Ann Kercheville is President of Joshua Creek Ranch. Located in the renowned Texas Hill Country just 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio and 90 minutes southwest of Austin, Joshua Creek Ranch occupies a uniquely diverse terrain including miles of Joshua Creek and Guadalupe River bottomland planted in fields of grain crops for prime upland and deer hunting habitats. You can visit their web site at http://www.joshuacreek.com.
Ken is a technical writer and has spent the majority of his career documenting storage hardware and software products for start-up companies. Although start-ups demand long hours, he always finds time to get to the club and break some clays. Ken is not a shooting instructor and he is not a professional shooter. He’s part of the majority of people who love to shoot clays just for the sheer fun of it.
Unless Lars Jacob is running dogs, wetting a fly line or turkey hunting, everything he does revolves around shotgunning. Jacob has been teaching the finer art of wingshooting for over 30 years. He has run programs and gun rooms for the Dutch River Club, Covey & Nye and Orvis Company to name a few. Jacob is the founder and CEO of Lars Jacob Wingshooting, LLC and LJW Roving Syndicate. In addition to instruction, Jacob is recognized as one of the country’s finest gun fitters and recently worked with Perazzi’s Al Kondak to develop the Perazzi Ladies Sporter. He has a soft spot for side-by-sides and has introduced thousands of shooters to the nuances associated with shooting such shotguns. For more information visit www.larsjacobwingshooting.com.
This story is the first in an occasional series called “Confessions of a Target Setter” where we speak with the men and women who try to confound us at every turn in sporting clays.
It’s August 27, 2010 and the summer heat wave that wracked the country seems to have finally broken here in the hamlet of Wellsville, Pennsylvania – home of Central Penn Sporting Clays. Owner Harold Stoneberger and his young helper, Ben Rickland, are scrambling to set targets for a 3-bird shoot the next day, and I’m here in the field with them as they share their tricks of the trade racing from one trap machine to the next, wrench in hand.
Brilliant blue skies and rolling native grasslands as far as the eye could see created a gorgeous backdrop against the quiet farmlands of southern South Dakota. My home away from home was the beautiful rustic lodge of Granite Springs near Alexandra. Here I would join up with several women to participate in a National Rifle Association (NRA) Women On Target (WOT) upland hunt.
The other day I was thinking about what has driven me to hunt. I see so many companies and services within our ranks that use words like “obsession” and “addiction.” Both these, and other terms like them, are certainly intense, but they are also harsh in some respects and I wondered at the thought that maybe they were overused, misused, much like “terrorism” has become an all-encompassing term for anything remotely horrific ever since 9-11. Use a word too much, apply it too liberally to too many things that are similar but lacking extremeness, and you run the risk of the word losing its impact. And so I wondered if we are danger of that with our hunting “obsessions” and “addictions.”
In anticipation of the upcoming turkey season, I’m sure most of you have noticed that outdoor print media and television airwaves are filled with scene after scene of toms getting annihilated by 12-gauge and 10-gauge shotguns spewing magnum loads, and the advertisements in between the pages and during the commercial breaks are filled with supercallifragilistic, triple-Xtra, super-duper magnum this, that, and the other. Sheesh, you’d think a turkey had the armor plating of a rhinoceros, rather than a coat of feathers.
Part of the problem has been that the bigger-is-always-better approach has long defined the mindset of more than a few Americans. We’ve seen that philosophy exacerbated in more than a few areas. Take, for instance, the ever-increasing size of our SUVs and trucks. Remember when a Toyota Tundra was the size the
I hate to say it, but the gun industry has followed suit. Think of all the Super Short Magnums that have come on the market in the last decade or so. There was a resurgence of the 10-gauge in recent years, too. Even the archery side of things has its extremes. When I was working at the NRA, we never talked about someone in print claiming to make a clean kill shot on game at more than 40 yards. Yet today, there’s more than a few hardcore archers who know their equipment and have solid skills and will tell you they regularly kill at up to 80 yards (I don’t know, maybe the braggings gotten bigger, too). Still, one of the segments that pushes excess the hardest are the purveyors of guns and ammunition designed particularly for killing turkeys.
