A Family Tradition

Times change…and then sometimes they don’t.  I grew up in the Fifties in rural Southern Illinois. Like most of the country, we had our traditions of the Holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years were THE big events of the years for families. Easter was another one but it was more oriented towards faith and many families observed Easter at church and at home.

The big three holidays usually involved traveling for many. My sister and brother-in-law visited us at the Farm most of the time. My brother-in-law was an outdoorsman, a term not often heard anymore.

In the summer, he liked to fish. He and my sister built a home on the shore of a twenty-acre lake. In the winter, he liked to hunt. Ducks and geese had their season. Squirrels and rabbits had theirs.  In the fifties, there was no deer season. They were rare after being almost hunted out during the Twenties before hunting became regulated.

I’ve written about our Thanksgiving hunting tradition in another post. However, there were other hunting traditions, too, during the Fall. The most common was rabbit hunting.

While November and December were Duck and Goose seasons; August and September was Squirrel season, October was reserved for Rabbit Season and was my favorite. When I was growing up I hunted, and trapped, rabbits in a variety of ways. A neighbor kid and I once hunted them with baseball bats in an overgrown gully after a fresh snow. We had also hunted with bows and arrows. But we hunted most often with firearms.

I killed more rabbits with a .22 rifle, catching them sitting along a fence line. But hunting with dogs was the best.

Dad raised a variety of hunting dogs. His favorites were Beagles. In October, my brother-in-law Dick Harriss would arrive early on Saturday and Dad  and I would load up a half dozen dogs into his pick-up and we’d head off to the fields.

On this occasion, we went to an area called Beaver Dam, a section of the Big Muddy River that ran through Franklin County, IL. It was a small river than ran through the farm of one of my mother’s cousins, Roy Miller. Roy wasn’t much of a hunter but he did like to eat rabbits. We could use his land for hunting as long as we gave Roy a ‘tithe’ of any rabbits we killed.

Unlike hunting for Quail or Pheasant with dogs, hunting for rabbits with dogs was different. In the former case, dogs were used to find and flush birds. You could only kill game birds while in flight. Rabbits, on the other hand, didn’t fly. Dogs would range ahead of us searching for sitting rabbits. When one was found, it ran with the dogs not far behind.

That day, we had been walking along a fence line towards the river. Dad was on one side of the fence. Dick and I was on the other side. We were silent. The only sound was the crunch of ice ribbons forced out of the ground by the sub-freezing overnight temperatures as we walked with a whisper of wind through the saplings growing along the fence.

Roy Miller hadn’t cleared his fence line in some time. It was overgrown with saplings and briar patches. We were half-way to the river when the dogs flushed a rabbit that took off down the fence line with the dogs running right behind it. The race was on.

Rabbits don’t have much endurance. They are sprinters. They will run a bit and then hunker down hoping whatever is chasing them will pass them by. Beagles hunt by scent and by sight. When beagles lose sight of their prey, they start sniffing. Hunting rabbits with dogs is a series of sprints and pauses.

If the rabbit runs away, how can a hunter shoot one you may ask. It’s simple. Rabbits don’t run in straight lines or directly away. They run in circles. All a hunter needs to do is to listen to the dogs. When the rabbit circles, the sound of the dogs will let you know to keep and eye for a streak of brown running through the brush or a field. The trick is to shoot the rabbit, not the dog who is following close behind. Some hunters never learn that little skill.

On some occasions, the rabbit will circle, return and never be seen. In fact that is what happens in most of the cases. On that morning, I was on the outside, away from the fence line. Dick was on the inside close to the fence, Dad was on the other side of the fence.

We heard the dogs turn on the circle. I was carrying a Stevens, break-open, single shot, 12ga shotgun. I usually carried it open, empty until I heard the dogs approach. Dad carried his Remington Model 11 and Dick carried his 16ga bolt-action shotgun. When the dogs began to circle, I slipped a #4 shotshell into the chamber and closed the action.

At first it seemed the rabbit would come on Dad’s side of the fence. But when the dogs got closer, they switched to our side. Because I was on the outside from the fence, my shooting section was to my right. Dick, closer to the fence, could only shoot if the rabbit appeared to our front. Most often a rabbit would follow cover, in this case the fence. I expected Dick would get the shot.

We continued walking down the fence line with a slightly slower pace. The dogs came closer and I cocked my shotgun. We took a couple more steps and I spotted a streak of brown through the high grass to my right. I brought my shotgun to my shoulder, swung on the target, gave it a bit of lead and fired.

