Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hunting with Dad

Enid, a bit before my time!
As I've written here before, my father grew up on an Oregon farm, where he was born in 1913.  Throughout his early life, he did lots of hunting and fishing, not generally for fun.  He had a large family (more than ten siblings), and his own father died in 1931.  There is no good time for the loss of a father, but the Great Depression offered only its grim face as solace for the death of the grandfather I never knew.

While my brothers and I were growing up, Dad still occasionally went hunting--rabbits and quail his principal targets in north-central Oklahoma.  He went rabbit hunting on a farm in Garrettsville one Thanksgiving Day in the late 1950s.  He got one.

Fishing was a little more common, though only when we traveled back to Oregon to visit his family.  I remember camping near the car, Dad going down to the stream early in the morning, pulling out some trout, cleaning and frying them for breakfast.  My mother was not much interested in cleaning fish--or rabbits--or quail.  So Dad did it all.

Dad owned four firearms.  A .22 pistol he kept in the glove compartment on long cross-country trips.  (I never saw him use it, ever.)  A 12-gauge shotgun.  A 30.30 deer rifle.  A .22 rifle.  They lived in his closet, leaning in the corner.

He believed we boys ought to learn about them.  But Richard was not the slightest bit interested (opera was his life, and there are no guns in Aida); Dave was too young.  I was perfect.

Cisco Kid (right) and Pancho (left)
I loved cowboy shows and movies, and in the late 1940s and early 1950s, network television was chockablock with cowboys.  Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Range Rider, the Lone Ranger, the Cisco Kid ... and on and on and on.  These were my heroes.  Not Radames and his tenor ilk.  If the show had gunfire, I watched it.

Dad bought me a Daisy air rifle (bb gun) when I was in elementary school, a very bad move, as my little brother's legs and the wildlife near 1706 East Elm Avenue, Enid, Oklahoma, can testify.  (I'm ashamed to report that not all the wildlife there was capable of testifying, not after their deadly encounter with Little Danny Sureshot.)

One day, Dad decided I could go rabbit hunting with him.  He would take his 12-gauge; I, my air rifle.  We drove out to some guy's farm near the metropolis of Billville, Oklahoma, a place that neither Googlemaps nor MapQuest recognizes today.  I seem to recall a crossing of two red-dirt roads, a run-down general store.  But there could have been less.

We tramped around a bit in the crisp air (it was November, I think).  Suddenly, a rabbit ran ahead of us.  While I was raising my trusty Daisy, Dad's 12-gauge roared.  The rabbit stopped running but was thrashing around on the ground in agony.

I was feeling sick.

Dad told me to go over and finish him off.

I walked over, stood right over the rabbit, aimed, fired.  Missed.  Twice more, I cocked, aimed, fired, missed.  I could not believe it.

And the rabbit, realizing he was in the presence of something weaker than he, leaped to his feat and was heading off down the Bunny Trail when Dad's shotgun converted him to supper.

Dad walked over to the rabbit, picked it up, put it in his pouch, consoled me ("can happen to anyone"), though he was surely wondering at that moment what sort of world this was: one son home listening to opera, another missing three point-blank shots at a reclining rabbit.  Later, I read about "buck fever" (noun: "nervous excitement of an inexperienced hunter upon the approach of game") and was not consoled to learn that a male rabbit is also a buck.

Washington Irving
Many years later, a shock of recognition--and fraternity: I read Washington Irving's account of his 1832 buffalo hunt in what now is Oklahoma.  It's from A Tour on the Prairies, a wonderful little book, and I'll let Irving have the final word--for in his account, I recognized the grandfather of my own.  From Chapter XXIX:

"... galloping along parallel, therefore, I singled out a buffalo, and by a fortunate shot brought it down on the spot. The ball had struck a vital part; it could not move from the place where it fell, but lay there struggling in mortal agony, while the rest of the herd kept on their headlong career across the prairie.

Dismounting, I now fettered my horse to prevent his straying, and advanced to contemplate my victim. I am nothing of a sportsman; I had been prompted to this unwonted exploit by the magnitude of the game, and the excitement of an adventurous chase. Now that the excitement was over, I could not but look with commiseration upon the poor animal that lay struggling and bleeding at my feet. His very size and importance, which had before inspired me with eagerness, now increased my compunction. It seemed as if I had inflicted pain in proportion to the bulk of my victim, and as if it were a hundred-fold greater waste of life than there would have been in the destruction of an animal of inferior size.

To add to these after-qualms of conscience, the poor animal lingered in his agony. He had evidently received a mortal wound, but death might be long in coming. It would not do to leave him here to be torn piecemeal, while yet alive, by the wolves that had already snuffed his blood, and were skulking and howling at a distance, and waiting for my departure; and by the ravens that were flapping about, croaking dismally in the air. It became now an act of mercy to give him his quietus, and put him out of his misery. I primed one of the pistols, therefore, and advanced close up to the buffalo. To inflict a wound thus in cold blood, I found a totally different thing from firing in the heat of the chase. Taking aim, however, just behind the fore-shoulder, my pistol for once proved true; the ball must have passed through the heart, for the animal gave one convulsive throe and expired.

While I stood meditating and moralizing over the wreck I had so wantonly produced, with my horse grazing near me, I was rejoined by my fellow-sportsman, the Virtuoso; who, being a man of universal adroitness, and withal, more experienced and hardened in the gentle art of "venerie," soon managed to carve out the tongue of the buffalo, and delivered it to me to bear back to the camp as a trophy."

1 comment:

  1. Ah, The Short Happy Life of Francis MacComber...