Talking to a Toddler About Firearms and Farm PredatorsJessie Knadler
Jake was met with an unpleasant surprise this morning when he went to check on the laying hens and saw a raccoon nestled in the rafters of the Hen Hut. Three hens had already been decapitated — a raccoon’s signature kill move — with their bodies strewn about while all the other hens huddled in a corner. The raccoon appeared to be resting before beginning another rampage.
A two second scan of the area revealed the raccoon had climbed in through the small air space between the roof and the side walls, made possible after Jake had moved the portable electric fence late last night in preparation of moving the Hen Hut (pictured) this morning. He had locked the hens inside the Hen Hut last night, thinking they’d be safe. But raccoons, he was sorely reminded, can scale walls as effortlessly as a spider.
Jake raced inside the house and grabbed his shot gun. It is very rare to find a raccoon mid-hunt, particularly in the morning as most do their dirty work under darkness, so he didn’t want to miss his chance. He raced back outside with his rifle and, from the kitchen, June and I heard the blam! blam! of gunfire. (Jake is a crack shot.) The raccoon was dead, disposed of in the sink hole, followed by three headless chickens (our sink hole has been a fine repository for all sorts of critters over the years).
The situation opened up a peculiar dialogue between June and I in the kitchen.
“What’s that, Mommy?” she asked after hearing the shots.
“A gun,” I said.
“Daddy had to get the raccoon because he…killed…our chickens.” I winced a little when using this word but she’s seen us kill plenty of chickens ourselves on processing day. And speaking in toddler code seemed too touchy feel-y and vague considering the gravity of the situation (“the bad raccoon made three of our chickens go far, far away,” or some such). It seemed less complicated in the long run to give her the cold, hard truth. June, meanwhile, looked very, very concerned.
“Oh,” she said.
When Jake came back in the house, she asked him about the gun, what’s it for, and whether she could see the raccoon and the chickens. He also kept his answers short and truthful. “It’s a gun, it’s very dangerous, no, you can’t hold it, it’s used to kill animals that hurt our chickens, and no, you can’t see the raccoon because it’s dead.”
She seemed to accept this response and went back to talking about her kitty purse.
It’s weird to use direct language like this with a toddler, but it would have felt disingenuous to speak otherwise considering the amount of chicken death she’s witnessed already. Besides, this is our lifestyle; no sense sugar coating it into some fairy dusted country song.
What do you think? is there a “better” way to talk to a toddler about firearms and farm predators?