I thought I had missed. The dogs stopped and began to mill about as if they had lost the scent.

http://www.gameandfishmag.com/files/2010/09/ra_0107_06a.jpgI walked over to where I had last seen the rabbit.  The field was a pasture with dead, brown grass rising about eighteen inches over the ground. It was threaded with small game trails and tunnels under the cover of fallen grass stems throughout the field. I walked about fifty yards through the grass when I found the rabbit. There were a couple of blood specks on its fur but it appeared to be otherwise undamaged. I raised my hand indicating that I’d found the rabbit and then slipped it into the pouch on the rear of my hunting jacket.

It felt good swinging in the pouch as I walked back towards the fence. In a few moments the dogs found another rabbit and another hunt was on.

We finished the day with a half dozen rabbits. I got another one late in the day. Dad and Dick split the rest. We gave one rabbit to Roy for his ‘tithe.’ We were all pleased with the results of the hunt.

I remember this day for another reason. It was the day I broke the stock of my shotgun. We were loading up to go home. Dad and Dick slipped their guns into gun cases. I didn’t have one. We were loading the dogs into Dad’s pickup when my shotgun fell to the concrete of Roy Miller’s driveway. It landed vertically on the butt of the stock and the stock cracked at the grip behind the trigger. Its weakest point.

It was an old shotgun, older than me or Dick. It was probably made around the time of WW1 and the woodwork had a bit of hidden rot. It was a cumbersome gun to use. I had to cock it to fire and the hammer spring was so strong that I had to brace the stock on my thigh and use both thumbs to cock the hammer. One time my thumbs slipped and it went off, braced on my thigh and for a moment I thought I’d broken my leg. I hadn’t but I did get a bruise that took a couple of weeks to heal.

Rather than take my shotgun to a gunsmith for repairs, Dad traded it for a 12ga, single-shot Winchester. The Winchester was of a different design and it had a safety and cocked when the action was closed. It didn’t have an exposed hammer like the Steven had.

It was the last shotgun I owned until a few years ago when I found a Remington Model 11 shotgun just like Dad’s at a gun show. It had been re-blued and the stock and forearm had only a few dings and scratches. All  of Dad’s (and my Winchester shotgun) firearms were stolen while I was away at college. I always envied Dad’s Remington. Now I have one just like his.

We continued to hunt rabbits every weekend in October for several years until I left for college. I’ve not hunted rabbits since. Today, people in Kansas and Missouri prefer to hunt deer and turkeys. My hunting choice was and still is rabbits.

Karma and other stories

A woman in Idaho, an animal lover, killed a protected raptor, a Falcon, to save a duck. The woman saw the falcon take a duck out of midair.

An Idaho woman’s overzealous sympathy for the hunted over the hunter may land her in jail, The Coeur d’Alene Press reports. In January, Patti McDonald allegedly meted out a dose of unnatural selection when she came upon Hornet, a falcon owned by hunter Scott Dinger. In his investigation of the incident which reportedly led to the bird of prey’s demise, Craig Walker, an Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional conservation officer said his office received a phone call from an unidentified woman who said she saw a falcon take a duck from the air and then went to the aid of the duck and tried to scare away the falcon. When the falcon remained in place holding the duck, the woman said she removed a scarf that had beads on it and beat the bird. “The woman later stated that she had been very upset about the duck being injured, but felt bad about injuring someone’s pet, because she “beat the crap out of it really hard,” the report states. If found guilty, McDonald could be sentenced to a maximum of six months in jail and $5,000 in fines. — FOX Newsletter, March 17, 2015.

This reminds me of the report from a year or so ago when a woman who had hit a deer in a deer-crossing zone, wanted the signs moved so the deer would cross elsewhere.



Tyranny begets legislation. The City of Columbia has passed some ordinances to block businesses from performing background checks on new employees. I supposed the city wants to make Columbia a safe place for criminals to live and pursue their profession. This, and other ordinances passed by cities around the state has prompted the legislature to respond.

Gowntown versus Capital City is a feud over local control in Missouri, Kansas

College-town politics don’t exactly match up with the increasingly conservative leanings of Missouri and Kansas.

That doesn’t stop leaders in the University of Missouri’s hometown from pushing on.

Since the beginning of December, the Columbia City Council has banned private businesses from conducting criminal background checks on job applicants and implemented regulations on ride-booking services such as Uber and Lyft.

It raised the age to buy cigarettes within the city to 21 and barred the indoor use of e-cigarettes.

Thirty miles south in Jefferson City, the Republican-dominated Missouri General Assembly has taken disdainful notice.

