Lowered hunting age triggers cautionary tale
I once shot my buddy in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Hard to imagine that hasn’t gotten your interest.
And it’s a story that resurfaced in my outdoors memory bank upon hearing the recent news that Gerry Byrne, the minister responsible for moose and rabbits and such, had grabbed hold of a Newfoundland motherhood issue by the beagle ears and announced a range of new hunting laws, including a rather scary reduction in the age youngsters can blast away at bunnies and grouse and other “innocent woodland creatures” — as a buddy of mine comically describes bloodletting in the woods.
In fact, it was that same companion, Jim Kelly, who was the unlucky victim of that stray piece of shot from my gun about 20 years ago, one that brought him to his knees, giving him a bloody puss and the shocked look you’d normally associate with one of the many grizzled outlaws Clint Eastwood plugged full of holes in an array of socalled spaghetti westerns in the ’70s.
Our two dogs, Rambo and Rocky — if you think those monikers came about as a result of Newfoundland machismo, the truth of the matter is the beagles were named by Jim’s youngest daughter — had started barking at nearly the same instant on that sunny afternoon, a signal they had “walked up” a rabbit, in small game hunting parlance, and were in immediate and close pursuit of their prey; Jim and I glanced at each other for a second (we knew each other’s moves by heart) before scrambling in opposite directions in search of an open area where we could get a shot at Flopsy (or perhaps it was Mopsy) as it sped in wide ranging circles ahead of the relentless mutts.
Minutes later, the rabbit darted through a cutover 20 or so yards to my left just beyond which, unbeknownst to me, Jim was now located. I thought he was to my right.
I fired. But instead of the squeal of a wounded rabbit (it sounds like a baby crying, not for the faint of heart or a Greenpeace supporter), I heard instead a cry of near shock from Jim.
“Jesus, you shot me!” he screamed (it wasn’t the Son of God, as believers call their higher power, who did the shooting, in case you were wondering).
I stumbled immediately in Jim’s direction, my heart pounding, thinking the worst, bursting through whatever trees and bushes were in my way, and within seconds, found Jim kneeling, and wiping a fair amount of blood from his face.
Turned out a single piece of shot had probably bounced off a rock and struck him just above the left eye, opening a small cut, the warmth of an early October day causing the blood to flow freely, and making his condition look worse than it actually was.
What happened next could only really be appreciated by those addicted to rabbit hunting: as he began to wipe the blood from his eyes, Jim suddenly grabbed his shotgun which lay a couple of feet to his side, shouted, “there’s the rabbit!” and fired twice, killing the little critter instantly.
Jim had obviously recovered quickly. And had his priorities straight.
(Several months later, he was picking at a scab on his forehead, and the piece of shot popped out. He bottled it as a souvenir.)
The dark sense of humour employed by most outdoors types has led us to tell that story — “ever hear of the time I shot Jim in the head?” — for a cheap laugh over the years, but the fact is there could have been a much worse outcome. At the very least, the shot could have knocked out an eye.
And it was an example of just how dangerous shotguns can be, even in the hands of seasoned, conscientious hunters.
Jim and I have been traipsing the woods in search of rabbits for decades, and I can’t recall a similarly scary incident, but there have been no shortage of times when my mature reflexes allowed me to pull my finger from the trigger at the last instant when realizing the sudden brown movement in the alders was a dog, not a rabbit, or when the years of experience in the woods told me instinctively where a fellow hunter had positioned himself (that long ago afternoon being the exception).
And I’m just not convinced a 12 year old is capable of making those split-second decisions.
The new regulations say the youngster has to be “supervised” — whatever that means.
I have no problem allowing a 12 year old to stand next to a grownup who actually handles the gun, a chance to watch and learn the safe way to aim and shoot at a rabbit. And allow him (or her) to have a bit of target practice at times, to grow comfortable with the gun — not to fear the weapon, but to respect it. Make all of that lawful at age of 12. But give the fledgling hunters at least two years of such training. And wait until they’re 14 before they’re able to hunt.
It’s a grand sport. And I think it’s terrific that there’s a move afoot to encourage more young people to get their heads out of a computer screen or away from a television and enjoy the outdoors.
But 12? Bit young, I think.
Call me an old fart, an old stick in the mud, a killjoy — I don’t really give a you-knowwhat, but the first time I see a pimply-faced 12 year old with a shotgun this fall, I’ll make like the Roadrunner and head as far away as I can get.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org