I get it, it’s marketing. Kill it further out! Kill it faster! Kill it deader than dead! Now, I’m all for a fast kill, and I have seen where advancing ammunition technology really does result in a faster kill. I remember when some of Federal’s first tungsten shotshells came out, for instance. I took those loads goose hunting, and without question saw a better quality, faster kill than I did with steel shot (airborne geese hit with those loads responded like a bug hitting your car windshield as you cruise down the highway—they never knew what hit them). But I haven’t seen the same results with turkeys. The push for 3 ½-inch 12- and 10-gauge shells that can reach out and tag a tom at 50 or 60 yards is fine in and of itself, but in my opinion it’s unnecessary. I’ll tell you why.
Ask yourself this: are turkeys harder to kill now than they were 20 years ago? No. Do you need to kill a turkey at 60 yards? No. Do you need the recoil of a long-shelled 12- or a 10-gauge bruising your shoulder and cheek? Still nope.
Let me break those questions down for you a little better. The first one is simple enough.
How about the need to kill a turkey at 50 or 60 yards? “Need” being a relative term, I’d say that, if you find yourself shooting toms as distances much farther out than you ever used to, you need to practice your calling and decoying skills. Yes, turkeys hang up. No, sometimes they can’t be worked closer. Live hens compete with your fakery for a tom’s attention and love and often wins. Crows distract and confuse. That is the romance that is hunting – hunting – this game bird. You have six weeks and one or two tags. I’d rather spend several beautiful spring mornings watching the sun come up and call a gobbler in the right way and close enough for an instant-death, one-shot kill, than plunk a tom down way in the distance on opening day (or any day, for that matter) just because the shot string from my gun reached that far. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Finally, recoil is absolutely an issue with 12- and 10-gauge shotguns loaded with 3½-inch shells. I know some of you are thinking “Heck, it’s just one, maybe two shots.” But it’s not. You have time on the bench with different chokes and dozens of shells shucked through your gun, if you’re responsible about patterning a shotgun you intend to kill live game with – and if you intend to kill a thickly feathered 20-pound or better bird at 60 yards, you damn well better perfect your gun on paper before you head for the field.
But if you spend the time on the bench that you should, the chances are you’re going to start to flinch, especially if you conventionally and regularly shoot shotguns with less strength. I don’t care how tough you are, how much testosterone courses through you, and how big your truck is, this is physics, and hard-recoiling guns, most often those shot infrequently, do things to you mentally and physically.
Even worse than a flinch, though, is your shot-to-shot recovery. Remember you were thinking “one, maybe two” shots? If you’re going to shoot at distance, the faster a suddenly necessary secondary shot comes the better, and speed in getting the bead or scope back on target following the muzzle rise from the first shot is compromised when you increase the load.
Need one more reason? I’m going back to the how-tough-you-are argument. Plain and simple, there isn’t anything pleasurable about the recoil from these guns. If you say there is, okay for you, but I think that qualifies you as a masochist, and that’s not an attractive trait no matter how you slice it.
If you’re still not convinced, I’d tell you to go back to watching all the turkey hunting shows on TV. Notice the abundance of youth hunts filmed? Take a look at what all those kids are shooting. It’s the 20-gauge. That’s right, the no-notoriety, lil’ ol’ yellow-hulled 20-gauge. Notice anything else? These kids and their small shotguns kill turkeys just fine, especially when an adult with calling skills and hunting skills has called one in close enough. (Get it? Called. In. Close. Enough.) So if the lowly 20-gauge is good enough for your kids to kill a gobbler with, why do you need to buy into the magnum hype?
I say don’t. Personally, I often carry a 12-gauge auto, an older Browning Gold I’ve owned for some time. It’s super easy on recoil, even with a stiff turkey load, but when I go after gobblers I load it with either 2¾- or 3-inch loads, not the 3½. I don’t need the bigger shell. Maybe more often than I take out the Browning, though, I have a little Beretta White Onyx over/under in 20-gauge that’s my favored tool for turkeys. It’s more maneuverable, fast to reload, accurate as any other shotgun when patterned correctly, and easy to carry if I have to do some hiking for a tom. And it kills just fine.
