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Why I Don't Hunt With No Schoolteachers! Part Two

Copyright 2012 - Stephen Redgwell
I’ve always loved gettin’ off the highway and takin’ the dirt road to the cabin. Not many people use it and that’s fine with me. All the city people see is a dusty farm road, too grimy to risk drivin’ on with their shiny BMW SUVs.

I don’t understand these people at all. The only reason they own a 4x4 is for the cool factor. None of them is used for their intended purpose. In fact, they rarely put it in four wheel drive - except for a couple of minutes after leavin’ the showroom. Two or three years later, they become “old” and need to be traded in for the latest model.

My dirt road is bordered on both sides by farm land. For at least fifteen of the twenty miles to the cabin, there’s nothin’ but corn, some wheat and soy beans. The crops attract wildlife, which the local hunters harvest. It’s a win-win situation.

I was showin’ Dalton all the sights, but he didn’t seem too interested - at first anyway. He wasn’t a techno-geek, but I think he missed havin’ a computer within easy reach. My daughter conveniently forgot to pack his netbook and Blackberry. Good girl!

About four miles from camp, we drove down a big hill and crossed over a creek at the bottom. In a soy field about fifty yards past the bridge, we saw two bucks facing each other, pawing at the ground. I stopped the truck for a better look.

“The rut has started. See those two deer? They’re eyin’ one another. The fellow on the right is bigger and has a larger rack. He’s likely the dominant male around here. The other guy might be challengin’ him for the territory and whatever does are around.”

Dalton took a camera from his belt pouch and started to open the door.

“Don’t do that, boy! If you want a picture, just roll down the window and stay in the truck. They’re used to seein’ vehicles on the road, but will take off if they see you walkin’ towards ‘em.”

The two bucks put their heads down and began sparrin’. It was like watchin’ a dance. The bigger buck pushed into the smaller one and shoved him away. Both moved in a circle, their heads down. Twice more the big buck knocked his challenger away. They did this for a few minutes before the smaller deer turned and left. The encounter was tame, but it was obvious who was in charge. The dominant buck remained, watchin’ the pretender disappear into the trees.

“Why did the other buck leave?” Dalton asked, fascinated by what just happened.

“Well, the younger one kinda felt like he should be in charge. The trouble is he’s not as big or as strong as his rival. The larger buck showed him who was boss. If we’re lucky, we’ll see more of that. We’re about ten minutes from the cabin. Let’s get there and unpack. You’ll get a chance to see more of their hijinx in a little while.”

The scenery changed the last few miles. The farm fields changed to deciduous trees and some pine. The orange, red and yellow leaves were a wonderful distraction that made it hard to concentrate on my drivin’. I told Dalton,

“After we unpack, I’d like to get some water from the creek for washin’ dishes. I know it’s only a little after five, but by the time we’re done settin’ up, there won’t be much light left. I’ll take you down the ATV trail. If we’re lucky, we’ll score some ruffed grouse.”

Dalton’s mood had improved dramatically. He was excited to be here and talked non-stop about the deer we’d seen. This was a positive sign. He was thirty-two years old, but acted like a teenager. I couldn’t help smilin’.

After we finished carryin’ in the food and bedding, I took out two shotguns. For upland birds or rabbits, I’ve always been partial to a 20 gauge. Heck, I got three. Whether it’s ruffies or rabbits, a load of No. 6 shot always does the trick this time of year.

“Dalton, you’ve used my over and under a few times. She’s rock solid. This is different from the range though. We’ll load her up and I’ll get you to walk a step or two in front of me when we’re on the trail. Remember not to follow your target past ninety degrees to the left or right. In other words, DON’T turn around to follow a grouse in flight. I’m behind you. There are plenty of them around, so you’ll get other chances. Okay?”

Dalton nodded and said he was ready to go. The last thing he did was to load the shotgun.

“Hey dad, do I shoot them if they don’t flush?”

“People have been debatin’ that question for years, but we want ‘em for food. As long as they aren’t too close, they should be at least 20 yards away, take the shot. If you shoot a grouse too close, you’ll blow it apart and there won’t be nothin’ left to eat. The season for them has only been open for a couple of weeks and no one hunts back here. Generally speakin’, they’ll walk away as you approach. There’s been no huntin’ pressure to make ‘em skittish.”

We headed down the trail with Dalton two paces ahead of me. He was cradlin’ the open action, just like he had been taught. Fifty yards away from the cabin, the bush got denser, with alders and some smaller birch trees crowdin’ the trail.

“It’s late in the day, but the sun is out, so walk slowly. Take a few paces then stop. Look at the edge of the trail, check the deadfall and stare under small bushes or trees for a grouse. So they don’t end up being supper, they’ll quietly walk away as we get near ‘em. They will head for the underbrush to hide. Take your time. There’s no need to rush.”

“And if one flushes?” Dalton asked,

“Take the shot. Just remember what I said about not turnin’ around.”

Dalton was goin' nice and slow. I don’t know if it made a difference, but we was whisperin’ back and forth, like you do at the library. We’d take three or four steps and stop to look around. I guess we’d gone about the length of a football field when I spotted a grouse sunnin’ himself on some deadfall.

“Hey,” I said in a low voice, “Look over there beside that small pine tree.” I walked up behind him and pointed at our quarry. He was twenty-five yards away maybe.

Dalton closed the action, swung the shotgun toward the grouse, squeezed the trigger, and then,

BOOM!

---

A huge explosion shook the ground. It sounded like the whole valley erupted. Debris flew through the air. The part of the bush that hid our grouse was completely gone. The concussion from whatever blew up knocked me to the ground. I lay there for a minute or so before I heard a man screamin’.

