Sunday, 6 January 2013

essay-guns-part V

Eventually my time to go hunting for the first time came.My father took me out in the woods a few blocks from our house and showed me how to load and fire both the twenty-two and the four-ten.We shot at some empty beer bottles that we'd set up on the banks of a small creek,and after just a few tries,I turned out to be a decent shot.On the way home,he gave me a stern lecture  on firearm safety,and I am glad that he did..He told me to be certain to always have the safety on any time I wasn't actually shooting at something,and to never point a gun at anything I didn't intend to shoot.And never,he said,store or transport a loaded gun,which was great advice given the condition of many of our roads.At home,he showed me another shotgun.One with the end of the barrel all broken to pieces and a big split running half way up to the trigger guard."Never,he said,fire a gun into the ground.The guy who owned this gun stuck it about four inches into the mud and fired.He lost half of his foot.I believed it.That gun made quite an impression.

At last the day came to get out into the woods with the guns.It was a fine,but cool day in mid November,clear,with little wind.A perfect day for hunting.My father took the twenty-two,and gave me the four-ten.The idea was to bag some rabbits and some partridge,so we would not need anything larger.The four-ten,my father said was "guaranteed to piss off a chickadee if you shot it from twenty feet away." But,as light a gun as it was,you really only needed a pellet or two to find the mark to kill a rabbit or a bird.

On the way out into the woods,my father explained that he had a rule about hunting.That was,that you had to eat whatever it was you shot.The point behind that rule was that He knew about young boys on their first hunting trip.Left to their own devices,we would end up shooting at everything that moved,something that he didn't want me to do.He understood youthful exuberance,but he was of a mindset that rejected the idea of killing for it's own sake.

We tramped through the woods for what seemed like half the day,looking for something acceptable to shoot.Once we saw a partridge,and I tried to shoot it,but by the time I got the safety off and the gun up and sighted,it was long gone.They don't fly really well,but once they get out of range,they are capable of staying there even though you can still see them.I would just have to be quicker the next time.

Really,I suppose we were not accomplished hunters.My father didn't hunt often and it was my first hunting trip.Likely we made enough noise to scare off every animal in the whole county long before we could get close enough to shoot.By afternoon I would even have settled for shooting at more beer bottles.I just wanted to shoot something.Anything!

It was right about that time that we were walking through a meadow with a grove of maples on our right..Something moved in one of the trees,about twenty feet away and twelve feet up.I was very quick this time.I aimed without thinking anything about roast partridge or delicious rabbit stew,and I pulled the trigger.And then,just about the time that the lead was coming out of the end of the gun,I remembered the rule.Shoot it,eat it.The "it"in question turned out to be a woodpecker,and it amazed me how much I was able to think about in the time it took the lead to get from my gun to that woodpecker."Oh crap'it's a woodpecker.I'm going to have to eat it ,and woodpeckers can't be all that good to eat,with all the wood that they eat.Well,maybe with enough onions...and some hot sauce...anyway,it's just a small bird,only two or three bites at most,but it's going to be really tough.Crap,I wish I hadn't shot it.But maybe I'll get lucky and blow it all to pieces so I won't be able to eat it."When the lead arrived,it didn't blow the bird to pieces.Not at all.Four -tens are not anything like twelve gauges.There was a big explosion of feathers as the shot stripped that bird half naked and left him squawking at me as he flew off.In his language I'm sure he called me everything but a Republican(luck for him,if he'd called me that I'd have shot him again). Guaranteed to piss off a chickadee at twenty feet.I guess that applies to woodpeckers as well.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

essay-guns-part IV

The first time I ever saw someone shoot an animal,he shot a squirrel.I knew a lot of children who got their first hunting gun when they were around twelve years old.Usually the gun was some sort of a shotgun,as it was with this kid.A twelve gauge.

For the life of me I could never figure out why anyone wound shoot a squirrel.I'd seen recipes for squirrel in cookbooks,but nobody around where I lived ever ate them,and I'd never heard tell of anyone using their fur.Not only did we not have any real use for them,but,from my point of view,they were harmless and rather pleasant to have around.In fact,the ones in the woods near our cottage would come up almost close enough to eat peanuts from your hand.

But this was a kid with a new twelve gauge and he just couldn't wait to use it.So,we were out in this little grove of trees,and there was this one old tree that had fallen part way to the ground.It's trunk was more or less a squirrel super highway.Some squirrels were nested in it's upper reaches too.We only had to wait quietly in the bushes for a few minutes.

That squirrel likely thought we'd come with some sunflower seeds as we often did.But instead,as soon as the poor creature had crawled out onto the tree trunk,only about ten or twelve feet away,my companion,with twelve gauge at the ready,drew a bead on it and pulled the trigger.The squirrel didn't fall over dead,like in those old cowboy movies.What it did instead was explode,then,an instant later,just more or less disappear.When we went to look at where it had been,there was very little to see.The tree was peppered with holes and some of the bark was torn away,and there was a big cloud of gunsmoke hanging in the air.But.if you had not seen the squirrel there a moment before you would never have known that it had been there by seeing what remained of it.Just a small spot of what was likely blood,and a bit of gray fur.A few years later,when I read "To Kill A Mockingbird" for the first time,that was the scene that came to my mind,since there were no mockingbirds where I lived.But killing a squirrel seemed useless and nasty to me.

Thankfully,most hunters I knew then,and know now,were not like the squirrel killer.They understand their role as predator,and would not hesitate to take wild  game for their own use.Some of them are poor,and they need to.Some would even take animals as trophys and mount their heads on the wall.But they had a healthy attitude towards the game they killed.In fact,I would call most of them conservationists.They did though,believe that animals were put here for our responsible use,and they took that responsibility seriously.They would not shoot an animal simply to destroy it.They would never think of killing an animal uselessly.