Try it, try something smaller, like the 20-gauge your kids are hunting with. Resist the temptation to up the distance at which you kill. Resist the marketing hype that bigger is better just because it’s bigger and work on what really should be better, and that is your scouting, calling, and setup techniques. It’s okay to be a magnum hunter, just do it without the magnum gun.
Jennifer L.S. Pearsall is a professional outdoor writer, photographer, and editor, who has been a part of the hunting and shooting industries for nearly 20 years. She is an avid clays shooter, hunter and dog trainer. Please visit her blog “Hunting the Truth” at http://huntingthetruth.com.
I wasn’t doing much of anything with my life, when I met Mark. I was working on the back end of the construction trade, first as a secretary for a plumbing supply wholesaler, then doing customer service for a cabinet supplier. The Washington metro area had been in one of its housing booms, but, in what is now an eerie specter of the housing bust (though certainly for different reasons then), the market collapsed. The cabinet company I was working for fired me—I knew where all the skeletons were—then bounced my final paycheck and filed for bankruptcy the next day.
I was out of a job, but I was in my mid-twenties, had a boyfriend I was kind of sharing most of my days and nights with, and I quickly found a part-time gig. My small number of bills were mostly paid, and I figured something would come along, so I didn’t even worry about the whole out-of-work thing that much. It was actually kind of a relief after the stress of watching the company I’d work for tank underneath me.
Mark had owned and sold a company, and he was doing some consulting work on the side, so we had a lot of time to just knock around. Weekends, though, were reserved for gun shows.
Northern Virginia has a rotating circuit of gun shows, or at least it did at the time. There was one in Leesburg one weekend, followed by another in Hume, one down past
There were always dealers with really, really, nice guns at that show, and I, having at least part of the personality of the crow and liking bright shiny things, appreciated the collections of Browning Hi-Powers laid out on red velvet, or a grouping of pearl-handled Colt Single Action Army’s under a glass case. My personal interests were really leaning toward rifles and shotguns though, and there were two dealers in particular who had my number dialed in.
The first had this unbelievable collection of Colt sporting rifles. Manufactured in a joint effort with Sauer for just a dozen years (1973 to 1985, to be exact), they all had gorgeous wood and a raised cheek piece that I loved to press against my face. In fact, they looked a lot like (no surprise here) the Weatherbys my grandfather Evans kept in his gun rack above his desk in
But it was the bluing on the Colt Sauer rifles that always got to me. No other rifle then or now, at least in my eyes, has ever possessed a bluing job like those guns did. It was deep and colorfull, truly blue, but also black-blue, and blue-purple, and black-green, a melding of all the colors of oil floating on water. To this day the depth of that bluing sticks in my head like a photo, and I’ve never seen another gun, long or short, that carried a bluing job anywhere near as beautiful as those Colt Sauers did. I coveted those rifles, but the dealer had tags on all of them that said $1,200 or $1,500. They were well out of my price range.
(Photo courtesy of Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Co.)
The second dealer I gravitated toward was an elderly gentleman who specialized in Belgian Browning shotguns. He had quite a few, never less than ten or a dozen at any show, and all were in pristine condition. I admired all of the Browning’s that man brokered, had done a little reading on Browning’s history, and so when the dealer had an A-5 at one show, it caught my attention.
That gun was as unmarred as one could hope. Not a scratch dinged the gun’s lovely rectangular receiver or its light scroll engraving, no wear showed at the pull-back bolt or thumb button or trigger tang or trigger guard. Not even the muzzle had any dulling –
clearly, this gun had been handled with care and laid in a case, not shoved in and out of a slip. The butt pad, too, was original and was still soft and pliable; not a bit of dry rot had begun. The grip of mellow, softly yellow wood was squared at the bottom and fit perfectly in my right hand. The fore-arm, sculpted a bit where it rounded in to meet and grip the barrel, seemed to have been designed to lay my thumb against it on one side and grip lightly on the other with my finger tips. That it was a little long in the stock didn’t bother me at all (though I don’t think I knew enough at the time to realize it didn’t really fit at all). I could look straight down its low-profile vented rib to c
I went home with that 32-inch-barreled, fixed full choke, Belgian Browning A-5.
