January 2010
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

At this writing, all of the hunting seasons are in full swing. Deer season is wide open, dove season has split, and quail, rabbits and squirrels are fair game for the hunter. My daughter and I have been giving local squirrel populations a run for their money and have already had some good days in the woods — just spending time together as a father and daughter. Our weapon of choice in this pursuit of our bushy-tailed quarry is .22 rifles, but of late, I have considered using my faithful old .410 shotgun. My intention is to demonstrate to my daughter that a shotgun is a good equalizer on a running squirrel and she sees the advantage. But to her there is something more honorable about taking a squirrel with a rifle…at least that’s her side of the story. Personally, I think the recoil is the basis of "honor" in this case.

The day I decided I would use my faithful old single-shot, I drug it out of the closet and cleaned and oiled it up in preparation for yet another trip to the woods. She asked me about the shotgun and I explained to her it was a Christmas present from my parents when I was about 13 years old.

It was a totally unexpected present. The year before I had gotten a b.b. gun for Christmas and, although I had expressed a desire for the good, old Red Ryder, I got way more than I asked for. I got the most powerful and up-to-date lever-action b.b. gun that was made. Less than a year later, I was hunting squirrels with my dad’s single-shot, bolt-action .22 and doing fairly well with it, when the last present to come out from under the tree was in a short box and was very heavy. Earlier, I had watched my brother unwrap a .22 automatic pistol with surprisingly very little envy. Dad handed me the box and said I had forgotten one. Part of the fun for the brief milliseconds before ripping off the wrapping paper, is judging the weight and shape of the present, comparing it with my mental "want list" and try to figure out what was in the package. As I unwrapped the box, I was still clueless. There was no tag, label or writing to tell what was inside. The incredible weight of the present was what was mystifying me the most. Finally, all of the paper was gone and still I couldn’t tell what it was from the outside.

I proceeded to open the box and when I saw the stock, I realized I had hit pay dirt.

There, in three pieces, lay a brand-new, single-shot "for ten" as we used to say. I don’t think my parents ever surprised me more, except for the time I got some live seahorses, which is another story all together.

Dad showed me how to assemble the gun, and I was in business when I found the box of shells in my stocking. It was still dark outside and I knew the time from then until daylight was going to be the longest three or four hours of my life. I occupied the time by watching my brother take his pistol apart and put it back together several times and every so often looking over to the tree to make sure my new shotgun was still there. I counted the shells in the box four or five times. I sat there cradling my gun as I watched my father do many times in the fields when we were after pheasants. I sat there and imagined how that cat I shot with the "Magumba Big Game Rifle and plastic bullets" would feel if it were still alive. Mom and Dad occupied their time by going back to bed and sleeping (this was the last year we opened presents on Christmas morning as Dad had lost his patience with three and four a.m. shouts of excitement).

Finally, the sun broke the horizon and we managed to wake Dad a second time to take us out to shoot our new guns. Dad sent us around the yard and road to find cans and bottles to use as targets. My brother using his vast skills acquired as a Boy Scout, quickly invented and assembled a set of sticks from which to hang the aforementioned cans and bottles. We mounted it to the fence and hung our targets.

My brother had to load the clip for his pistol and this took some time. He didn’t load the clip in the house because my dad absolutely forbade any type of loaded gun in the house. I stood there with my single-shot loaded and "ready for bear" as I watched each of nine .22 bullets inserted into the clip with painful slowness. It had already been made clear I would shoot last due to my much greater firepower.

At last, the little automatic was loaded and my brother was preparing to shoot. The time he took to unload that auto-pistol seemed to take longer than it took him to load it. In retrospect, I know that with a new gun you want to enjoy every shot and try to make it count, but to a 13-year-old with a new shotgun, it was taking entirely too long. I don’t remember if my brother shot more than one clip or not before it was my turn. He did pretty well considering the pistol had fixed sights and it was just out of the box, but there were still some targets that just needed to be obliterated. Dad gave me the word it was my turn.

Obliterated is too light of a word to use when describing the effect a .410 shotgun loaded with number sixes can do to a bunch of beer cans from about 10 feet. Let’s just say it was a good thing my beloved brother was finished shooting because ,unless you like picking off bits of aluminum cans, there wasn’t a whole lot left to shoot at. That shot was what caused my dad to threaten to bend the barrel over my backside and my mom to remind me she had gone to the hardware store in Foley and bought it and it was registered in her name and it could go back just as easily as it had come home.

As is generally expected in South Alabama on Christmas morning, the skies began to cloud and rain began to fall, putting off my planned hunting trip out back of the house and we had to come inside. We spent the rest of the day cleaning those guns and dreaming of the next time we were allowed to use them.

Thanks Mom and Dad...up until my daughter was born, that was the greatest Christmas ever.

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.