The implications of what happens next could be felt across the state, as a series of bills make their way through the legislature aimed at blocking or overturning local laws.

“This is about the role of government,” said Rep. Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican. “Columbia is off track and so we need to define the lines between the roles of local and state government.”

Several of the bills may be inspired by the actions of a college-town city council, but their impact won’t be confined to Columbia.

City, county and school district leaders have long complained about actions they deem as interfering with local control. But facing what some say is an unprecedented number of legislative challenges to their authority, local officials around the state are crying foul.

“Nobody knows local affairs better than the locals. Nobody is better able to respond to local needs better than the locals,” said Kansas City Mayor Sly James. “To have people, the majority of whom don’t live in the locale, trying to implement one-size-fits-all policies, I think is shortsighted and unwise at best.”

Columbia is a rabid enclave of ‘progressives’ in the middle of a conservative state. Like their counterparts in St. Louis and Kansas City, they want to impose their brand of liberal tyranny on their residents.  These are the same cities who fought tooth and claw against CCW and other conservative issues. Jackson County to this day imposes severe constraints on CCW applicants and those seeking a renewal in spite of state law. Columbia, like her two sister cities, continue to seek their version of progressive governance that further restricts our liberty and endangers our safety.


Followup: Jackson County

Last week I wrote about a Jackson County ordinance passed last December without fanfare or notice. The ordinance effectively banned shooting in most of rural Jackson County—areas used for farming, personal shooting and hunting. Under the ordinance, outdoor shooting and archery was banned.

The Western Missouri Shooters Alliance hosted a meeting for affected Jackson Countians, a member of the county legislature, the county sheriff, and two members of the Missouri General Assembly. The meeting drew the attention of the Independence Examiner and several days later, the Kansas City Star.

A review meeting was conducted yesterday afternoon to discuss the ordinance. The county legislature unanimously repealed section (c), the new addition that banned shooting. There are already ordinances in place that govern shooting across property lines and at structures.

With the repeal, the ordinance reverts to its language as it was last year.

Jackson County legislators repeal controversial ordinance that made some hunting illegal

, 07/28/2014 5:55 PM, UPDATED: 07/28/2014 7:07 PM

The Jackson County Legislature on Monday unanimously approved deleting a section of the county weapons code that prohibited discharging firearms or arrows in parts of eastern Jackson County. The ordinance had confused and angered landowners such as Wade Noland, who said it prohibited them from hunting on their property.Once again, eastern Jackson County landowners can hunt legally on their properties.

The Jackson County Legislature on Monday unanimously approved deleting a section of the county weapons code that prohibited shooting firearms in parts of unincorporated eastern Jackson County.

The vote followed 45 minutes of testimony before the legislature’s justice and law enforcement committee. The swift action pleased a crowd that filled all available chairs and lined the walls of the legislative chambers in the Jackson County Courthouse Annex in Independence.

The old ordinance, approved in December, prohibited shooting firearms or arrows anywhere within irregular patches of land within the county’s “urban development tier.” That tier covers patches of land stretching from near Greenwood to near Sugar Creek.

Legislators and other officials said they had been motivated by genuine concerns over negligent gun owners discharging firearms in a manner that allowed bullets to strike residences.

A county official displayed maps Monday pinpointing the locations of nine incidents reported to the sheriff’s office before the December vote. Seven more incidents have been reported since.

Greg Grounds, the former Blue Springs mayor who co-sponsored last year’s ordinance, insisted that he and his colleagues had meant well.

“It was well-intentioned,” he said, adding, “It was not well thought out by myself.”

Melissa Morehead, a Blue Springs resident whose family owns 36 acres in one of the affected areas, said the ordinance had caused rampant confusion.

“In one hasty move, you criminalized hunting,” she said. “You criminalized that and you didn’t tell us.”

Lack of communication compounded the problem, she said.

“We spent the Fourth of July weekend calling our neighbors,” Morehead said. “For seven months, if we were shooting our guns, we were doing it illegally.”

Joe DeBold, an urban wildlife biologist with the Missouri Conservation Department, testified that property owners who hunt lawfully assist the department in controlling wildlife.

“They have to be able to discharge firearms,” DeBold said.

The legislature unanimously approved the new ordinance, which retains language that prohibits shooters from firing bullets or arrows beyond property boundaries.

Afterward, Kevin Jamison of the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance promised assistance if the legislature ever wanted to revisit the issue.

“None of us want unsafe practices going on,” said Jamison. “That doesn’t help anybody.”

A win for the people against petty tyrants. The common folk still have power.

