The Man-Eaters of Suburbia

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A quick flash of movement near the corner of my vision brought an involuntary head swivel and instant frustration. The quarry briefly appeared, and with lightning speed, disappeared into the jumbled undergrowth of its cluttered habitat, sprinting among the thousands of dark pockets of concealment. I was concerned he might be gone for days or worse, perhaps turn the tables on the man carrying the rifle — indeed, the hunter might become the hunted.

For three days I had singularly stalked this elusive prey. Occasional brief sightings confirmed the unusually large male was still in the area and continuing his raids. The situation was ticklish and intolerable within my area of responsibility — the only reasonable end game was to take the animal using whatever means necessary.

Thus we came to the final day of my safari. I grew increasingly perturbed at my inability to bring an end to his rein of terror, even though no small amount of resources had been thrown into the fray. I sought the counsel of other experienced hunters but came away with no epiphany, no brilliant solution or even further insight to this thorny problem. The usual solutions were not working and I began to doubt my own ability to defeat a true Alpha male.

Other, smaller and more-inexperienced animals had easily fallen to my skills earlier during the hunt but this was an entirely new game. I began to feel like British engineer Colonel John Henry Patterson who hunted — and was hunted by — a pride of man-eating lions near Kenya’s Tsavo bridge in the early 1900s as they routinely lunched on the laborers building the Uganda railroad, also known as “The Lunatic Express.”

Colonel Patterson spent the better part of two frustrating years trying to cancel the lifetime subscriptions of the lions who had found the workers so toothsome. Patterson’s book, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, was a best-seller in 1907 and is still a good read for lovers of the classic Victorian writing. It was also made into a mediocre 1996 movie, The Ghost and The Darkness, starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas.

The same doubts and troubles dogging Bwana Patterson also plagued Your Obedient Servant during this decisive hunt. Would my light rifle provide enough stopping power, or should I switch to a .416 Rigby? Could I organize a drive using the natives? What would Ruark do? Will the BBs damage the fence if I miss?

Admittedly this last question only applies to my particular situation because I was hunting at my backyard bird feeder and my quarry was the size of an overstuffed Twinkie snack cake. You see, the villainous creature wreaking havoc was a standard-issue chipmunk, size Extra Large.

We feed birds in our backyard. Over a couple of years we’ve turned our little suburban estate into a veritable avian smorgasbord and delight daily in watching the birds eat, bicker, bathe, fight and frolic around the feeders and our gardens. All was fine and dandy, at least until the day I noticed the ground squirrels.

I actually enjoy watching chipmunks, at least until they reproduce in numbers defying imagination. This happens when they have easy access to an endless food source such as our bird feeders.

We didn’t mind the cute rodents eating waste seed off the ground but the morning I watched four of the tiny raiders work in concert, like Army Rangers on D-Day, to climb and empty the largest feeder right after it had been filled, it was time to take action. Even soft-hearted Honeybunches agreed the herd needed thinning.

A week of trapping proved incredibly ineffective and the use of poison has unwanted environmental effects so eventually it was up to me, the mighty hunter, and his air rifle.

After few casual but successful efforts with the lesser vermin, I ended up stymied by the leader of the pack, a larger-than-normal ground squirrel I named “Kong.” He alone was probably responsible for $100 worth of expensive safflower kernels going to waste. I publicly declared it was now Mano-A-Mano, kill-or-be-killed, mostly grown-man-versus-three-ounce-rodent, affair.

Ultimately I won but it took several days. In the meantime I discovered hunting in a suburban backyard can be an exhilarating experience provided you have the emotional makeup of a grade-schooler and the imagination of someone who read far too many African hunting novels as an adolescent. I do, and did.

Sitting silently in a patio chair, using the picnic table as a blind, I kept myself rooted in place by slipping completely into a safari fantasy world where every rustling maple leaf concealed a cape buffalo and the ground squirrels themselves were deadlier than a gut-shot leopard. The brown plastic of my gunstock turned into oiled Circassian Walnut and the golden BBs in the tube magazine became asparagus-sized cartridges, ready to stop any marauding elephant intent on stomping the petunia bed flat.

The whole thing was great fun for a professional small boy masquerading as a magazine editor. Unfortunately, Honeybunches didn’t get the same delight out of playing her part as my faithful native gun bearer — her sarcasm dropped an unlucky passing songbird in mid-flight after I explained she’d look great in a loincloth and leopard-skin halter top.
And she would! I thought all wives loved compliments.


GUNS Editor Brent T. Wheat was fortunate to spend a few minutes hanging out with legendary
trainer and author John Farnam and his wife Vicky at the 2019 SHOT Show in Las Vegas.

In Other News

As these words are written, the whole gun world is only days away from the annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trades (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas. Many of our readers already know it’s the trade-only World Series/Paris Fashion Show/Indy 500/Fourth of July for the firearms and hunting industry.

Most long-time attendees feel the huge show (60,000+ attendees, one of the top 25 trade shows in the U.S.) is simply too much, crammed too close together and literally impossible for even a large team of reporters such as the ace FMG crew to handle — but we all keep going anyway because nobody wants to miss out on all the big stories. Besides, if we don’t attend some of the lavish press parties, some other poor miscreant from “Bill Jones Gun and Plumbing Blog” would be forced to eat our share of shrimp and could suffer a painful bellyache!

In case you were wondering about the previous quip, there are many parties and receptions but not as many as you think and not like the glory days of the ’80s and ’90s. I could tell stories about some of those, but the statute of limitations hasn’t expired yet on a few of the better examples!

In all seriousness, right now is when the gun industry gets focused on doing business and it would take an entire magazine just to cover the press releases streaming across our transom in the last week. Even more, there are the “double-top-secret” guns which we can’t reveal just yet but only GUNS and a few other leading publications have gotten copies into their grimy little mitts to share with our readers.

One thing I can promise — gun aficionados can take heart because “the great circle of (firearms) life” is set to begin anew and you’ll be seeing lots of neat stuff in the coming months, so keep that subscription fully loaded!

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