Field and Stream

The Art of Flippery


THE DICTIONARY PEOPLE haven’t revised their book to include “flippery” yet, so I’ll define it. Flippery means shooting with a flipper. I developed the word on the same principle as archery, which, as everybody knows, means shooting with an archer.

When I was a boy, I discovered that I could hit things with a bean flipper. That was in the days when the Model T had yet to prove its superiorit­y over the horse, and the English sparrow was at the height of its glory. My father wouldn’t tolerate killing songbirds or blackbirds, which he considered beneficial, although they were not protected by law. Legal targets were English sparrows, magpies, crows, snakes, and frogs, but the sparrows were handy, abundant, and pestiferou­s, so naturally I shot more of them than anything else.

* * *

The time came, of course, when I laid my beany aside. Like all other boys, I had to pass through the ages—the important age, the dignified age, the girl age, the serious age, and the ambitious age. After I had recovered from this foolishnes­s, I was down


at the home place one day and got to rummaging through a bin where my mother had put a lot of boyhood things. I found my old beany. The rubbers were rotten, but the leather pouch and the crotch, which I had cut from an apple tree, were still good. I decided to fix it up.

That was one of the best things I ever did. My boys got interested when they were about 8 and 10, and I helped them get started. Sometimes in camp we hang up a tin can on a string, and at a range of twenty-five or thirty feet we can keep it swinging like crazy. Aerial targets are tougher, but not too difficult, and something that breaks when hit—a clay pigeon for example—is ideal.

* * *

In flippery, as in archery, there are two styles of shooting. One is instinctiv­e: you just shoot. Practice eventually gives you the feel of your weapon and you develop surprising accuracy. The other style calls for aiming. I wouldn’t know how to aim an arrow, but if you hold the beany crotch in your right hand and pull to your ear with the left, you aim over the right fork with your left eye. I don’t aim. Instinctiv­e shooting is faster and probably equally accurate after a little practice.

Marbles are ideal for all kinds of fun shooting, but they aren’t very lethal. Warren Page would say they have poor sectional density: they are too light and the velocity falls off rapidly. Lead balls are much better. A half-inch ball bearing is ideal, and so pretty that a squirrel shot with one must feel flattered.

I’ve probably killed more grouse with my flipper than any other kind of game. Where we hunt big game the grouse season is also open. There is no better camp meat than a big blue grouse, but bagging them presents something of a problem. You can’t go blasting around with a highpower rifle [or shotgun] or you’d spook all the game out of the country. Some of the boys use a .22 rifle or pistol or a pellet gun to kill grouse, but they are heavier to carry and no more effective than my beany. In the backcountr­y a grouse can usually be depended upon to fly up into a tree and look at you. That is all it takes.

When I first started shooting grouse shortly after finding my old flipper and entering my second childhood, I had the idea that I’d have to hit them in the head to kill them. This sometimes took a lot of shooting unless they were close. Then I accidental­ly clouted one in the ribs with a ball bearing and when I picked him up I realized that

I’ve been doing it the hard way. If a body shot doesn’t kill a grouse outright it certainly shakes all thoughts of leaving out of his mind and gives you time to wring his neck.

* * *

In the old days, we used to cut our beany rubbers out of inner tubes, but modern inner tubes won’t stretch any farther than modern money, so I had to find a substitute. It turned out to be rubber surgical tubing, which is better than inner tubes ever were. Finding a suitable crotch isn’t difficult, and a 1½x4inch rectangle out of an old hunting shoe makes a good pouch.

In shooting, get the crotch well down in your hand. Brace one fork with your knuckle and hold your thumb against the other—and keep it square to the line of pull. You’ll bounce the missile off the back of your hand if you don’t. Avoid twisting the crotch [or] you’re almost sure to hit yourself on the thumb, an experience you’ll remember.

In all my years of flippery, I have had only one accident. I was visiting a farmer friend one day and he said, “I wish you’d shoot that old white rooster. He’s too wild to catch in the daytime and he roosts in a tree so I can’t get him at night.”

I got within 20 feet of the fowl and drew back to let him have it on the back of the head. Unfortunat­ely, I was smoking my pipe. I didn’t smoke a pipe when I was a boy, so I hadn’t learned this lesson. As the beany pouch went by, it caught the bowl. The bowl left and so did the rooster, but I still had the bit in my teeth.

January 1963

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