I can no longer think of birds as props to scenic vistas. Around mid September 2011, five of us friends from school drove out four hours northwest from Lahore to a small town called Adhi Kot to hunt partridge and quail. The other boys had fired a gun before but for me, this was all new terrain.

We reached Adhi Kot at midnight. Apart from Polanidus, an old school friend and our host, we were greeted by an avid local hunter, Adnan, and a party of flying insects that kept us company through the course of the night.

Adnan was a short rotund man of middle age who knew everything about birds, from migratory cycles to cooking recipes. It was hard to imagine how Adnan hunted with his shortbread fingers, his baby chuckle, his dimples and his hair parted to one side but he did.

 ‘I’ve killed over five hundred birds, all the same day,’ Adnan reminisced about a time when birds in Adhi Kot were in abundance and then left us alone with the bloodthirsty flying insects. The thought of hunting kept us up through most of the night.

The next day, before the break of dawn, the hunt began on two separate jeeps. Six clumsy fingers were itching to kill, and some of the boys aimlessly fired in the air displaying their utter lack of patience. Some had hunted before but essentially we were all novices and thus vulnerable to get shot by any other trigger-happy boy; the potential for an accident was high to say the least. Just in case anybody did get shot, we carried a rickety first aid kit that seemed like it had accompanied many hunters on many trips before but had never been used.

After almost three hours of no success, Polanidus redefined the rules of the game.

‘Kill every living bird, sitting or flying, black or white’

‘And to hell with prohibition’

Gunpowder inspired a new brand of authority. We could allow life or end life. One trigger. One finger. One split second decision. A power none of us was familiar with.

After another hour of traversing in the wilderness, we spotted a white egret in the fields, perched on a naked tree, minding its own business.

Polanidus whispered, ‘Shoot!’

A tad bit louder the second time, ‘Shoot!’

A faint voice from the other jeep said, ‘Stop, that bird is haraam’.

Polanidus pushed again, ‘Shoot.’

I tip toed closer to the bird, rested one knee on the ground for support, fixed my aim and fired. The egret fell to the ground. Polanidus and I ran towards the bird. There was no blood. The bird was down but alive.

Polanidus and I stood by the bird and waited for it to die.

Polanidus then lifted the bird with the tip of its wing and the bird spread open. He asked me to hold it just like he did so that he could take a photograph.

‘Let’s put it in the boot,’ he said.

‘But you can’t eat it; let it be,’ Adnan concluded the session and the bird was left alone to rot in the field.

After the egret, we ripped through life without pause. Between bullets and aeronautical skill, the former seldom failed, but when it did, Adnan made no mistake with his contingency shot.

Hunting was beginning to feel like genocide. After the morning round, three fingers ceased to itch.

In the afternoon, when we sat around a long oval table and were about to feast on all that we had killed, my other friend Ramses had to know what he was about to consume.

‘What’s that?’ he pointed to a skinned, grilled, dark brown bird, covered in local herbs.

‘Partridge.’

‘And that?’

‘Quail.’

‘And that?’

‘That’s a dove.’

‘What do you mean that’s a dove?’

‘That’s a dove.’

‘You killed a dove?’

Polanidus paused. He thought of something but decided to keep his words in his mouth. He assessed the reactions around the oval table – a combination of casual indifference and sudden surprise. And then he finally uttered a faint yes as though he questioned the question itself.

‘You killed a symbol of love and peace?’

‘I’m not having that dove.’

‘Be my guest,’ Polanidus was not bothered. ‘It’s delicious and you’ll never know it!’

We all ate to our heart’s content but the seeds of dissent were sown. A debate on ethical hunting, as paradoxical as it may sound, was imminent.

‘But it’s just a game right? If to kill is to eat, then to kill is kosher,’ Polanidus seemed pleased about the logic.

‘Some people eat human fetus. Does that make pregnant women potential prey?’

‘Just imagine, the dove you killed, chopped, cooked and are now chewing on had relations, joys, challenges, conundrums, perhaps a social network and a life - good or bad - before it ended in your mouth to satisfy your taste buds!’

Polanidus shifted in his seat and said, ‘Strange how you feel this way after chewing on countless chickens, cows, goats, camels, fish and whatever else you have consumed in your twenty-seven long years on earth!’

Suddenly, the discussion was open to competing arguments and the loudest chaps were heard best.

‘Hunting is innate to man!’

‘But we don’t hunt to survive anymore – we do it for fun.’

‘It’s a game.’

‘We are all rotten, bloodthirsty murderers.’

And just like that, the rush of blood to the head, the adrenalin, the intoxicating flavor of gunpowder – all of it was suddenly gone. The guns were packed and the boys drifted towards other topics.

Some of us had shed enough blood for a day. Some had shed enough blood for a lifetime.

The writer is a communications consultant based in Lahore.

Khizr.imran@gmail.com