If You Shoot It, You Eat It

Papa Jim told us kids: “Never shoot anything unless you are going to eat it.”  John told me his Grandfather directed him to follow the same rule.

He told a story of how this admonition sometimes came out in less than pleasant results.   He had been pestering his grandfather for years to let him shoot the ‘big’ gun. The ‘big’ gun was a model 1895 Winchester calibre .405.   The gun was called by the family ‘the Teddy Roosevelt’ gun, although only later was it realized that the gun was never owned by ‘Teddy’ but only one that was just like one that he had.  John still has the gun.

His grandfather had actually met Teddy Roosevelt at some time, which may have contributed to the false family story.

The gun was a big one and had a shell the size of one of his Grandfather’s favourite cuban cigars. John had been itching to fire it off since he was old enough to observe the temptation of it hanging above the old radio set that brought adventure stories of “manly tales” that turned out to be mostly not true.

Big game hunting trophies were hung around the island place and the floors had four or five bear rugs from remote places in Alaska, as well as mountain goat heads and other game trophies, including stuffed birds.

John’s grandfather was a big game hunter and an early member of the Seattle club. What game he shot, and it was a lot, it was all brought back to Bainbridge to be stored in an outside, commercial style freezer/ cooler . Nothing was wasted.  He remembers his mother abhorring smoked..’blood’ sausage, among other things even less palatable.. and some things best forgotten.

The rule of.. ‘if you shoot it, you eat it‘  saved countless innocent squirrels and birds from the underpowered aims of a worn out .22 short and an even more ineffective bb gun that was also worn out.

So eventually John persuaded his grandfather to let him shoot the “Teddy” gun off the deck at their Marrowstone Island summer property.  John’s grandfather.. (He was called “Grumpy” by the kids) reluctantly agreed to a shot off the deck high above the beach at ‘scow’ bay.   The target was the bow of an old partially sunken rowboat in the mudflats between Marrowstone and Indian Islands.

John braced the gun up on the log railing.  He was skinny and weighed about 90 pounds at the time..

The gun was heavy and had only blade sights and although John was warned about a large recoil, being only familiar with worn out .22’s and bb guns he was supremely overconfident.
So taking aim at the protruding bow of the mud bound boat he proceeded to rest the great gun and fire.  The results, as he tells it, were spectacular and not entirely unexpected by his Grandfather who swiftly caught the rifle as it flew up and John tumbled backward making some noise about his wounded shoulder..

A few moments of painful sniveling resulted and John’s Grandfather, after looking through binoculars .. stated.. ‘Well, go pick up your bird’.. bring it back and clean it.

As it turned out .. some how John had either shot a mudhen.. or a coot.. or possibly  just shocked one to death by the passage of a massive bullet.. He claims that it was either the luckiest shot of his life, or maybe the most unlucky ..( lucky .)’. shot of his life.. since he was directed to go down the steep path to the beach , get the bird , clean it, cook it and eat it.  He said it tasted like a combination of rotted seaweed and old dead clams and he has hated bird-hunting ever since.

On the other hand, John and I loved to hunt, even if it was only a BB gun and we weren’t allowed to shoot the little birds.  We hunted each other, wearing cardboard armor, which our Mothers soon put the kibosh on.  Nobody put an eye out, but we are both wearing bifocals today.  We bicycled up to the garbage dump and hunted rats which were plentiful, but hard to hit, since they moved so fast.  Rats were the exception to the rule: “If you shoot it, you eat it”.  In truth, we would bring back a string of “dead rats” and toss them out for the dogs.  The dogs disdained our generous offering and hauled the rats into the bushes for the crows to eat.  This was an early lesson in the importance of the food chain.

The beach was a resource for food or gifts that were born in with the tide.  You didn’t need a gun, just a bucket and a shovel.

Grandma Ada was way down the Tramp Harbor beach when she yelled:  “Quickly, bring a shovel; I can’t hang on much longer.”  She was sixty years old and lying on her side on the wet sand with her hands wrapped around the neck of a giant geoduck and they can pull something terrible as they use their one foot to dig away from a dangerous grandma who had a hold of the neck.  We ran down the beach, shovels in hand, as speed was of the essence.  The geoduck’s neck could be six feet long and we had to dig fast and hard as Grandma Ada was yelling at Mike and I,..”hurry up,” as she was having trouble hanging on to the large clam that could be as old as 75 years.  The tide was rising endangering the hole, the sides were caving in, when Mike yelled that he could feel the shell and the clam came free.  Geoducks were prized for their meat and could run 4 or 5 pounds apiece.

I’m thinking of old hunting stories that were mysterious at the time.  When we lived in the old Robinson place on Beall Road, there was a large field just south of the green houses and that’s where we hunted.  I remember something odd about the “No Hunting” signs on the four foot post; they had to be 25 feet inside your property line.  The old guys just laughed and hung their “no hunting signs” on the fence.

Anyhow, Boots, our Springer Spaniel, was hot on the trail of a Chinese Pheasant; back and forth, but straight for the woods, which is where the property line was, and we couldn’t hunt on the other side.  Boots couldn’t read signs very well and she wouldn’t come back to her call; she was trying to catch up with the bird and, quick as a flash, she’s under the fence and off she goes, in hot pursuit.  Dad was getting red in the face, mad as a wet hen and calling the dog and old Boots won’t come.

Oh, she came home eventually with a magnificent Chinese pheasant in her mouth; we couldn’t get her to tell us what really happened and we only lived a quarter mile away.

Sean@vashonloop.com