little bluebird?!"I raised my hand.He smiled and looked at me and said"You know,a real boyscout only kills what he eats?"I learned a valuable lesson that day.Bluebird is delicious!..LOL..No ,I'm only kidding.But later on I did want to hunt, to know the thrill of the kill.And to know how survive on my own in the wild,and live off the land.Last year I was stationed in Korea,I was on a detail for a week.In charge of about twelve soldiers.Well,after a week of living on rations(MRE's)i decided to ask one the local farmers for a chicken and make some soup.I had never done this before.But you be surprised how many of those big bad army guys wouldn't eat that chicken soup.All simply because they had seen the chicken alive before I turned it into soup.I'm surprised they didn't try to give it a name and make it our mascot.(hint,never give anything a name you plan on eating,that's thedifference between a pet and dinner!)
This is an interesting article. Legally, you can hunt most of these animals without a hunting license. Any domesticated animal that becomes "wild" does not need a hunting permit nor does it have a bag limit. Pigeons and domesticated feral rabbits can legally be taken at any time and by any mean. These animals are not considered local fauna and do not apply to hunting regulations for the state. You must obey local laws regarding firearms, etc., but no hunting laws apply to them.
Squirrels, duck, and geese do have strict laws for hunting. Squirrels need a small game tag while geese and duck have separate tags themselves. Do not get caught hunting game that need a hunting permit. The Department of Fish and Game will royally fuck you on that. Poaching gets you a severe fine, jail time, and you cannot apply for a hunting or fishing license ever.
I found this to be a very interesting question and an equally interesting method of answering that question. I like your writing style and I like how you think sir. Should the Big One hit, I want you in my post-disaster hippie commune.
I have a friend who grew up in the projects in Chicago. He started hunting rabbits in the city when he was eight. A bunch of guys armed with axe handles or similar weapons stand side to side at the edge of a vacant lot. Then they walk together slowly through the tall grass until a rabbit bolts. One fast guy then chases the rabbit. When pursued, a rabbit keeps changing direction and circling back. Eventually it comes close to the line of guys with clubs and one them whacks it.
Interesting. I generally eschew the idea of eating city creatures except in the more dire of circumstances.

I also am of the opinion that, unless you can kill it, you've no business eating it. Obviously, humane killing is the best way (it produces better meat AND is more ethical).

Congrats on getting up the nerve (and sense) to kill your own food.

@Tank: the legality of hunting sans license/permit depends on your state. I don't know about Washington, but in Oregon one would be arrested for hunting within city limits and discharging a firearm (including an air rifle) within city limits. Even hunting non-game animals in Oregon requires a hunting license.

@Jaques: To continue life, life must end, be it animal life or vegetable life. It's the paradox of existence. If you choose to deny your omnivorous nature and eat only plant matter, that is your choice, but pass not judgment on the rest of us who embrace our natures.
I'll just add my two cents and say that although i really enjoyed this article (for the most part), that some of the ways this man went about killing his food was really amaturish (for someone who grew up with parents that hunted). Even in Joy of Cooking, it stresses that the animal must be killed as quickly as possible and above all not see it coming, or the meat will be tough. Before you hunt, slaughter, or butcher, please do your research so that your work (and the life of the animal) won't be in vain :)
You article is full of very big holes.
You mention you stopped by Central Gun Exchange to purchase a pistol to kill small animals.
You also mention the "alleged" salesman in the store loaded it up and shot a garbage can in said store.
I worked there for twenty-two years and that NEVER happened.
Stop Lying to the Public!

This article makes hunting look like a stupid gimmick. Did the author even bother contacting the local game warden? Often they are very helpful and can connect you to a mentor who can teach you how to do stuff legally, properly, and NOT WASTE MEAT. Game is very different from store-bought meat and it takes experience to prepare it well.
How's your mom? Condolences.....sometimes we work out grief in strange ways.
the rabbit tasted bitter and smelled awful because you hit the stomach with the knife. be careful around the stomach cavity and there will be no half digested grass smell and no acid in your meat. also, they can contract a desise that can be transferred to humans. if the liver is spotted, don;t eat it, otherwise, go ahead
"But watching the geese, I begin to feel hollow. Why am I actually doing this? I don't buy goose. I don't really like goose. No soup kitchen would accept a carcass from me. So why am I here, paddling in a canoe, looking nervously over my shoulder, trying to kill an animal I don't want to eat? What's the point I'm trying to prove again? Why do I keep fantasizing about disasters?"

Why, indeed?
It's great to know the author will survive the (inevitable) zombie apocalypse and will then be able to gloat over all the helpless urbanites starving behind their barricades. But in THIS reality? ...Who cares?

I actually very much appreciate some of the author's philosophical reasons for going on this bizarre adventure. Factory farms ARE cruel and awful. And we are all, in general, very removed from our food and where it comes from.