Read more herhttp://www.kansascity.com/news/government-politics/article820969.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/government-politics/article820969.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/government-politics/article820969.html#storylink=c

Did you know…?

…that the 2nd Amendment does not protect hunting nor hunters? According to one Federal Judge, it does not.

http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20140509023613/vsbattles/images/8/8f/Elmer_fudd-2.jpgHave you heard the term, “Zumbo” or “Fudd?” It refers to the cartoon character, Elmer Fudd. Second Amendment rights activists use it in another form.

Fudd: Slang term for a “casual” gun owner; eg; a person who typically only owns guns for hunting or shotgun sports and does not truly believe in the true premise of the second amendment. These people also generally treat owners/users of so called “non sporting” firearms like handguns or semiautomatic rifles with unwarranted scorn or contempt.

I’ve not heard of any Second Amendment supporter use the term. I can understand how it could be used when we have hunters and hunter advocates support gun control. If it doesn’t affect hunting and hunters, they aren’t concerned. After all, an AR isn’t a hunting rifle (tell that to numerous varmint hunters!)

A legal case about hunting came before a Judge. The hunters attempted to use the 2nd Amendment in their case. The Judge ruled the 2nd Amendment didn’t apply to hunting.

Judge Rules That The Second Amendment Doesn’t Protect Hunting

“Fudd” isn’t exactly a term of endearment.

Fudds are generally uninterested in the Second Amendment, and are therefore the favorite of anti-gun politicians and the news media, like this collection of Fudds in a recent Jamie Tarabay article used to attack the National Rifle Association. They could generally care less about fighting for gun rights, because they assume that their guns are safe.

How is that working out for you now, Elmer?

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit by a hunters’ group that had challenged Pennsylvania’s long-standing ban on Sunday hunting, saying she saw no proof the hunters’ constitutionally protected rights were being harmed.

U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane made the ruling in a suit brought by the Lancaster County-based Hunters United for Sunday Hunting against the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the agency that enforces the state’s game code.

Kane said she could find no proof that courts have extended Second Amendment protections to include recreational hunting. She also found that the hunters could not prove that the law unfairly discriminated between classes of hunters or that the ban on Sunday hunting violates their religious freedoms.

As stunning as this is for the Fudds, the ruling must be even more perplexing for gun control cultists. They’ve spent the last 30 or more years arguing that if the Second Amendment applied at all outside of their collectivist interpretation, then surely, the Second Amendment only applied for the purposes of hunting.

Now a federal judge has knocked over that strawman, and stomped that sucker flat.

It’s going to be interesting to see if this ruling registers with the gun controllers—my guess is that they’ll ignore it entirely, since it is inconvenient—but even more interesting to see if this has any effect on the Fudds, who are probably going to find out that they aren’t the “protected species” that they always assumed that they were.

When you hear hunters support gun control, tell them about this. They have as much invested in a strong 2nd Amendment as do the rest of us.

Snow Day

Today’s forecast for six to ten inches of snow reminded me of an unplanned snow day I had when I was in grade school. I grew up in the 1950s on a small farm in Southern Illinois. The roads in our area were maintained by the county and, for that time, well kept. They were gravel with three-foot drainage ditches on each side. Every fall, one of the county graders would drive down our road clearing those ditches in anticipation of the Spring runoff.

Those nice deep ditches made drivers in our area very careful. Frequently, we would have someone knocking on our door at all times of the day and night, asking Dad to pull them out of the ditch with his tractor. Often, because Dad was working in the coal mines, I drove the tractor, set the chains and did the deed. Imagine today, a ten-year old boy driving a large tractor, hauling chains, climbing underneath a car, truck or another tractor and pulling it out.

Well, those were different times. Parents expected more of their children and more often than not, the kids met those expectations. No helicopter parents then. They were too busy working, feeding their families, providing shelter and taking care of familiy and friends.

On this occasion, a storm had dumped a foot of snow across the county. I rode a bus to school, traveling over ten miles each way to school. The school was three miles away from the farm and during warming weather in May and September, I would walk the distance or ride my bike. In winter, I was glad to ride that heated bus.

I stood inside watching the road for that yellow bus. It usually arrived a few minutes after 7am. Dad had left for the mine an hour earlier. With the snow, he caught a ride with our neighbor who owned a war surplus jeep, the only 4-wheel drive vehicle in our area. Mom would usually be teaching but she was snowbound too. Her 1949 Plymouth was stuck in our driveway, failing the passage through a three-foot drift that blocked our drive.