I shot that gun often the first year I had it. I knew what it was intended for, with that long, tight barrel, and that was waterfowling. Or it least that was what it was designed for before steel shot forced out the use of lead. But I found an alternate use for it. Trap seemed to be that gun’s second calling. Oh, I had a little trouble with the rings and light loads sometimes, but once I had the right combination figured out, I mastered that clay bird game quickly. The 32-inch barrel seemed barely to move, as I pushed the muzzle in front of those going-away birds, and the straight line I had over that famed hump-backed receiver and down the rib to the bead was trap shooters who spend a lot of money customizing a gun yearn for. I was good for strong runs of targets way back in the handicap lines some nights.
The Browning was more or less retired after I owned it for the first year. I’d moved on to skeet, having grown bored with trap, and for this new clay sport, the long, full-choked barrel was sorely disadvantaged. And so it sat in my gun closet, cleaned and polished, for several years. I missed it, for like anything you’ve loved but lost your way with, it had that distinctive and piquant blend of fresh experience and nostalgia. But the truth was, I’d outgrown it.
I took that sweet Browning out one day, looked at its still gleaming metal and wood, took a breath of the Hoppe’s that still remained somewhere in its parts—and then I slipped it back in its case and took it to the local gun store to sell it. I didn’t “need” the gun, hadn’t used it in a long while. I reasoned that cash was better than a gun taking up space in a closet. It wasn’t. I’ve sold a small fraction of the guns I’ve ever owned. That Browning was the first I parted ways with, and the one I regret the most. First loves are like that.Jennifer L.S. Pearsall is a professional outdoor writer, photographer, and editor, who has been a part of the hunting and shooting industries for nearly 20 years. She is an avid clays shooter, hunter and dog trainer. Please visit her blog “Hunting the Truth” at http://huntingthetruth.com.
I’m often asked how, as a woman, I got involved in hunting and not just as a pastime, but as a career. I myself am not exactly sure how I got started, but I remember when, or at least the first time it came to me that it was, very specifically, something I wanted to do.
I was going through those sometimes typical “finding myself” years. I’d ingloriously flunked out of college in my senior year – I’d never really liked it, and was actually a little surprised I’d hung on as long as I had – and had come back home to Northern Virginia to ride hunters and jumpers for several local stables. I waited tables at the local pub, too, its brass rail and bar stools bearing most of the local horse people at any given time. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I was happy enough to be riding other people’s expensive steeds without paying the bills for them, and I’d found a little tenant house on a thoroughbred farm in Middleburg, smack in the middle of fox-hunting country. The cottage was a whopping $300 a month, utilities included, and a total bargain, given the symphony that rang out every time rain came down upon the cottage’s tall, tin hip roof. In all, life was easy, charmed, and flush with just enough cash for a thin, pretty, still horse-crazy, 20-nothing girl.
One early fall morning, after I’d lived in my little horse-heaven world a couple years, I woke up and decided I wanted to hunt. To this day I have absolutely no, and I mean no, idea where the impetus came from. Maybe it was one of the barn hands talking about dove hunting. Maybe it was a flight of mallards I’d seen. Could have been something on TV. Or maybe it was nothing at all. I truly don’t know. All I do know is that the idea seemed to just come to me, like some people “get” religion as they’re putting gas in their car one day.
How else could it have been? I did have a grandfather who hunted. Maybe that, at least, could be where the idea got planted. Hard to tell what impressions made on a scrawny, braided-pigtail little girl will take root, but in looking back, I’d not feel right disavowing that at least the exposure then might have been it, might have been what started the swamp peat to smoldering.
My mother’s father and mother were Hereford farmers, when I knew them. They’d always been agricultural and small-town, she a school nurse and the church organist, he an arborist, orchardist, and bee keeper of some renown in
We saw my grandparents, due to the six-hour drive between us and them, mostly on holidays and, when I was a little older, maybe eight or nine, for a glorious whole two weeks in the summer. I never wanted to leave when I was there, prayed for a storm to snow us in at Christmas, cried when the two weeks were up in July. It was an idyllic place for a child who wanted to be outdoors and didn’t know it yet. Then again, we were of that last generation whose parents were always admonishing them, “Go outside and play, it’s too nice to be inside,” even when there was two feet of snow on the ground or a rainstorm had just ended.
