After You …

A Hunt Is A Hunt
27

About two years ago in this corner, I shared my own trials with some rodent yard raiders but recently I’ve heard another such yarn that puts my own to shame. The following is true, though details have been changed to protect the guilty. While being told this story at a Fourth of July party, the mental picture it inspired nearly drove me to incontinence — though there was also beer involved.

The Setting

Our protagonist, whom we’ll call “Bob” (though his real name is Jim), doesn’t fit the profile of your typical hunter. He is an urbane man, recently retired from a large corporation where he held an important job. He also holds a doctoral degree from a major university, his obvious intellect is complemented by a genteel manner and calm, thoughtful demeanor. He is the archetype of a kindly gentleman and lives life to the fullest.

However, Bob had a problem. As a recent but still fairly young retiree, he took up gardening as a healthful outdoor pastime. He and his wife have all manner of flowers, shrubs and vegetables around their meticulously-groomed property but above all else, Bob’s pride and joy are his grapes.

Bob’s grapes are nurtured with utmost dedication. Carefully pruned, lovingly watered, painstakingly fertilized and vigilantly guarded against frost and birds, the grapes have grown well under his caring hand. There are even some who believe Bob sometimes reads Proust and Thoreau aloud to the plants when no one is around.

The Crime

Unfortunately, his maturing grape clusters were inexplicably murdered last year in the first blush of youth. One day the fruit was beginning to show promise of ripening and the next, the vines stood barren. Bob was devastated.

Recently, as Bob sat on the patio softly reading Hemingway’s Big Two-Hearted River to a scotch pine recovering from spider mites, he happened to look up and see movement around his arbor. After a few seconds of seeing no further commotion, he put down the book and curiously walked over to the grapes.

As he got within a few feet of the nearest vine, Bob was startled to see a common Eastern ground squirrel hurtle from the plant, bouncing like a runaway rubber ball. After the critter disappeared into a nearby hole, Bob examined his plants and realized the cute rodent had been busily girdling one of his precious vines. Anger flashed across his mind as he remembered the missing grapes from last year.

“This is war,” he resolved through gritted teeth. Imagine every Sylvester Stallone movie moment where the hero realizes he has two choices — death or dishonor. Even in Bob’s refined manner, he was still an American male and wouldn’t accept dishonor.

The Problem

Now, Bob doesn’t own a gun and never hunted for anything aside from a specific vintage of Beaujolais. As a further complicating factor, he also lives inside the city limits where shooting is not permissible. However, after pondering the situation, he realized the best way to deal with his problem was with a gun. He reasoned the city fathers would understand a man simply trying to protect his purple jewels.

Bob definitely needed a weapon but didn’t want to purchase a firearm because he knew even the .22 rifles of his youth would draw unwanted attention from the local police force. Therefore, enlisting his wife because he was too embarrassed to make the purchase himself, he became the proud owner of a Daisy Red Rider BB gun.

The Red Rider is a legendary American icon and it would be a safe bet the majority of GUNS readers have handled one during their youth. Anyone who has gone afield with a Red Ryder knows they are tremendously underpowered for hunting anything larger than a churlish centipede but Bob proceeded undaunted with his plan for the “hit.”

Now suitably armed, Bob also knew he needed a good hunting blind. After careful consideration of the angles and distance, he chose the master bathroom. There he could sit on the porcelain throne and quietly wait for his quarry through the open window.

As he didn’t want the critters to gnaw his precious plants any further, Bob decided a bait pile of fresh baby carrots would prove irresistible to the rodents. This idea was based on the well-known fact ground squirrels and other vermin love produce packaged in cellophane bags.

Showing latent hunting savvy, Bob knew clothing is an important factor to success. After careful consideration, he chose his stained yard-mowing T-shirt and jockey shorts as his hunting togs.

The Day

The morning of the hunt dawned clear and cool. The sun was just peaking over the horizon as a fiery copper disk, casting long shadows across the dew-soaked yard. The red sun and salmon sky foreshadowed mind-melting heat later, the kind of day where mad dogs, Englishmen and ground squirrels would rest in the afternoon torpor as cicadas blazed away like a thousand machine guns. Bob knew his moment was now.

Perched in his underwear on the toilet near the open window, the hunter waited. His steely gaze was fixed like a laser on the carrot pile as the child-sized BB gun rested on his lap. He gave the gun the slightest shake to make sure the steel spheres were flowing freely in the magazine. The gun responded with the satisfying white noise of sleet on a windowpane.

The Moment

It was only moments later when the two ground squirrels showed themselves. They sauntered up to the pile and stood confused at the mysterious new salad bar which had appeared near their home. Seconds turned to hours. The hunted didn’t know death waited only 20 yards away.

Bob tensed, placing the gen-u-wine hardwood stock against his shoulder and took careful aim. He slo-o-wly mashed the spongy rolled-steel trigger and braced himself for the tinny “Pfffft” of the firing rifle. The noise sounded louder than he anticipated in the windless suburban morning as the golden steel projectile left the barrel. The results were instantaneous.

The two ground squirrels stood there, perplexed, undoubtedly chatting like my favorite Looney Tunes characters, Mac and Tosh:
“I’d say, old chap. I do believe someone is firing upon us.

“Why yes. Yes, I’d say you are exceptionally correct in that assumption. Why would someone do such a thing to us. It’s quite uncivilized you know. Shall we flee in terror?

“Indeed. I think absconding is wise and it would serve the brute a lesson. After you, of course.

“No, no, no. After you. I insist …

“Thank you, but you really should go first.”

In the ensuing slow-motion fusillade, the ground squirrels almost made their escape. As they spread-eagled on the ground to avoid incoming fire while they greedily stuffed their cheek pouches full of carrots — the human equivalent would be someone jamming several rolls of carpet tape into their mouth — one unfortunate animal did catch a random BB in the head, instantly snuffing out his promising rodent life.

Aftermath

This tiny tragedy apparently served as a warning to the other ground squirrels and none have been seen since. Unfortunately, even a month later when I spoke to him, Bob still seemed conflicted over the incident.

“Look,” I told him, “it’s simply the way of the natural world. A man has to defend his vines against all aggressors, foreign, domestic — and rodent. You did the right thing.” Draining my fifth beer, I continued. “Realize if they had opposable thumbs and firearms, they’d have taken your homestead by force and then the whole neighborhood. In fact, the world might be ruled by ground squirrels right now! We’re all still animals you know! Animals! You were justified. Serious. I love you, man …” Bob walked away at this point, as did several others attending the barbeque.

I hadn’t heard from him in a while but surprisingly the story was not quite finished. Yesterday, I got a phone call: “Do you know any taxidermists who work on really small animals?”

Maybe Bob is more of a hunter than I realized.

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