A few days ago, a cousin drove me to his farm. He does not grow anything there. It is just some land with an old barn where he keeps his tools, tractor and stuff. The land is left untouched, untilled, and functions as an unspoiled patch an hour away from the city. His kids camp there sometimes, but we had another goal in mind. There were a few gun cases in the back of the car, and after a gap of a dozen years, I was going to spend time with a set of rifles, getting my aim straight.

This was in the US, of course; you cannot do this sort of thing in India — not legally. Hunting was banned in the year of my birth, but I grew up with rifles. Both my grandfathers were avid hunters, as was my father and uncles. I was gifted my first airgun at the age of three, although my sister — older by five years — remained the better shot for all of my childhood. When I was 12, my maternal grandfather asked one Rahmatullah Qureishi — somebody I only referred to as Wakil sahib or “Mr Lawyer” — to teach me basics of guns and hunting.

He started me off with muzzleloaders, and I quickly learned to use gunpowder, cotton, pellets and a ramrod to load a gun, to place a firing cap on the hammer, to ease it to half cock to be ready for game, and then pull back and fire in one smooth motion. He taught me to track and walk unceasingly. To be silent and cautious, and to check a hundred times that a weapon was safe — and then check once again. In time he taught me the feeding habits and flying patterns of the birds we hunted, and then of deer and antelope. I learned to identify from the tracks and spoor of an animal whether it was relaxed or being chased. Over time, I was introduced to the 12-bore shotgun, the .30-06 Springfield, and finally the .500 Express.

This is a life that is unreal to most of my friends and acquaintances — except those who serve in the police or military — who have never fired a weapon. For those who have never killed an animal, it is disquieting. Most of them have spent very little time in the nature they feel is threatened by hunting, and do not understand — or prefer to not acknowledge — that an animal usually dies in two ways. Either falling prey to a predator or being starved. A deer makes no distinction between being hunted by a leopard or tiger, or by a human. Its reaction is the same. Furthermore, it is not hunting that endangers animal population, but the drastic loss of habitat. Almost half the world’s land area has been taken over by farming, and all the major animal population living there have been wiped out. We are in the middle of the sixth largest extinction of animals that the world has seen in the last 450 million years, and this one is our doing.

While it may be easy to argue that vegetarians — whom these farms feed — are responsible for the death of more animals than hunters ever will be, this is a dry argument at a time when so many of our species are going extinct. For me, hunting came to an end after an incident almost two decades ago. I was out with friends on shikar. As usual I did not know all of them, as usual there were people who might have criminal cases against them, and others who worked for the government pursuing those cases. None of it mattered except getting a shot at a deer. For some reason, nobody succeeded. And then one person, instead of using a rifle, took out a shotgun, and aimed low. He hit one deer, shattering its legs. But a deer being hunted has a huge amount of adrenaline in its system, and I watched as it continued to run, its broken bones jutting out of its skin.

I have not hunted since. The incident highlighted to me that even if I had been raised in — and followed — a tradition of hunting that looked for a clean kill, that privileged a knowledge of species and their habitat, and that followed the lifecycle of animals to hunt a small number in the appropriate season, none of that mattered to those breaking the law. In the company of poachers I had become another poacher, and all the training I received in my childhood was reduced to nought.

Omair Ahmad is the Asia Editor for The Third Pole, reporting on water issues in the Himalayas; @OmairTAhmad