But the whole venture smacks of hipster contrarianism. Kiley argues that hunting is not about bloodthirstiness--and I would agree that for many (even most?) hunters that is probably true.* But it appears to be at least partly what motivated him. Just look at how much page-space in this article is given over to blood, gore, and relaying each minute detail of a killing. I was reminded of all the contrived "coming of age" stories I was forced to read in middle school about young men killing animals so they can better know death and become real men... or something. I got the feeling while reading this article that Kiley is having a bit too much fun baiting his audience of civilized, restrained urbanites. A bit like a Palahniuk novel. Like Fight Club in short essay form. (Transgressive!)

I think Proud_Vegan made some good points and made them well, so I won’t bother rehashing them. And for the record, yes: I'm a vegan too. But I wasn't always. And I didn't grow up coddled & thinking meat is something that spontaneously grows in cans and in freezers. I lived in a small rural town where people wore camo & mesh caps UNironically. My dad owned guns and went hunting occasionally with friends. (And they were all good, caring people.) I've actually eaten squirrel. When my dad hit a rabbit that ran out in front of us while driving at night, he stopped the car and put its body in our trunk. We had it in a stew.

But here's where I get to the asterisk (*) from up top. I still remember the kids in my classes at school who went hunting with their dads. They didn't brag about how much food they bagged for their families. They bragged about kills. And blood. Every time the class watched a nature video there would be a chorus of mock-gunfire when an animal came onscreen. Sure, most of this can probably be chalked up to kids just being obnoxious for the sake of being obnoxious. But it seemed clear to me even then that the prevailing attitude was, for some of these kids, that animals existed only for us to destroy. I'm sure many of those kids were taught by "ethical hunters" and have grown up to be the same. But I also met plenty who boasted of (or aspired to) hunting with fully automatic weapons and hunting "for sport" in the most unsportsmanlike of ways.

I don't think hunting for food is wrong—certainly not in any absolute sense. I just choose not to do it, myself. But I also wonder about people's motives for doing it. By hunting, what craving are they really feeding? Because it’s not the hunger of an empty stomach. Not for Kiley, at any rate.
Self important vegans. Where do you think your fruit and veggies and grain came from? Who harvested it?
I can assure you it was NOT harvested in a utopian society by smiling, singing villagers.
Eating more fruit and veggies means more surviving on human suffering, instead of animal suffering. Great trade off. Unless you eat all fair trade organic food. Which means you have a lot more money than most people, captain smug. Some of us have to worry about making rent and providing for kids, and can't afford luxuries like fair trade organic food.

And exploding populations of invasive species with no predators don't just go away. You actually have to kill them. Why not eat them, too?
#13 - "Slaughtering a cow is not comparable to pulling up a carrot"

Carrot Juice Constitutes Murder, by the Arrogant Worms.

Listen up brothers and sisters,
come hear my desperate tale.
I speak of our friends of nature,
trapped in the dirt like a jail.

Vegetables live in oppression,
served on our tables each night.
This killing of veggies is madness,
I say we take up the fight.

Salads are only for murderers,
coleslaw's a fascist regime.
Don't think that they don't have feelings,
just cause a radish can't scream.

I've heard the screams of the vegetables (scream, scream, scream)
Watching their skins being peeled (having their insides revealed)
Grated and steamed with no mercy (burning off calories)
How do you think that feels (bet it hurts really bad)
Carrot juice constitutes murder (and that's a real crime)
Greenhouses prisons for slaves (let my vegetables go)
It's time to stop all this gardening (it's dirty as hell)
Let's call a spade a spade (is a spade is a spade is a spade)

I saw a man eating celery,
so I beat him black and blue.
If he ever touches a sprout again,
I'll bite him clean in two.

I'm a political prisoner,
trapped in a windowless cage.
Cause I stopped the slaughter of turnips
by killing five men in a rage

I told the judge when he sentenced me,
This is my finest hour,
I'd kill those farmers again
just to save one more cauliflower


How low as people do we dare to stoop,
Making young broccolis bleed in the soup?
Untie your beans, uncage your tomatoes
Let potted plants free, don't mash that potato!

I've heard the screams of the vegetables (scream, scream, scream)
Watching their skins being peeled (fates in the stirfry are sealed)
Grated and steamed with no mercy (you fat gormet slob)
How do you think that feels? (leave them out in the field)
Carrot juice constitutes murder (V8's genocide)
Greenhouses prisons for slaves (yes, your composts are graves)
It's time to stop all this gardening (take up macrame)
Let's call a spade a spade (is a spade, is a spade, is a spade, is a spade.....

I do not agree with the statement that Buddhists don't eat meat, they eat meat and fish all the time and they aren't half as "peaceful" as the one poster above seems to think they are. They are human, too. They sweat and bleed and cry and eat and sh*t and kill and die like the rest of us.

I appreciate the effort the author made to learn how to come to terms with killing his own food. I also appreciate the DIY sentiment that he expresses, and the philosophical way he went about explaining it.

Kudos to you, Brendan.


Just bagged a couple of urban squirrels this past weekend with the ol Sheridan air rifle. Wife's out of town and doesn't appreciate my resourcefulness, so I started baiting them in with corn a few days prior to her departure. Neighbors wouldn't care for my shenanigans either, so I have to crack the back door and set-up a ways back in the house to keep the noise to a minimum.