When you’re a child in your grandparents’ care on a cattle farm in Pennsylvania’s northwest corner, just shy of the New York State line, there were just four times during the day you were inside. The first three were for meals at the Formica kitchen table, the fourth for watching the evening news through the snow of the one channel that managed to wend its way through the mountainsides to the small black-and-white television that perched on the farm house’s front porch near the front door that was never used as such. Aside from those few hours and regardless the season, we were outside.
There was a pond a hundred yards from the house, kind of good for swimming, but better for mud fights with my brother and cousins. The pond’s bottom had a unique combination of silky smoothness and slight grit that created a perfect ooze factor. The tiny snails in each handful were just a bonus, when the slinging was in full force.
Vacated barns, their angel-winged swallows darting in and out in greeting, called to us, too. We’d been told to stay out, of course. “There are holes in those old barn floors,” grandfather told us. “You’ll plummet to your deaths.” So we were careful, but explored anyhow, loving the memory smell of hay and animals long gone, the discovery of ropes and pulleys and rusty farm implements always oddly medieval. Games and adventure skits were made up on the spot. Our imaginations had free reign.
Maybe the biggest lure of the farm itself, the thing that drew us kids to it every day, was the quick little stream that flowed behind the farm house to the pond. In that stream lived fat, pink-bellied, silver-backed trout. If you didn’t let your shadow cross the deep hole on the left side of the sodded-over culvert that permitted a tractor to cross over the stream to the pasture behind it.
I remember my grandmother and grandfather, spotting, one day, through the living room window that faced that creek, a mink. A mink! I remember thinking to myself, as the glossy creature yanked a trout from the cool waters. And then I immediately thought how lucky I was to have seen such a thing.
The mink wasn’t the only successful angler. My cousins, brother, and I always caught something, usually the small ones, but my cousin Tommy, oh, did he have the touch. A freckle-faced, red-headed firecracker of a boy—a year older than me, we looked like we should have been fraternal twins—he was wicked smart and sure of himself even then, and he was best at catching the big ones on a corn kernel-laden hook he somehow had lowered into that trophy trout hole without scattering a one of them downstream. He’d yank the fish out of the hole when it swallowed the hook, remove the offending metal, and with a distinctive kersplunk, let it slip from his gentle grasp to land in the bucket of water where the rest of our prizes swam, dying slowly.
We’d fillet our catches in the afternoon on a stump in the yard, Tommy leading the way for all of us and saving his big one for last. With the stump now sticky with fish blood and fish guts and shiny with bits of trout skin, Tommy would stick the point of the sharp pocket knife he used into the wood, then reach down into the bucket with two hands to ease the last, barely breathing trout out into the pure air and lay it on the log. We were, as a group of children, singularly quiet, our breaths held waiting for a magician to perform his final trick.
But the magic never came. Inevitably, Tommy’s big fish would be a pregnant female. He’d do something with the knife behind her gill or head to still the big fish, then slit the belly. Always, eggs would pour forth. Then Tommy would curse, softly. We did not swear as children, and so it was shocking for a boy of 10 or 11 in the early 1970s to say something as simple as “Damn,” especially so that his cousins a year or two behind him could hear.
The look of anger and sadness that mixed on his face was unforgettable. It was like he’d been presented with a puzzle that he should have been able to figure out but instead had to have someone older and wiser finish. Then disgust would take over, and he’d discard the fish, unable to look at it any longer. I asked, the first time this happened, for it seemed to happen every summer, why he was so upset, and he looked at me in pain and said, “I didn’t know she was pregnant. I shouldn’t have caught her. Do you know how many fish I just killed?” And then, in true aguish, he’d look down at his kill and say, “I should have known.”
I couldn’t fathom why he felt he should have known such a thing. But the gravity of what he felt I took to my own gut, his sadness became mine. I was so impressed that he felt as he did. We couldn’t have put it into words then, being as young as we were, but what I know now is that Tommy felt he’d wronged something in the scheme of nature’s cogs and wheels.
He’d given clues before. We’d walk down the long dirt road that fronted the farm, and he’d peak into a bird’s nest woven amongst the branches of some tree, making sure it was empty of eggs and weathered enough to be called abandoned before he’d gently pry it loose and hand it to me. We’d pick watercress for the dinner salad from the myriad rivulets that ran through the cow pastures, but just a little here, a little there, so as not to denude one area completely. Yet it wasn’t until those shiny pregnant trout fell to his pocketknife that I realized there was something more to our romping around in the sunshine than just a basic consideration for that which surrounded us, more than just a slightly tangible acknowledgement of being a part of the bigger picture.