By 7:30am, we were getting a bit worried…no yellow bus. At 7:45am, the phone rank—long-short-long. Our ring. We were on a party line. Mom answered. It was the school. My bus had slid into a ditch a mile from our house. The other bus, whose route covered the district on the other side of the highway, was blocked. It needed to pass over railroad tracks to reach our school. The railroad was ten feet above ground level. The bus couldn’t climb the rise. Under that foot of snow was a sheet of ice.

No school today! What every kid wants to hear. For me, it was even better. If Mom hadn’t been blocked in our driveway, I would have had to go to school with her. Today, we were both off!

I soon realized that put me in a situation. Mom was one of those who always had to be busy. She started planning her day: bake some pies, a cake. slow roast a chicken…clean house!

I didn’t mind helping her with the baking. I could get a few of the trimmings, lick the icing, get a nibble here and there, but cleaning the house? No, I better have a plan of my own.

The storm arrived in mid-November. Thanksgiving was still in the future. Some of Mom’s cooking was in preparation of that holiday. What could I do? The thought struck me—it was still rabbit season. That was my out, I could go rabbit hunting.

I told Mom my plans. I thought she might say no, but she and Dad liked rabbit, especially rabbit stew. If I brought home a rabbit before noon, we could have rabbit stew for supper instead of roasted chicken. Truth be told, I preferred rabbit stew over the chicken, too.

 Bundling up took planning. Start with long-handled underwear, smooth cotton socks, the first layer. Next came wool socks, flannel-lined jeans and flannel shirt. Over my shirt cam a wool sweater. Outer wear was a canvas hooded coat. Mom had dunked it into a new product (whose name I’ve now forgotten) that waterproofed the coat. Inside the coat was a quilted liner. Add a wool scarf, wool gloves within a leather shell, a hat with foldout earmuffs, rubber insulated boots and I was set.

Now, you may think that was all too much, that I’d be like the proverbial snow-boy with too much coverings to move. It wasn’t. First, the coat was two sizes bigger than I needed. That gave me flexibility and air-space between the layers. It it was too tight, I’d get sweaty, not good at sub-freezing weather.

Out I went, a .410 single-shot shotgun in hand with three shells in a side pocket. Rabbits were easy to find in snow. They would find a place out of the wind and sit. The snow would drift over them and when covered, the only sign was a ‘blow hole’ in the drift from the rabbit’s breath. If you were observant, you could see their breath steaming from the hole.

Hunters used two tactics hunting rabbits in snow. One was to stomp around, making a lot of noise to flush the rabbit. This wasn’t wise because usually the rabbit took off long before you got close enough to shoot. The second was to sneak up on the rabbit, stepping slowly to get withing ten to fifteen feet of the rabbit. You had a choice at that point—shoot where you thought the rabbit lay, or flush it and take a shot at the running rabbit.

Another tactic if you had a well trained dog was to have the dog flush the rabbit towards you. I preferred that method but Dad didn’t want me to risk one of his prized dogs hunting rabbits if he wasn’t there.

My favorite hunting area was a large corn field behind our house. The field had been harvested earlier in the Fall. The remaining cornstalks provided cover for small animals feeding off the spilled corn remaining from harvest. Rabbits preferred more cover, cover like the brush-filled fence line.

Dad and I would clear the fence line every few years, but in between clearings, briers would soon return accompanied by blackberries, raspberries and other brush useful to conceal rabbits and other larger predators.

It was quiet in that field. The snowfall had increased. The temperature, in the low twenties according to the large round thermometer next to our back door, had risen a few degrees since dawn. Instead of the small, dry snowflakes from early morning, they were now large, fat flakes. I could almost hear the ‘thud’ when they fell to ground.

I had the hood of my coat up over my cap. The only exposed skin was my face. My nose and cheeks tingled when exposed to the slight wind. Otherwise, I was fine.

The field was a mile long ending in a wood-line and a small creek. http://us.123rf.com/400wm/400/400/ohotnik/ohotnik1011/ohotnik101100036/8355385-winter-hunting-for-hares-on-the-first-snow.jpgI slowly walked down the fence line, looking for that tell-tale plume of steamy breath from a hidden rabbit. Halfway down the field I found one. When I crept closer, he ran…across the fence-line into the neighboring field. No shot.

Crunch…crunch…crunch, step by slow step, I walked down the fence-line. In normal conditions, I could walk that fence-line in fifteen minutes. Today, it took over an hour.

