I didn’t mean to shoot Mom in the leg with my Red Ryder BB gun. But by the time she realized I was the little idiot that raised a pea-sized welt on her leg, I made it into the protective circle of the Cows of Hobson’s Pond. It was the first, and only, time they came to my rescue. They witnessed it all and testified that it was a complete accident. I had to promise them alfalfa pellets and listen to them chant at me, Hey Elmer Fudd, kill the Wabbit, kill the Wabbit.
We lived in the country so naturally we had a variety of rifles, shotguns, pistols and BB guns. Contemporary reasoning assumes I should have grown up to be a serial killer with all those guns around.
Since my Dad had his you kill it, you eat it rule, I never was much of a hunter. Therefore, I often shot at things that didn’t have to be gutted, plucked, or skinned. One Christmas, I broke his rule about you sneak a peak at your presents and you’ll lose them. I found the Red Ryder hidden in the closet and it was the first time I ever uttered the word sexy. Give me a BB gun and a few tin cans and, to this day, I can whittle away an afternoon with pure delight. We call that plinkin’.
Dad had a few rules about guns:
- Always assume they’re loaded
- Never point them at anyone
- Always check the barrel to make sure it’s not plugged because Kendall stuck it in the mud while you were hunting ducks
- Clean it when you’re done
- If you kill it, you eat it
- Don’t shoot anyone, especially family
- A gun is never responsible for a crime; the idiot holding the gun is responsible for the crime
One summer evening I donned my Fudd-like cap and went plinkin’. Plinkin’ was a lot more fun than hunting because hunting usually involved walking long distances in grass taller than me. I was so skittish from being chased by the Cows of Hobson’s Pond that scaring up a covey of quail short-circuited all the electrical impulses to my heart.
Doctors insist you spend thousands of dollars for stress tests to check your heart, but I can save you a lot of money by walking you thru a covey of quail. Quail wait for you to walk over the top of them then fly up your boxers. If you’re still alive after flushing six coveys of quail, then your heart has at least another hundred thousand miles on it.
But plinkin’ tin cans got boring so I looked for other things to shoot. Now, remember, I didn’t grow up with iPads, or Nintendos so my level of entertainment might seem, well, like a redneck, but you make the best with what ya’ got to work with.
I found a dead locust lying on the ground and decided it might be fun to shoot. Since it was already dead when I found it, Dad might not make me skin and eat it. So I laid it on a big rock in our yard to plink.
Dad dragged home huge round rocks that looked like sixteen-inch tall biscuits with hundreds of perforated holes. He then painted them white and they served as nice decorations spotted on our one acre yard.
The biscuit rocks were also the perfect height for footstools for those metal lawn chairs with curved legs that made them like rocker-recliners. Mom decided to enjoy the summer evening reading a book while rocking gently in one of those metal chairs. She was wearing a duster- a loose fitting cottony gown- and propped her bare legs up on the rock.
Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) would later reconstruct the scene. Numerous laws of nature were broken in order for me to shoot Mom in the leg since she was sitting at a 90-degree angle to the left of where I aimed. Apparently the head of the locust is made of Kevlar.
Dad heard the scream and thought that Mom had been baptized by the Holy Ghost and turned into a Charismatic; either that or demons got a hold of her. Either one was a valid explanation to her histrionics and carried with it the equal amount of shame to this way of thinking. What led him to believe the latter explanation was her frantically chasing me across the yard screaming something about, who in their right mind left Elmer Fudd alone with a gun.
The other time I shot at something that was already dead makes perfect sense after you give me a chance to explain it.
North of our house about thirty miles was Cassoday, Kansas: The Prairie Chicken Capital of the World. During the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, Cassoday was a destination for chicken hunters.
The only experience I had shooting a chicken was Ralph, our nasty old rooster that attacked little children and old ladies wearing dusters. My Red Ryder didn’t have enough power to kill him or even knock him out, but man-oh-man, I could rile him with a shot to the body. Ralph and Mom shared the same reaction to getting shot: jump three feet off the ground then start chasing me.
However, prairie chickens are not as easy to shoot. They are the Usain Bolts of the aviary kingdom and can ratchet it up to 35 miles per hour. Ralph could match their speed when Mom chased him with a two-by-four. I offered her my gun for those expeditions, but she mumbled something about not wanting to be an Elmer Fudd herself and have the sheriff haul her away for shooting me.
My older brothers planned for weeks in anticipation of the opening morning of prairie chicken season. They oiled their stocks; I oiled mine. They cleaned their barrels; I cleaned mine. They checked their ammo; I checked mine. They packed their lunch; I packed mine. They went to Cassoday to hunt; I went to Rosalia to help Dad remodel a house. He is too little, they said; he will be in the way, they said; he will start whining, they said, he shoots like Elmer Fudd, they said.
Dad later explained that the real reason he sided with them had more to do with me being thrown in a pit and sold to a passing band of Egyptians than it did with any of their logic.
I had aged enough to carry a rifle so I conned Dad into letting me hunt in the pasture outside of his rental house. I wandered up a ravine expecting a covey quail to fly up my boxers when I spotted a prairie chicken under a thicket. I froze, expecting him to lurch like Mom launching out of that old rocker, but he never moved. I inched closer: no movement. Closer: nothing. I finally poked him with a stick. He was dead.
I dragged him out from under the thicket to discover he was still warm. I surmised that he had been hit with a shotgun pellet up north and made it this far before resting in peace.
Well, okay, he didn’t exactly rest in peace because I wouldn’t let him. My thought process went something like this:
- I had brothers who left me behind and I wanted revenge
- I had a dead, but still very warm bird in my hand
- The bird showed no sign of being injured, even though it was dead
- I could make it look like I had taken it fair and square
So I shot it in the head and took it back to Dad.
Dad: Where did you find that bird, Elmer?
Me: I shot it on the fly.
Dad: You shot a prairie chicken on the fly? The last time you shot something I had to talk your Mom out of sending you to the orphanage.
Me: Yep, it was taking off and I pulled the gun up and shot it. See, the head has a bullet hole in it.
How could he argue with me? I didn’t fess up until the statute of limitations expired and I had kids of my own.
We ate roasted prairie chicken for dinner that night. Rather, I should say some of us ate one roasted prairie chicken for dinner that night. My brothers wasted four boxes of shells and missed every bird and would not touch mine. It appeared I dropped my bird with one bullet. They seethed and threatened to look for a roving band of Egyptians.
After the dishes were done, I heard Mom and Dad talking:
Dad: Did that bird taste okay to you?
Mom: I thought it was quite tasty but I did find some buckshot in it.
Dad: Yeah, me too. I think I chipped my dentures. Think we ought to tell the boys what really happened?
Mom: Nope, if we do that, little Elmer Fudd’s liable to shoot me again.
It’s been a lot of years since then, but I keep a Red Ryder by my back door at all times. I still think it’s pretty sexy.
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