I've had many co-workers express their distastes for my hunting only to turn around and take a bite of their Big Mac. I can respect vegans' opinions, but I don't want to hear any more lectures from ignorant hamburger-eating, leather-wearing, delusional supposed animal lovers.

Killing my food (be it deer, bear, grouse, squirrel, etc) provides me with a greater respect and appreciation for the animal that died to sustain my life.
Kudos for anyone who actually fixes the hypocrisy we abhor in others in oneself, but I do worry that of the millions of people in a city, many will start to "hunt" in an unsportsmanlike fashion, thinking of it like a game. Know the animal and the population before you hunt it. If you kill it, do it cleanly. If you kill it, eat it. ...and maybe not post the crime online in case the DA or game warden doesn't see it the same way.
And why not I am a New Zealander living in Durban South Africa. Egyptian Geese everywhere Pigeons rabbits. Why not eat them. I am so bored with the limited choice of food from a supermarket.
People say the eastern cape Africans (Nelson Mandela`s people) eat cat and that's why there are few cat in townships. Why not eat cute little ginger. He kills beautiful birds snakes lizards which would appear on nature programs.
On resent holiday on Tioman Island Indonesian laborers were catching bat and cooking over fire. I would have loved to try. Better than the banana omelettes the Malaysians think western people eat 3 x a day

Make it regular slot like home cooking.
I talked to another Alaskan once about hunting. He said they ate moose at thanksgiving. I see nothing wrong with it, but having never been hunting myself, I wonder at the self-righteousness of it. To make fun of vegetarians who eat tofu, which in itself is not all that simple, as one has to be aware of vitamins such as B12 in order to not have all of one's hair fall out, then to wax nostalgic: "I remember the moose", it all sounds too conservative.

A lot of times you can see in the USA this flare for conservative home-ownership, hunting, living off the land, and maybe it is merely the history of American pioneerism reemerging genetically in certain people. Rather than fighting meat-eating hypocrisy, you are only following a genetic urge of hunter-gather still embedded in your primitive American genes.
Regarding survivalism in post-apocalyptic environment, possibly you have not thought it through: what if they water is poisoned? The animals will drink it, turn into zombies, or make you sick if you eat them. What then?

I personally tried living one winter in an apartment without a fridge, stocking up on dried beans ate no animal products. During this time I also only bathed with hot-water and used only CFL bulbs for light. My electric bill was only like 12 dollars a month. It is possible to survive without meat, car, or capitalism. I have still never owned a car in my entire life, but I bought a fridge again.

With survivalism, you will have to think of gas-shortages, lack of electricity, not having a car, etc.
Wild rabbits can carry tularemia. Be careful.
I am a proud meat eater, (Former President of my school's MEAT club) and hold survivalists in high regard. In fact, I feel like most people could learn a thing or two from you to prepare for the inevitable 'end of days' scenario you are prepping for. I understand that in the breakdown of society, we would have to hunt and gather... however society still exists, and will continue to exist, even in the event of an earthquake or tsunami. I don't think the victims of the 2004 tsunami were out hunting rabbits... they were looking for loved ones and eating beef jerky.

What you are doing to these animals is not only reprehensible, but it is ileagal and dangerous.

Killing wild animals in public parks is immatute and irresponsible for the simple reason that a wild animal is precisely that: Wild. It has survived effectively and has a mental method and independent mindset. (By comparison the rabbits that are farmed for their meat are in fact docile and know nothing outside of their cages.) What you are doing is robbing a soul of it's final few years/months on this planet. These creatures could very well have a happy and healthy end, however your selfish experiment is robbing them of even this basic right to exist. What gives you the right to choose who lives and who dies?

I understand that this indiscriminate killing is probably an odd adrenaline rush for you, but obviously it's bordering on psychotic. I hope you get the help you desperately need before your inflated ego allows you to move onto more advanced prey.

There is a difference between survival prep, and harming innocent lives... please learn the difference.
"These creatures could very well have a happy and healthy end". I really doubt this, as many animals fall prey to bigger and different animals. Plus the harshness of the seasons and the danger of living in urban environments (hit by a car is a large statistic fo animals in cities) really do not assure a so called "happy end".
This is the best article I have read this month. I'm an ex-vegetarian who decided I should kill my own meat. You perfectly captured the feelings of that experience and the weird hypocrisy of judgment and confusion that the world puts on those who kill animals for food instead of having someone else do it.
How much is Brendan Kiley paid per word? Oh, he isn't paid per word? Someone should look into that.
What about my dog hunting rabbits for fun? We live in the city and my dog runs though yards chasing rabbits, often encountering 5 or 6 rabbits per evening walk. I never use a leash while we walk through the neighborhood so he is free to run. In fact, he has a glorious time on every walk or I go running because that means he is able to explore and moreso, to sdhunt.

I love seeing him run and navigate all the obstacles. For a city dog, he is really living.
He doesn't need a leash because of 4 things: He is the friendliest dog. He isn't interested in you unless your a squirrel or a rabbit. He absolutely loves running and chasing things. It would be cruel to no let that boy run free

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