I don’t know how such a boy
Jennifer L.S. Pearsall is a professional outdoor writer, photographer, and editor, who has been a part of the hunting and shooting industries for nearly 20 years. She is an avid clays shooter, hunter and dog trainer. Please visit her blog “Hunting the Truth” at http://huntingthetruth.com.
“Focus, movement, faith.” These are the words Elizabeth Lanier whispered in Sophie’s ear just before she called pull and crushed her clay target. Sophie had received a Beretta 28 gauge for her Mother’s Day present this year, and at the age of 72 and began taking shooting lessons with Elizabeth.
Jane Brown is one of those rare women who can walk into a room or onto a field and capture the attention of men and women alike. She embodies grace, charity, and humility, and these qualities make her a natural leader.
When I left theFBIAcademyafter sixteen weeks of training in 1986, I was covered in the most beautiful shades of purple, green, and yellow from my face to my collarbone, and down my bicep. The shotgun was too long, and my long neck and high cheekbones made it impossible to mount the gun properly to my shoulder while maintaining a proper sight picture (which is critical to defensive shotgun shooting). I lifted my face off the gun while shooting creating a horrible flinch, and all of the bad habits that ensue when shooting an ill-fitted gun followed suit. I was convinced that no one had ever hated a shotgun like I did in my bruised and frustrated condition.
The hunting season is long behind us and the start of another glorious fall is months away. So, what do hunters do in between seasons? Some of us fish, some of us grow a big vegetable garden, and those of us that live by the sea start lobstering and clamming. I try to enjoy all of it here on the Massachusetts coast. But to be honest, I spend many evenings re-reading all the great hunting stories in my favorite books and magazines.
I will tell you something else that I do, as long as you promise to keep it a secret. On the bay where I live, there is a little patch of beach plum and beach rose – and it holds a few rabbits! The beach society frowns on hunters and all the stuff we love (“guns,” baying hounds, staunch pointers locked up on poor little birds, etc.). But, when it’s raining, blowing hard, or too cold for beach goers, the miles of beach by my home becomes a deserted ghost town. That’s when I take Pup-Pup, my tri-colored beagle, for a little walk…!
Miss Daisy-Mae howls her head off as soon as she smells the salt air. She stands with her front paws on the dash and her rear paws on the good seats, smudging the clean windows with her nose. She knows where we are going even before we leave the house. One mention of the word “bunny” and she is doing the beagle dance and running for her leash, knowing the beach bunnies are waiting...!
I use to open the kitchen door and let her out when we left the house and she would run straight for the truck. But these days, we have so many bunnies around our little farm that she forgets all about the beach rabbits and takes the nearest scent trail she can find – usually in my vegetable garden. So, now, I leash her and we walk to the truck together. It more closely resembles a man being dragged by a dog, but we will ignore that fact in the spirit of the hunt.
All the beach bunnies hear us coming, long before we arrive:
“Bugsy…Here comes that stupid beagle again! Same plan as last time…?”
“Yeah, let’s keep crisscrossing, circling, and running through the thick stuff. Run down the dunes like you do and I’ll hang back. When you get bored, give me the signal and I’ll do that sprint right across her nose that drives her mad. Then, let’s work her back this way through as much poison ivy as possible, and hole up…”
I no longer open the driver’s side door to let the beagle out when we get there. Pup-Pup is so excited she just leaps out the window and hits the ground running. I just sort of lean back and try to get out of her way. It usually takes all of ten seconds before she opens up on a bunny and the chase is on.
I’ll sit in the truck with my coffee and some good country music playing, or turn on Rush Limbaugh, while the beagle works herself into a frenzy. When she gets tired, she comes by for a quick drink on the fly and keeps right on going. But after a while, I’ll wade into the poison ivy up to my neck and catch her. Like all beagles, she will hunt until she drops and you have to know when it’s time to leash her up and call it a day.