A hundred yards from where I had flushed the rabbit, I surprised a fox. He ran down the fence-line until he was just outside of shotgun range and stopped, looking back at me, daring me to shoot. There was a bounty on foxes and a fox pelt was worth a few dollars. It was tempting but I remembered I only had three shells of #6 shot, two my pocket, one in the shotgun. The shot was too light for foxes. It was almost too light for rabbits. I normally preferred #4 shot but I didn’t have any. Besides, shot-shells were too expensive to waste. A box of twenty cost nearly five dollars.

I reached the end of the field. The snow was still falling steadily, the depth approaching a foot by this time.  The trees, though bare of leaves, blocked some of the wind. I dug into my coat for a handkerchief to blow my running nose.

I had planned to circle the field following the fence-line that would eventually bring me back to the farmyard. But the morning was still young, only 10 o’clock. I had no rabbit and if I returned too soon, I’d still have to help Mom clean. That was the whole point in going hunting, to escape from Mom’s addiction for a clean house. At ten years of age, I had better things to do.

I wasn’t cold…except for my face. I remembered Mom’s warning about frostbite. I had a wool scarf around my neck. I raised it to cover my mouth, nose and cheeks—like a bad-guy in a western, I thought. Soon, the tingling stopped. The only exposed skin now was my eyes and an inch or so above them not covered by my cap.

Some of the trees in that woodlot still had a few brown leaves; a few that failed to fall in the previous weeks since the beginning of Fall. As I stood there, listening to the wind and distant sounds, something fell, striking twigs and branches in its fall to the ground. I looked around on the snow covered ground and saw cracked acorn and hickorynut shells littering the base of the tree…shells too fresh to be covered by the falling snow.

Squirrels! If I couldn’t bring home a rabbit, a squirrel or two would do as well.

Squirrels are skittish creatures. If anything strange moves in their area, they freeze in place. Once they’ve identified the source of the noise or the location of an intruder, they will move to keep the trunk of a tree, or limb, between them and the possible predator.

During squirrel season, I would hunt squirrels with a .22 pistol. Squirrel season was in late August through September. My method was to find a tree containing squirrels. I’d then lay on the ground next to the tree trunk, raise the pistol and rest my arm against the trunk of the tree and wait for a squirrel to appear. In a few minutes, if there was no more movement, they would creep out, curious to see where the predator had gone…right into my pistol sights.

Squirrel season was long over. But—I was still on our farm. It was open season for everything on your own property. I chose to use a variation of my usual squirrel hunting tactic.

I moved to the trunk of a large hickory tree. The snow surrounding it was littered with cracked hickorynut shells. I raised my .410, held it vertically in front of me, and leaned against the tree trunk to wait.

It seemed like forever.

After 15 minutes I heard something scampering in the tree-limbs above me. I kept still. More scamperings. Finally, I heard what I was waiting for, a falling nut shell.

I slowly looked up, looking for the squirrel. Then I saw it move, a large fox squirrel, almost the size of a rabbit. I slowly raised my .410. I paused whenever the squirrel stopped chewing on a nut, until I had it in my sight. That bronze bead on the tip of my .410 never seems so small.


Squirrels scattered. There must have been a dozen in that tree and its neighbors…squirrels I’d not seen. I looked for the fox squirrel.

At first there was nothing. Then, I heard it, the thump, bump of the squirrel falling down through the tree-limbs. It fell to ground a few feet in front of me. I picked it up in my gloves, checking for fleas and other parasites that indicated a sick squirrel. It was clean. No obvious blood either except for a small trickle from it’s nose.

My hunting mission was accomplished. Should I wait and see if another squirrel would reveal itself, or go home? Waiting for another squirrel would take time; time for them to quiet, a half hour at least, and it was now after 11am.

The snow had continued to fall, another inch accumulating since I had left the house and it would only get deeper. The lure of a warm home, maybe some canned chicken soup for lunch and hot tea, won the mental coin toss.

 It was a good morning spent in the woods even with the cold and the snow. The wind had created some drifts that were waist deep as I retraced my fading footsteps back to the farmyard. By the time I reached the barn, those earlier steps were gone, covered by wind and blowing snow.

The barn was heated by a few electrical heaters. Our four horses were in their stalls feeding on oats and hay that I had placed there before sunrise. On the other side of the barn, behind a wooden plank fence, were our few head of cattle, glad to have a shelter out of the wet, snow and wind.

I had one more task before going home, clean the squirrel. That was one inviolate rule of hunting, clean what you shot, be it a rabbit, squirrel, duck or goose. It didn’t take long. There was a water line in the barn for the stock with a faucet. After washing the cleaned squirrel under the cold water, I was finished.

