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Batt, James R. (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 20, Number 4 (Fall 1974)

Ellis, Mel
Metamorphosis of a hunter,   pp. 9-12


Page 9


  Like religion, an appreciation for and a love of the
outdoors and wildlife does not come in a dazzling
moment of revelation and inspiration, but, beginning
in earliest childhood, grows strong with the years.
  Unfortunately, many times, this first appreciation
of a beautiful flower, of a duck flock riding an Arctic
wind on a day of black, tumbling clouds is too often
perverted by the hunter instinct. Then often-and
sadly-the young child, once awed by the wonders of
nature, is awed no longer by the chickadee perched
on the very bill of his hunting cap, because he is in
hot pursuit of the deer, eager only to make the final j
fatal shot, and then bending over the warm carcass, 5
to search for the jugular with a knife to deliver the
coup de grace.
  I speak from experience. As a very young child
during my brief age of innocence some of the most
precious things of my life included a greeny apple  q
tree, a trellis of American beauty roses, and the
bronze ducklings which each spring chased bugs
across the lawn of our Wisconsin home.
  I abhorred and was horrified by killing, and
there was a spring day when my father cracked an
abandoned duck egg. When the living embryo could
not be saved and when he killed it with a stick of
firewood, I went to my room crying.
  Through all the years, and to this day, I can see
the piece of firewood come high and pause, silhouetted
for a single instant against the blue sky; and then I
can see it descend to mash to pulp the wet, helpless
duckling already perfectly formed down to its shapely
brown bill, its exquisitely webbed feet.
   But I came of hunting stock, and there was much
talk of hunting in our home. And my father would \
tell of the times (because my mother was much abed Q
with illness) that he took me on his trapline. He ^
would tell about how then, when I was yet unable to
walk, he would wrap me in blankets and store me
in the bow of the duck skiff and paddle along his
trapline in the Great Shakey Marsh near Beaver Dam
lake.
   Mostly those days my father trapped muskrats I,
which brought ten to fifteen cents the pelt, and since
there were so many he skinned them immediately as
they came from the trap and threw the fresh pelts
over me until they almost filled the bow of the skiff.
   Then, as my father would tell it again and again
when I was older, he'd say, "and sometimes we
couldn't find you because of the 'rats in the boat."
And I would laugh, and so would anyone else who
heard him tell it.
   So even before my school days I remember
 I wanted to trap, because hadn't my father? And
 even before third grade I wanted to hunt, because
 when my father brought home ducks and prairie
 chickens wasn't there a gleam in my mother's eye,
 because wasn't the game a treat from the largely
 bread-and-potato meals of my father's struggling
 years? And didn't my father let me hold his gun, and
 at night didn't I watch him affectionately oil and rub
 the walnut stock until it shone like quick, bright fire
 in the light of the kerosene lamp?
M4etamorphos is
4f a Hunter
A
By Mel Ellis
Wisconsin writer and Wisconsin Academy
member Mel Ellis is one of the nation's best known
nature writers. His syndicated column, 'The
Good Earth," appears in the Sunday Milwaukee
Journal. Several of his books, including Wild Goose,
Brother Goose and Flight of the White Wolf, were
selected for Walt Disney film productions.
9


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