We bounce back down the dirt road that leads to home, both of us are covered head to toe in poison ivy dust. The beagle whines and howls and watches out the rear window as our secret rabbit patch disappears into the distance. She can’t believe we are leaving. But then she settles down on the salt and sand-covered leather seats, and takes a short nap.
We pull into the driveway and I open the truck door to let her out. She stands and stretches and does a big yawn. She sniffs the breeze, like the hunter she is, enjoying the fresh air. I don’t rush her. I know she is taking in a good whiff of the vegetable garden bunny before heading into the house. We both walk up to the steps, ignoring the outdoor kennel, and head for the kitchen. She waits patiently for her treat, then gets a gentle pat on the head before retiring to the living room.
As I tidy up the house, I glance over at her all stretched out on the good furniture littered with her toys. I know she is pretending to be asleep while keeping an eye on me. We’re both dreaming of bunnies and autumn and the smell of rabbit stew simmering on the stove, and a nice fire in the fireplace. I give her another little pat as I walk past and she thumps her tail without opening her eyes. It may be summertime, but we never stop thinking about fall.
I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying a gun to work with me every day. Heck, I’ve always taken a gun with me everywhere I’ve gone for the past thirty years, just out of common sense. Good medicine in case I run into the sick.
But I’ve been taking another gun to the office with me lately, a BB gun…! That’s right, a BB gun. A little lever action Daisy that I got from my father when I was six years old. It measures 30” inches muzzle to butt. Dad bought it for me to teach me marksmanship, discipline, and safety in handling firearms. Best thing he ever did and I would recommend it highly, to all parents of sound mind and judgment.
I was the top fly shooter in my neighborhood, maybe even in the whole town. I was also the top bee shooter, but Dad discouraged bee shooting. Bees were beneficial, flies were not.
Dad started me out shooting flies on the side of an old, falling down building along the edge of our land. We’d sit on the little hill overlooking the building and gun flies for hours on sunny days as they landed on the shingles. Dad would shoot for a while, then I’d shoot. It might have been just a little competition in marksmanship between a young boy and his father, but it was a lot of fun!
Whenever a hornet came into view, my finger began to twitch and I wanted to smack it bad. I’d been stung many times in my six years, in the raspberry patch while picking berries. But Dad always whispered quietly when he saw me getting edgy, “Now, don’t shoot the hornet. Hornets are beneficial...” Dad liked hornets. I hated them. I did not like bumblebees, either, after getting stung on the arm while sitting innocently on the school bus one day. Man, did that hurt!
Well, time moved on and I moved up the ladder and got into hunting full-bore. I got into rabbit hunting, squirrel hunting, upland birds, deer, waterfowl, you name it. If it was huntable, I hunted it and ate it.
Years later, when my own kids starting getting into shooting, I still had the little Daisy BB gun Dad bought for me when I was six years old. Naturally, I used it to teach my own children about marksmanship, discipline, and safety in handling firearms. My son has become quite the fly shooter, and I’m guessing, he’s probably a pretty good bee shooter, too, but I wouldn’t know about that. Bees are beneficial – UNLESS they are in your office!
I was sitting at my desk the other day, minding my own business, when the biggest , meanest, loudest bumblebee I have ever seen in my life, barged through the door and threatened to harm me.
Always on the alert, I did not sit there and wait to see what was going to happen. I took the threat seriously and went into instant defense mode. STOP THE THREAT!!! I lunged at him, taking a swing with one hand while reaching for my gun with the other. The Daisy came up and snugged into my shoulder in lightning fast auto mode, as if it were a part of me. I worked the lever action in one smooth, quick stroke and had the offender in my sights in a split second. I gave commands loud and clear for all to hear: “STOP! DON’T MOVE! DON’T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU!” The offender ignored my commands and came right at me – THWAK!!! He tumbled out of the air and fell to the floor. I cocked the gun and again shouted: “STOP! DON’T MOVE! DON’T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU!” But once again, the offender rose up and came at me with fire in his eyes – THWAK!!! He tumbled to the floor again, and I opened the door and flicked him outside. The threat was stopped, peace had been restored, and I returned to my desk. OOPS – did I just hear a fly???