The barn was a hundred yards from the house, one last trek through the snow to warmth. I gave the squirrel to Mom when I was inside. As I expected, she accepted it in lieu of the promised rabbit. I left my boots and coat next to the back door, still dripping from melting snow. Up a few steps from the back door was the kitchen.

I made a line to our family’s favorite spot when returning from the cold outside—the heat register. Our house was heated by a coal furnance. Dad, being a miner and union member, was able to buy home heating coal at a ridiculously cheap price.

It wasn’t forced air heat. There were no fans on our furnace, just convection heating. I remember Mom standing on that same register, the rising hot air making her dress bloom.

It was farm life in the 1950s. A good day, a snow day well spent, cakes and pies in the over and a squirrel stew simmering on top. Life couldn’t be better.



Mr. Helfritch

I wrote a post last week about my old grade school principal, Mr. Helfritch. I couldn’t remember his first name when I wrote that piece.  Since then a few more memories have risen.  I now remember adults called him “Fritz.” I still don’t know if that was his real first name or a nick-name.

He was the principal during my first three grades. When I was in the fourth grade, he took a job at a slightly bigger school in Coello, IL. We still saw him from time to time when our two schools played softball and basketball against each other. He moved on some years later and I never heard from him again.

After the incident I reported last week, Mr Helfritch joined us boys in some of our “after-school” activities—like squirrel hunting. The “rules” of squirrel hunting at our school, in fact pretty much the norm in our area, was to hunt squirrels with a .22 rifle. Shotguns were universally frowned upon. Only city-slickers, those who came down from Chicago, used shotguns to hurt squirrels.

Squirrel season was broad then, from mid-September until late October when rabbit season started. During hunting season, a bunch of us would bring our .22 rifles to school with a few cartridges. Dad never let me bring more than six at a time. He said if I couldn’t hit a squirrel with six shots, more wouldn’t help.

We stored our rifles in the corner of our school-room with the actions open. We weren’t allowed to hunt during school hours, but as soon as school was over, we would collect our rifles and troop off into the woodlot adjacent to the school.  That five-acre woodlot was filled with acorn, pecan and hickory trees. Perfect for squirrels—grey ones and the larger red fox squirrels.

One day, Mr. Helfritch asked if he could join us hunting after school. I don’t think anyone had the nerve to say, “No.” After school, Mr. Helfritch disappeared into his office. A few moments later he appeared wearing jeans, a dark shirt, his old army boots and a denim jacket. Gone were his usual sport-coat, white shirt and tie. Instead of a .22 rifle, he had a revolver strapped to his belt…a Smith & Wesson .22 revolver with an eight-inch barrel. It was the longest barreled pistol I’d ever seen.

Off we went into the woodlot. The method we used for squirrel hunting was to find an appropriate nut tree, lay down on the ground quietly and wait for the squirrels to emerge. The first to see one would whisper, “Mine,” and he would take the shot. Usually, there was only one chance to shoot. It the hunter missed, which was easy to do in those heavily branched trees, the squirrels would scatter and hide until they thought it was safe to emerge once again.

Our usual score was two to three squirrels in an hour. We rarely hunted longer. We had missed the bus and we would have to walk and arrive home before dark. In late October, that didn’t leave much time for hunting. It took me slightly over an hour to walk the 3 1/2 miles home.

We let Mr. Helfritch have the first shot that day. We were anxious to see how well he’d do with only a pistol. We lay there for around fifteen minutes when the squirrels began to emerge. Mr. Helfritch had chosen a large hickory tree that was home to a number of fox squirrels.

One of those fox squirrels began to run along the upper branches of the tree. Mr. Helfritch whispered, “Mine,” and raised his pistol. The squirrels froze for a moment at the sudden movement. Mr. Helfritch waited…waited…POW!

We could hear the squirrel stampede through the branches. The revolver was much louder than our rifles. We usually hunted with .22 shorts. They were cheaper. Mr. Helfrich, however, used .22 long rifle cartridges. A small difference perhaps but still much louder out of an 8″ barrel.

We could also hear something dropping down through the leaves until it thumped a few feet away. A very nice, red squirrel. Mr. Helfritch rose, walked over to the squirrel and picked it up. “That’s enough for me, boys,” he said and walked off towards the school.

The next day we all talked about hunting with Mr. Helfritch. Of course, the tree grew larger, the squirrel higher and bigger. It was the nature of hunting. Mr. Helfritch joined us a few more times that fall but those expeditions were never as grand as that first time.

