Wolfe Publishing Group

    You Can't Not Do It

    I’m in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, standing on the battlement of Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, a striking military fortification built between 1540 and 1783. I have been visiting my son Matthew who is in the U.S. Coast Guard, stationed across the island in Aguadilla, but at the moment we’re just hanging out, soaking up the sun and the history, doing the touristy thing. Hunting is the last thing on my mind, and then, this pigeon flies by.

    Immediately, my left arm extends toward the bird and my right hand comes up beside my nose and curves around an imaginary trigger. Head down, eyes open, my left foot slightly in front of the right, I lean into the gray, feathered blur, sweeping smoothly through it. “Bang!” I say out loud, much to the consternation of the tour guide standing next to me. I drop my arms and look about sheepishly. Matthew is standing there next to me with a knowing grin. Matthew is a bird hunter, too. “Get it?” he asks.

    “I don’t think so,” I say. “Probably not enough lead, and I didn’t follow through. They’re tricky.”

    Matthew shakes his head and smiles. “You might have had your head up, too,” he says. My son starts back toward his wife, but he stops suddenly and goes into a half crouch. “Nine o’clock! Nine o’clock!” he hisses, jabbing his index finger into the air to my left. Then he rises, extends his arm and says, “Bang!” as the pigeon screams by. The bird goes into a tricky dive at the sound of Matt’s voice, then catches an updraft and a tailwind and shoots by me with its afterburners glowing. I fight to catch up, almost stumbling as I swing about. “Bang!” I say. Then, “Bang!” again.

    I’m pretty sure the bird is patterned, and there is no doubt by now that the tour guide is concerned. He is talking in Spanish to a uniformed man with a mustache, pointing my way and being very animated.

    “I’d say we need to find your wife,” I suggest to my son.

    “I’d say that bird needed a good three-foot lead,” Matt decides. “He was close, but there’s quite a bit of wind. I had to interrupt my swing because of the flagpole.” He is oblivious to the stir we have created. A fine boy, my Matthew.

    It wasn’t the first time, of course, that I’ve “shot” at fowl with my pointing finger. In fact, it started quite some time ago. I think it’s a habit, but most habits have an origin, and I can’t remember when this one began.

    As things now stand, I might be in Orlando, waiting in line to ride Disney’s Matterhorn or perhaps sitting on a bench in the heart of downtown Seattle deciding where I want to spend too much for fish and chips. Suddenly, I catch a birdy movement out of the corner of my eye – a pigeon or seagull – and the arms and pointer finger instinctively come up. If you are a bird hunter, you know what I’m talking about. Once you’ve been out there hunting, once you’ve witnessed the astonishing collision of shot and feather, you begin to “practice” every chance you get. It’s not really a conscious decision, so it doesn’t matter if you’re in a business suit waiting for a cab or a bathing suit waiting for a Coney. If a bird – any bird – comes by, you swing with it, calculating lead and imagining how the bird’s head will drop and the wings suddenly fold tightly against the body when a solid hit is made. Some of my finest shots have been made with my finger on diving seagulls at the local beach.

    I once suffered a line drive to the chest during a high school baseball game when I rose up from my shortstop position and took a crack at a passing crow just as Danny Elmer delivered the pitch. As a college freshman, I scared off sweet MaryEllen McGreenley by swinging my finger on a fat Rhode Island Red in her mother’s garden. Even though I assured her I never in a million years would actually shoot a chicken unless it was of the sage or sharp-tailed variety, and especially one on the ground, MaryEllen decided I was uncivilized and took up with a nonhunting senior basketball player who had some nice moves in the key.

    In the spring, I “shoot” woodpeckers with my finger as they flit away from my log home, and during the summer, I pick mostly on the swallows that build little mud houses beneath my eaves. The neighbors think I’m nuts. I think it helps me with my grouse shooting. Lord knows I need help with my grouse shooting.

    Of course, when doves and grouse actually do open up in September, I holster my index finger and take up with the 20-gauge again. It’s a nice little SKB side-by-side that comes up easily and lets me swing through; I love to carry it afield. You’d think that with all the off-season practice I’d shoot a lot better than I do.

    Wolfe Publishing Group