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The first time I went crow hunting I stepped in dog mess. I was young, somewhere around five of six. The new super highway, Route 3, had just gone through, connecting Boston to Cape Cod. It cut right through the middle our little seaside town in Duxbury, Massachusetts.
The new speedway was one big, long, pile of crap that began the destruction of rural life in our area of coastal New England. One could now make the trip from the city to the Cape in about an hour, instead of taking the back roads used by horse and buggy not too long ago. With the super highway came the one thing my Yankee family despised: Lots of people. “Wash-a-shores” is what we called them. Still do. They blow into town with their money and fancy cars, snatch up some real estate, and then, just like that, figured now that they lived here they could tell us locals what to do and how to do it. And what they didn’t like about our rural way of life.
My father put the owl decoy up on the pole by the bog like he always did. Only difference was, instead of quiet, country ways, we sat there and listened to cars buzz by behind us at fifty miles an hour. Right where we use to paddle the canoe amongst the lily pads and large mouth bass. Almost over the top of our crow hunting spot. Well, we were not about to let the highway push us Yankees out of our crow hunting spot. Yankees don’t move too well when pushed (you may recall some of that in your history books).
Well, Dad began blowing on the crow call and soon enough, a couple of crows came flying in and then a massive flock of about fifty, all crowing and cawing at the top of their lungs. Every now and then, one of the bolder ones would dive-bomb the owl decoy and smack its head with crow feet. Owl didn’t move. Made them all even madder. It was all so exciting laying there in the pine needles under a clump of white pines with crows all around us going absolutely crazy!
That’s when we smelled it for the first time. It reeked to high heavens. Dad got a stick and showed me how to flick it out of the bottom of my shoe. It smelled like the city.
On our way out, we saw a wash-a-shore walking her dog along the bog road, her fancy car pulled over to the side. She looked at the gun and the owl decoy and thought we had shot an owl and made a disparaging comment that didn’t seem too friendly. I noticed Dad walked a little brisker to get back into the woods on the trail that led to home, and I hurried behind him. He mumbled something to the lady as we walked past, but at six years old, I didn’t understand what it was. But I did learn where a lot of dog mess comes from.
Well, here we are on the cusp of March. Another rabbit hunt or two, maybe one more try at bass and perch through the ice, and then it’s on to Spring turkey season – while dreaming of summertime stripers, blues and football tuna!
Every year I say I am going to go load up on Spring flounder in the bay while watching the waterfowl migrate north, and every year something else comes up – like brush burning season. Now there is something a man can really enjoy while mulling over the past and thinking about the future!
Burning brush with my father, an old Yankee of 92 years, is when he has given me some of his most sage advice. On dating: “There are a lot of fish in the sea.” On trusting in God: “Your body dies, but your soul lives on forever.” On the past: “I’m the last one living from my graduating class – the others are all dead. Sometimes, I wonder why I’m still here…” On the work ethic: “Always stay busy, even when you’re not.” And: “Whatever you do, big or small, it’s got to be done a hundred percent.” Dad, I hope you can join me burning brush again this season, and tell me some more of the old-time stories of growing up on a rural, Duxbury, Massachusetts farm…
A few other joys in March include seeing the woodcock return to the swamps and fields to perform their mating dance in the skies at dusk. I know this may sound a little silly, but this is one of the events of Spring that makes my heart soar (other than burning brush with Dad). There’s another: hearing the Spring peepers starting up their chorus in the swamps. Throw in the first bats to start flying and now you really got something. The greatest of the greatest? Sitting out and seeing and hearing all three on the same night while watching the coals burn down after a day of burning brush with Dad.
There’s so much more to March. The howling of the coyotes, the barking of the fox. The crows flying overhead carrying special sticks to special trees, to build a nest to start a new family. The redwing blackbirds arrive in huge numbers in March and it is such a pleasure to see their bright, red-wing patches and hear them singing in the tops of the trees. The mute swans will be nesting, the first great white egrets will arrive, and the woodchucks will be looking over my garden and doing a little dreaming of their own. The herring will start to come in from the ocean and run up the rivers to spawn and the sweet, damp smell of spring will fill our senses with overwhelming delight.
March may be just another month to some, but to me its winter’s dying grip and Spring’s gentle kiss on my cheek. Farewell winter, we’ll see you next year.