Low­ered hunt­ing age trig­gers cau­tion­ary tale

Nor'wester (Springdale) - - Editorial - Bob Wake­ham Bob Wake­ham has spent more than 40 years as a jour­nal­ist in New­found­land and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwake­ham@nl.rogers.com

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 so-called 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.

Beep, beep.

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