Those who follow the way of the gun have their many reasons. Just ask them.

At lunch, they talk about the courage real hunting requires.

"Those pretty boys on ESPN," sighs Freukes. "The deer are fenced in a stand and the hunter's saying, 'Hold 'em steady -- the tranquilizer's gonna wear off!"

They chortle.

Jennifer Silverberg
Toni and Vic Meyer in the climate-controlled room that's chilling history
Jennifer Silverberg
Toni and Vic Meyer in the climate-controlled room that's chilling history

Then they set off on their own hunt: a "put-and-take." Kennedy buys the birds, confines them in tight quarters and feeds them. Then he tucks their heads under their wings, sending them into a sleep state, and drives them to a field and lays them down. By the time the hunting party arrives, they're awake and feeding.

And even the wimpiest corporate VP can bag one.

Mikols has gone ahead to "put" a dozen or so Chinese ring-necked pheasants in a field tangled in brambles and chest-high grasses. He waits there with his dog, Abraham, a black American Labrador who's already sniffing the air.

"He will crisscross and intercept the trail, and then we'll come up on the birds and bust them," Kennedy tells one of the newer hunters. "It's elegant. It's clean, almost surgical. And it's fair chase, because they can fly."

Granted, the birds are out of practice. And they're out of their natural habitat, plunked down in somebody else's field after the trauma of capture, captivity and transport. But it's a time-honored tradition, Kennedy insists. He compares these hunts to Tolstoy.

"In Europe, only the richest of the rich could do this. I want to offer hunts on horseback with English pointers and the guns in scabbards."

He drops to a whisper as the others slowly make their way through the sticky-sharp beige grass. Soon their bodies are tiny splashes of orange. Low to the ground, Abraham weaves the trail, his progress a bending of grass.

"When a dog gets birdy, his whole body buzzes," Kennedy murmurs. "Your focus increases. Everything else drops away."

He stands still, waiting.

Flushed from the wall of cattails where it froze, hoping to hide, a bird angles into the sky, wings beating frantically.

A shot breaks the air. As fast as it flew, the bird falls to earth.

"Give them free range of fire," Kennedy radios to Mikols, moving toward a stream at the field's edge.

"The world got p.c. so quick," he sighs, talking audibly now. "I call it intellectual fascism, because even if you are saying something that is true, it can't be spoken.

"The ugly truth about the Second Amendment is that it's not about self-protection. It's about protecting people from the government. A centralized authority is that dangerous. Patriots must refresh the liberty tree with blood."

A minute later he's talking about his authoritarian father, who didn't hesitate to use force. Kennedy rebelled. He says it was the rigors of Army life that taught him self-reliance -- and stopped him from destroying himself.

Now he wants to eliminate the postmodern bullshit, use firepower and take responsibility for the consequences. In the independence of the early settlers, their willingness to act without excuses, he sees a moral courage he can't discern in today's messy, abstract society.

"Most gun advocates are idiots," he says. "They're reacting to a threat, and what comes out of their mouths comes across as unintelligent or hostile. There is nothing hostile about this. It is a wholesome thing. It can be easily made ugly -- 'Look at that pretty bird, why did you have to kill it, just go to the grocery store.' Well, where do they think Tyson chicken comes from?"

He's still talking when the last bird drops. Abraham lopes up, pleased with his part in the day's adventure. The hunters follow, tired and content. They set down the shotguns and sling limp birds into the back of the truck, the oily feathers a palette of dark red, teal, burnt orange, gold, iridescent blue and green and silver.

Kennedy picks one up by the neck and turns it, showing off its beauty.

"This is an honest interaction with the environment," he says. "The alternatives are all dishonest."

On the North Side, kids don't talk about authenticity.

They talk about straps, heaters, burners, Glocks, thumpers, zaners, ninas (9mm), choppas and street sweepers (fully automatic assault weapons). One boy uses Choppa City as his street name; another calls himself L'il Speedy, "quick enough to dodge bullets."

He needs to be.

L'il Speedy is 13, burning with eagerness.

"My friends be wild," he confides. "They'll be talking about 'Let's go rob somebody.' I said, 'You do that, it's gonna come back on you. They'll probably shoot you."

He hustles instead, pumping gas for guys with Cadillacs because his mama won't give him any money.

He's the kind of kid who's always asking -- for help or trouble, whichever comes first.

He got shot at for the first time this winter:

"Somebody tried to take my head off, but I'm too quick. I was sitting in front of my grandma's building and some dudes started shooting. Gang members. They claim Peabody. They Snoops."

His friend L8-L8 clarifies: "'Snoops' another name for saying Bloods. We don't use the term 'Blood' down here 'cause 'Blood' is like when Jesus died and there was blood hangin' down from his arms.

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