A Sunday afternoon with a .22

For all practical purposes, I was an only child. My sister was fifteen years older than I and she married not long after we moved to the farm. My closest friends lived more than a mile away and frequently had farm chores to do. My chore schedule and theirs rarely coincided. I’ve often wondered if our parents coordinated our chore schedules to insure we seldom had time to get together and get into trouble.

The exception was Sunday afternoons, after church and after Sunday dinner. We all were free until dark. Counting myself, there were six of us, all within a year or so the same age—Alan, Elaine, Janie, Mary Ann and Silas.

In the late summer, we’d gather our .22 rifles, a box or cartridges, and go shoot turtles. Each farm had a least one or more ponds. Most of the ponds also had ducks and geese, some domesticated, some not. And, each pond had its share of turtles that liked to feed on young ducks and geese. That made the turtles our enemy.

Our rifles were all cheap, old hand-me-downs. A couple were old rolling-block rifles made by Stevens. Mary Ann had the best rifle, a Marlin M39A lever-action. Mine was a Stevens M52 bolt action single shot. None of us had scopes and I doubt that any of us had ever seen a rifle with a scope mounted. All we had was plain old iron sights.

I don’t think the Four Rules had been created at that time, the summer of 1958. We knew how to handle ourselves and our rifles and while the Four Rules might not have yet existed, we knew to keep our rifles pointed in safe directions, what lay behind our targets, and we kept our rifles unloaded until we were ready to shoot.

One of our favorite spots was next to a pond, almost a small lake, where a dead tree had fallen and produced a perfect shooting rest. The tree was on a small rise above the east side of the pond and some smaller trees had fallen into the pond creating ramps that allowed turtles to crawl into the sun and rest. The distance from the tree to the edge of the pond was about 75 yards. By afternoon, we’d be shooting into the sun and if there was a slight breeze, the glare reflected off the pond hindered getting a good aim on a turtle.

Our shooting rules were that no one got credit for killing a turtle unless it could be verified—preferably by pulling it out of the water unto the bank. Silas usually had a home-made grapple of clothesline and angle iron. If a grapple wasn’t available, we’d use an old rake. To insure a quick kill, we would aim for the head. If the bullet hit the turtle’s shell, it’d drop off the log into the water and swim away to die somewhere else—bad shot! No credit!

On that day in August of 1958, the sky was mostly overcast and cool for that time of year. There were few turtles on the logs and all were facing the wrong direction. We couldn’t move to a better angle because then we’d be shooting towards the house. Instead, we decided to shoot the turtles in the water.

When the wind was calm, a turtle would rise to the surface and just stick his nose out of the water. From our location, the turtle was just a small cone rising out of the water. A very difficult target. If you missed, the turtle would duck under and wouldn’t rise again for several minutes.

We spent the afternoon waiting, shooting whenever a target rose. The six of us. As I remember, Mary Ann won that day killing a half dozen turtles. I shot two. I don’t remember now how many the others killed. Whatever the score, we surely defended the ducks and geese that day.

I haven’t thought about our group for some time. Alan moved away the following year and I lost touch with him. Janie died of leukemia in 1961. Silas and I were Pall Bearers. Silas and Mary Ann were married in 1967 while he was in the Marines and she was finishing her teaching degree. The last I heard they lived near Monterey, CA. Elaine got married too and still lives near the farm where she grew up. I guess she was always a country girl at heart.

It’s funny how memories can return on a slow work-day afternoon.