“What the heck are ya doin’? What fool shot my still? Idiots! You’ll pay for that!”

A short, skinny guy, five foot two maybe, came charging onto the trail about thirty or forty yards behind where we were lyin'. He was obviously angry, yellin' obscenities and wavin’ his arms in the air. He must have watched us pass by earlier, hidden by the bushes.

“No one, I mean no one, shoots a man’s still! No one deprives a man of his hooch and gets away with it! Which one of you idiots is responsible for this?”

We stood up and faced this guy. He was older, with a grey beard, and wore an orange wool tuque, plaid shirt and blue jeans. I glanced at Dalton and saw he was scared. In fact, all the colour had drained from his face. I started to laugh and said,

“Hey mister, you don’t come runnin’ after two men with guns and start makin’ threats. It seems to me like you’re the idiot. Besides, this is my property. It appears like you’re trespassin’. Just consider yourself lucky that we ain’t in Texas. After a big explosion like that and you chargin’ at us screamin’ your head off, I’m thinkin’ you coulda been shot!”

The guy stopped ten feet away and looked at me without sayin’ a word. I adjusted my shotgun and said,

“Now, you wanna tell me what the heck just happened?”

I could see the little guy was irritated, but was startin' to calm down. He pointed at the hole in the vegetation.

“That was my still. You blew up my still!”

“Oh, I see. That was your still, boilin' away on my property. A still that almost sent me and my son in law to the Pearly Gates a little early. How long have you been runnin’ that thing?”

“Long enough to know that it’ll take me a week to fix things and brew another batch!”

He was an ornery old cuss. He didn’t smile and spoke his mind. I’m sure that if I didn’t have a shotgun, he would have tried to fight me. He was a ball of frustrated energy. I liked him.

“What’s your name?”

“Badger.”

The name fit. Dalton finally came out of whatever daze had gripped him and said, “He almost killed us! Aren’t you going to call the police?”

“Okay Dalton, I’ll get right on that.” I faced back down the trail and yelled, ‘Help police!’ Nothing happened, except that Badger started this high pitched cackle and said,

“Your son in law ain’t too bright. ‘Help police!’ That’s funny!”

I nodded in agreement. Twice today someone said Dalton was not too bright. Now that WAS funny and I started laughin’ too! Dalton looked confused.

“Dad, how can you laugh? We could have been killed!”

“It’s like this, Dalton. First, we wasn’t killed. Second, the only damage was to Badger’s still, some trees and maybe a grouse that you was about to shoot anyway. What am I missin’? No wait! You’re gonna tell me anyway, ain’t ya?”

Dalton just shook his head and sat down on the ground.

I turned to Badger and introduced myself. “Badger, the name’s Bill Legault. I’m figurin’ that you must be a neighbour. I also figure that the reason your still was here was in case the cops found it. Am I right?”

“Yep. I’ve had a setup here for at least twenty years. I’m surprised it took you this long to find it. I guess I’ll have to move my operation now.”

“I think so. I don’t mind you makin’ moonshine, but it’s only a few hundred yards from my place. I don’t want the police nosin’ around here either. Besides, you can see how it upsets the children.” I pointed at Dalton.

“Yeah, he don’t look well. Hey boy, you really should learn to relax. Since you was the one that shot it, you should help me look around for anything I can salvage. You don’t mind, do you Bill?”

“Heck no, but we’ll have to make it quick. The sun’s goin’ down. I gotta get Dalton back to the cabin before he turns into a pumpkin.”

The three of us walked over to where the still used to be. There wasn’t too much left, just some odds and ends that Badger put into a cheesecloth bag.

Badger said, “I guess I’ll be getting’ back to my place. There ain’t much left, but I might be able to throw somethin’ together. Nice finally meetin’ you, Bill. I expect we’ll run into each other again.”

“I think so, but no explosions next time!”

We both laughed and Badger headed into the bush. We turned back toward the cabin.

“Dalton, don’t tell Sam or her mother about this. I don’t want them worryin’. He’s cleaned up the mess and we won’t have no more problems with him. He’s an interestin’ guy, eh?”

“Interesting? We could have been killed! I cannot understand how you can remain so calm.”

“That’s simple. I’ve lived through worse when I was in the army. Besides, it wasn’t our time. Anyway, we gotta get back to the cabin, have somethin’ to eat and get ready for bed. I figure to be out tomorrow mornin’ early, so we’ll both need a good night’s sleep.”

Neither of us talked the rest of the way back.

---

Once we were at the cabin, I put away the rest of the food and showed Dalton where he was sleepin’. I also lit a kerosene lamp so he could see better.

“This used to be Sam’s bed. We put it here against the wall so she’d be closer to the stove. Sam loves this place. It’s a shame you guys don’t come up for visits. The girls can use the tire and we got acres and acres of trees!”

“I don’t know, Dad. It’s quiet here and the scenery is lovely, but I’m worried about your neighbours.”

“Don’t be. The law of the bush says that now he’s met me, he’ll keep his distance. Same as I won’t go nosin’ around his place without bein’ invited.”

I was makin’ the bed in the other room when Dalton started screamin’ and carryin’ on. He wasn’t used to bein’ in the bush and something had obviously spooked him. He probably seen a mouse or something, so I took my time. Then, he stopped yellin’ and I heard the sound of something hittin’ the bed and the floor. I dropped what I was doin’ and ran in to see what was the matter. I didn’t want him smashin’ the oil lamp. A fire out here meant trouble.


Why I don't Hunt With No Schoolteachers! - Part Three