Hunting Season

DAVID L. GRAHAM taught English at the University of Georgia and served in the Navy during the war. A former Philadelphian, he now divides his time hetween Freeport, Maine, and New York.

by DAVID GRAHAM

ANOTHER hunting season has gone, and the hunters missed me again. I live in what they call a sportsman’s paradise. It’s hard on the natives, and after the shooting is over I’m always amazed to be alive. Every fall the out-of-state sports descend on us like a people’s army, blazing away impartially at young and old alike, including tree stumps.

It is no wonder that sensible folk begin to take cover toward the end of October and wait grimly for the visitation to pass. Even our highways and public places are no sanctuary— unless one lies flat on his face. More than one motorist, tooling along at forty or fifty miles an hour, has been bagged before he could get his paws on the emergency brake.

Sure, 150 pounds of venison is worth some effort, and bear steak is better than the hamburger nowadays; but I still don’t want to go out there and die for the Fish and Game Association. It’s not that I keel over with buck fever the minute some sleek little doe gives me the eye, or that the sight of a cock pheasant silhouetted against the western sky turns me into a vegetarian. Beautiful and moving as these creatures are, they have to die sometime. What I’m thinking of is my own skin.

The wild fusillade which breaks out at dawn on the opening day of the season brings me to my senses and sends me back to bed for the duration. I don’t care what psychoanalysis teaches, there’s something really comforting about putting one’s head under the bedclothes.

Hunters are a game-starved, trigger-happy bunch nowadays. With more hunters than game in the woods, an ominous number of them are doomed to return to their wives and sweethearts empty-handed — and they don’t like it. Before long, I predict, you are going to see some of them heading south from the chase with any old carcass mounted on the fenders of their cars. I wouldn’t mind getting shot and being left to die in some swamp, but I’d hate to come rattling back to civilization strapped to an old jalopy.

Still, as I say, you can’t blame the hunters for being overeager. Many of them never get a chance for a second shot, so they fire first and call the coroner afterwards. Official records show t hat hunters let fly at anything that moves, from buses to underwear on a line. The eagle which, according to legend, dropped a turtle on Aeschylus’s bald pate, thinking it a stone, had nothing on the impetuous modern hunter who, at forty feet, mistook a seventeen-year-old boy for a woodchuck and drilled him for a glass eye.

Of course no hunter is going to shoot me deliberately — he might lose his hunting license. The states can be quite strict about these little affairs: the offenders frequently have their licenses revoked; and if the incident takes place out of season, the offender can be fined or even jailed.

But providing his papers are all in order and the accident takes place during the open season, usually the worst the guilty party has to fear is the suspension of his hunting license for carelessness, although plenty of hunters have been able to prove that shooting a person was neither carelessness nor intentional —the victims were “negligent.”I agree. I consider anyone who steps outdoors during the hunting season grossly negligent.

Be that as it may, not one manshooting hunter in a hundred ever goes to jail, even if he pleads guilty to manslaughter. The poor fellow has suffered enough, jurors apparently feel: don’t add the indignity of jail to the tortures of conscience. Well, t heir consciences may be giv ing the guilty hunters hell, but the casualties keep on mounting.

Meanwhile, sporting goods companies and others spread the gospel that red clothing is excellent protection against bullets. It is supposed to give ample notice to hunters that you too are human, and to hold their fire. But hunters aren’t that predictable. Many an old-timer is sure it works just the opposite.

Migod, they’ll tell you, don’t wear red, don’t wear anything that can be spotted ten feet off—it just gives you away to the hunters. Wherever the states keep records of how folks were dressed when shot (generally they don’t keep them, because records make people uneasy) the data show that even individuals whose clothing must have made them look like boiled lobsters have got winged. And anybody north or south of 54° 40' who is so absent-minded as to pull out a white handkerchief while hunting has no more problems — a hunter will get him sure, because the underpart of a deer’s tail is also white. Why hasn’t science developed something to protect the human form from hunters? During the war they came out with a shark-repellent. In my opinion the best protection against the annual rain of bullets is a pair of pajamas and a comfortable bed.

It is not so much shooting a deer or a bear as bringing a trophy home that counts. Selling game to out-ofstate sports is one of our state’s most stable industries. Official statistics are understandably meager, the practice being illegal, but the authorities could hardly crack down on it, since it brings plenty of money into the state and relieves the itch on a lot of trigger fingers. After all, the local boys know where the animals are and how to deliver them without hurting anybody.

One fellow I know in the northern part of the state specializes in bears for the quality trade, and some very prominent people have come to him for bears and ego support. Freddie, of course, doesn’t waste time and money trying to shoot bears. He traps them. One year he trapped a bear by the front paw, and the paw was so badly damaged that Freddie didn’t know whether he would be able to dispose of the bear through the usual channels. But the bear hunters had a bad time that fall, and pretty soon a couple of men came along and saw Freddie’s bear hanging up outside his camp, and Freddie let them have it for $15. Two days later Freddie’s bear was on the front page of all the newspapers. Freddie could tell it was his bear all right on account of the mangled front paw. And standing beside Freddie’s bear was our governor, gun in hand.

Contrary to what you might expect, big-game hunters aren’t the only threats to human life among the sporting fraternity. Last fall, for instance, a mild, unassuming rabbithunter got two of his fellow hunters with one blast. Another hunter I read about got shot while sitting on a log, although you wouldn’t think that anybody would want to shoot a sitting hunter; and then when his pal ran up to dress the wound, they shot him too,

The statistics show that whether a man is out for mountain lions or red squirrels, his chances of shooting a human being by mistake are about equal. But rabbits are probably the greatest troublemakers. In the frenzy of getting his rabbit, many a man will shoot his best friend or even himself. One rabbit in Pennsy lvania scampered up a hunter’s leg. What happened to the rabbit is not mentioned in the official report, but the hunter bagged his own feet. Two other hunters chased a rabbit into a culvert, stationed themselves at the two ends, and fired simultaneously. The rabbit got both hunters.

One fall I myself went hunting. At about noon I heard the dog barking like crazy behind the barn. It was a cloudless day and I figured that if I kept whistling and banging on a dishpan I could get to the barn without being mistaken for a moose or a rabbit. Farmers have to be especially careful. One of our neighbors, venturing forth after a load of wood, got plugged in his own wood lot. Naturally it was an accident; in fact, the whole thing was an accident, because the hunter wasn’t firing at the farmer; he was firing at the farmer’s horse, which he mistook for a deer. As soon as he got close and saw the harness, he apologized. For this reason horses are seldom brought in to the game wardens for tagging as deer—their harness gives them away. Calves and heifers, however, are brought in all the time.

But the dog was so hysterical in his barking that even though the hunting season had opened that very day I decided to make a dash for the barn. I thought that maybe a hunter had been shot and needed help. At first glance the dog seemed to be barking at the chickens, and then I noticed that a fox was hung up in the chicken wire. He was half in and half out and couldn’t free himself. So I yelled to my wife to bring me a shovel, and I killed him with one blow. It was the only fox we hunters brought in that day.

With a shovel as my weapon, I had to get near enough to be pretty sure that it was a fox. A few days before, a prominent local doctor had been mistaken for a fox and had been shot by one of his own hunting party. If the man had been armed with a shovel, he doubtless wouldn’t have made the mistake.