The .22 Caliber Challenge

I noticed that Homer Crisp was not acting his normal self; not that there was anything too appealing about his normal self. But now he was grouchier than usual. The first hint came when I heard him accuse a man of purposely bumping into him. It was not difficult to overhear the accusation seeing how the man never got within a hundred feet of him, and Homer had to yell his threats. But the real clincher came when Homer kicked a passing dog. What made the whole situation a little tense was that the dog was on a leash, with Missus Horriful holding the other end. With the dark look in his eyes I think he would have also kicked Missus Horriful if he had not been laying on his back after she gave the side of his head a home run swing with her cane.

He seemed a little calmer in a staggering sort of way as I helped him up and led him to a park bench. “What seems to be the problem, Homer?” I asked, putting an arm around his shoulders.

“None of your bleeping business!”

I was surprised by Homer’s language. I had never heard him only use the word “bleep” once in a full sentence. I was also surprised that my arm could be twisted so far behind my back without breaking. Of course, my instant levitation may have helped some. I was just about to yell for Missus Horriful when he let go and broke into tears.

“Come on, Homer. Pull yourself together. There’s only one thing worse than a man crying in public, and that’s doing it in another man’s shirt. Can I please have it back?”

After blowing his nose he let go. “Sorry about pulling your shirt open like that. I probably went and tore off all the buttons.”

“Well, actually it was a pull-over–”

“I’m just scared,” he continued between sniffs and snorts. “I used to love hunting and fishing, but it’s starting to bore me. It ain’t no fun any more doing the same thing day in and day out.. And I don’t know what else to do during the day.”

“Have you ever thought about getting a job–Just kidding!” I quickly blurted out, stopping the forward momentum of his fist.

After a few silent moments of thought my face lit up with an idea. “Say, Homer, have you ever thought about making your hunting and fishing a little more challenging?

“What do you mean?” he asked, while wiping a tear from his cheek that left a white strip where grime had been.

“Well, take my bird hunting for instance. It used to be down right exhilarating when I did it with a .22 and a bird dog that should never have had the word “bird” attached to the front of his name.”

“Who ever heard of bird hunting using a .22?” he replied through snarled lips. “Can’t hit nothing flying with a .22.”

“But there is always the chance,” I persisted. “That’s what makes it challenging. That and the fact that back then I didn’t have the money to buy shotgun shells, much less a shotgun. And I have to admit, looking back on those days, they never lacked for excitement.”

The first step in a day’s hunt was to call for my bird dog, Worthless. Because I called him that for so long, I figured the title was an appropriate replacement for the original. Why I thought he would make a good bird dog when given to me as a pup, I don’t have the slightest idea. I can remember one of our first hunts together thinking he was a pointer. I was almost giddy with excitement when he suddenly froze in a somewhat pointing position. But soon my excitement was replaced with the realization he was just taking a dump. But for reasons only an adolescent’s mind would understand, I continued to take him with me bird hunting.

After first sniffing and relieving himself on every bush and tree in a one hundred yard area, which should have required the bladder capacity of an elephant, he eventually came to me, his tail wagging in wild anticipation to why he had been called. I would then point a finger and say, “go get the birds!” Don’t asked me why I always said, “go get the birds.” Worthless never did take an interest in what separated one animal species from another. He would  head out, tongue flapping half the length of his body while doing a fine job of flushing anything that moved. If it happened to be a game bird, it was totally by accident. But it really made no difference. Within a half hour he would be doing his flushing somewhere between five and ten miles ahead of me. As I heard the last faint yelp somewhere off in the distance, I always muttered the same word…..Worthless!

Because it is next to impossible to shoot a game bird in flight with a .22, I attempted to surprise them on the ground. The only annoyance was they usually saw me before I saw them, and that is where the excitement began. There is nothing quite as exhilarating as to be quietly stalking a pheasant or grouse, with reflexes loaded like coiled springs, and then have it suddenly thunder into the air inches away. It does amazing and sometimes frightening things to the heart, not to mention the last step in the digestive system. Why pheasant and grouse wait till one is almost apon them before deciding to fly can only be described as a sadistic trick of nature. But I always kept my wits about me and watched where the bird landed next, even while hissing curses and thumping on my chest in an attempt to get my heart pumping again. I would then sneak up to where I was sure the bird landed….and then do a perfect re-creation of the last performance. This is when you learn that bird hunting with a .22 calls for versatility as well as lightning fast reflexes. To hit a bird that flushes from beneath your feet, it is important to hold the rifle firmly, especially when swinging it like a baseball bat. Men have been known to lose their grip and sling their rifle into parts unknown, never to be found again. Once the bird is out of swinging range I would then begin shooting. I found the latter method to work with equal if not greater failure than the first.

It is important that during these startling moments to be careful of accidental discharge of the rifle, which can easily happen while kicking it around the ground after just having ten years of life scared out of you. And that is something that also has to be taken into consideration if deciding to hunt game birds with a .22. A man can easily age thirty years during one outing, going from a weekend of hunting straight to Social Security and whatever rehabilitation can be received through Medicare for damage to the nervous system.

To build your confidence some, I should mention that there have been instances that I did get off perfect ground shots. But running up to the prey, I found that not only can a game bird look like their surroundings, their surroundings can also look like a game bird. It can be a humiliating experience shooting three or four rounds of ammunition into a snarled bump on a log.

“Now if you would like to learn an exciting way to fish, let me tell you–”

“Wait a minute,” Homer interrupted. “Did you ever actually shoot a game bird using a .22?”

“Well, no but–”

“Never?”

“No, but–”

“And I don’t care to sit here and listen to your fishing methods, but did you ever catch a fish using them?”

“Well, no but–”

Homer suddenly stood up and shook his head, a crazed look to his eyes. “Bleep! And all the time I thought I had a bleeping problem.” He then turned and walked away mumbling incoherently, with intermittent giggles and cackles. But I smiled with satisfaction. My advise had obviously helped. Homer walked clear out of sight and never got into one fight.

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