A few years later I acquired a Harrington & Richards .22 revolver and from that time forward never hunted squirrels with a rifle. I didn’t bring home as many squirrels as I did with a rifle. It was more exciting that way.

Lessons From a Grizzly Bear Hunt

I just received this from a friend of mine. (H/T to tailfeathers). Here are some good lessons–lessons for life as well as for hunting Griz. Read, learn, heed.

Lessons From a Grizzly Bear Hunt

by Doug Giles

I just returned from a grizzly bear hunt in Alaska. I was unsuccessful, however; I didn’t get a shot (luckily for the grizz and PETA). I hate to ruin your private party, PETA freaks, but before you skip off to go autoerotic with the current issue of National Geographic, I thought I’d mention that I’ll be back after them and their black cousin in the spring of 2010. I will, sooner or later, score on the horrible one.

Even though I did not shoot a bear on my recent hunting trip, I did learn something while amongst the alders, icebergs and the devil’s club that I’d like to pass on to you, my rowdy God and country loving reader:

1. Grizzly hunting is expensive. Yep, this sport of kings is not cheap. Just the equipment costs and travel expenses needed to get to where Ursus arctos horribilis dwells costs more than most are willing to spend on a hunt. Fortunately for my wallet and wife, this hunt was gifted to me.

However, there were other costs involved that didn’t entail the outlay of Benjamins, such as the mental and physical costs of hunting deadly game in adverse surroundings. Both the animal and the elements can kill you. You need to be okay with that and willing to ante up and do whatever needs to be done in order to get your trophy.

What’s the life lesson to be gleaned here, my little children? If you want a truly awesome “trophy” it will exact from you a pound of flesh. The best and baddest in life always demand the massive expenditure of the mind, will and emotions. A great nation, marriage or a functional family will cost you retail in blood, sweat and tears. If you’re going to get your “grizzly” in life then you need to realize it’ll cost you dearly and demand an extravagant expenditure of your time, talent and treasure. Period. Great things are expensive in fifty different ways. You’ve got to pay the dues if you wanna sing the blues, and you know it don’t come easy. Cheap punks need not apply.

2. Use Enough Gun. Grizzlies can go from 0 to 40 mph faster than the fastest street car. They can fly uphill and downhill, sail through a swamp, cruise through snow and swim like fish. The big boars will reach ten feet in height, have 28” biceps, 29” skulls and can tip the scales at 1,500 lbs. A puny man with a puny gun is no match for this ultimate predator—especially if he decides to take you on.

While we were there we saw several eco-tourist anti-gun morons with cans of bear spray holstered to their hips to use if a grizzly should decide to snack on them. Bear spray? Are you kidding me? A 1,000 lb bear coming at you at 40 mph will blow right through a cloud of cayenne en route to stomp a mud hole in your chest. Screw bear spray and 30/06s. As for me and my house, we will use at a minimum a .375 H&H Magnum, thank you very much. I recommend the big .40 cals. You see, when I interface with that which can kill me, not only do I want to kill it first, but I also want to stun it, break its bones and knock it down and out as I send it on to bear heaven.

What’s my ham-fisted spiritual lesson from this point? In life if you are going to go for your “trophy,” whatever it is, you’d better go big. Bring your big guns to the table of life. Life is brutal, and if your goal or desire is truly noble, you’ll encounter plenty of opposition in your path ready to pummel you into a grease stain. Never go after your prize under-gunned because you could have your butt handed to you. (Y’know, kinda like the pea shooting GOP did in the last election.)

3. Follow Your Master Guide. One thing that I’ve learned in nearly 47 years of schlepping this pebble is to bow to the true experts in their fields. That’s why I don’t try to teach my wife how to cook, or my Tae Kwon Do instructor how to fight and why I didn’t advise my master bear guide Wayne Woods on how to do his job. As stated, grizzlies are deadly (ask Timothy Treadwell), and some of the terrain we trod was dangerous. It would have been arrogant, stupid and fatal to turn a deaf ear to this man who regularly interfaces with death.

This is why I don’t listen to the Liberal statists or the numb nut RINOs who are currently mucking up our nation and party and instead turn my ear to our nation’s original framers and fathers; they’re the master guides who spawned this amazing American experiment. Our current crop of dweebs thinks we can blow off our Constitution and principles of liberty and not be turned into bear crap. Screw them. I’m kicking it old school with Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison and Paine. In addition, as a Christian, I’ll stick with Moses and Jesus and summarily ignore the capitulating crowd of evangelical weenies who for cash and praise have dissed the ancient path and are headed for the jaws of the beast.