Monday, August 15, 2011

Short Story - fiction - A Shot of a Lifetime

A Shot of a Lifetime
By Jay Wilson ©2011

My daddy was a devoted hunter and I guess it would only be natural that he would want his son to be the same. But there was a problem – I didn’t want to kill anything.

Being raised in upstate New York, hunting was a valued part of our livelihood. My dad kept meat in the freezer and mom’s job was canning the excess produce from our garden. But it was dad who was regarded at the `provider’ of the family. This title was not due to his local trucking/hauling business but because of the wild meat he would put on the table. Dad enjoyed telling his friends about his many kills with his old trusty Remington 12 gage shotgun. He liked using slugs and sometimes double-ought buck. Both these shells would cause a lot of damage and almost always killed the deer on the spot.

The funny thing about the `Provider’ was he provided meat year around. Many times I was told not to tell the other kids in my school about our night-time hunts. I didn’t want to but I had to accompany him to hold the light on the deer while he made his shot. I knew it was wrong but to say no to my dad could end bad for me. So I went and did what I was told to do. I hated it; the killing, the skinning and then disposing of the skin and intestines. I swore to myself I would never kill a deer.

It wasn’t just the killing that bothered me but was more about how many times I seen a deer that was knocked down and then get up and run off into the trees. I knew the deer wouldn’t cover much ground before collapsing dead or worse, die from the wound days later. . Dad wasn’t one to chase down a wounded deer because someone who might have heard the report of the gun might come to see what happened; or worse. The person might call the game warden.

This routine continued all through my school years. As disappointed as it made my dad, I would not shoot and kill a deer myself. I remember the first time that I violated the rule of going against my dad. I refused to shoot a doe which had tried to jump a barbwire fence and got its leg hung in the strands of wire. I was 15 or 16. My dad felt this was a good time for his son to `make meat’. He handed me the shotgun and told me to shoot it in the head. I stood there staring into the small doe’s eyes. I could sense her fear. I could not say the word no but instead dropped the gun and ran. As I ran, tears started racing down my cheeks. No matter what my dad did to me when he got home, I was not going to ever kill a deer.

I was sitting out under a tree by the house when he drove up in his pickup about 20 yards away. He got out and stared at me for a full minute. He then turned and pulled the little doe out of the back. With the deer dragging behind, he disappeared into the shed where he always cut the animals into small portions to carry into the house. He never talked about what had happened. I continued to go with him on his hunts but was never offered his shotgun again. And that suited me just fine.

Don’t misunderstand me about the guns. I like guns and enjoy shooting them; just not at animals. In fact I won the 4-H competition (22 caliber) at our county fair 3 years running. I was a good shot. When my friends came over to my house, we would go out and shoot our 22s at tin cans. Sometimes the others would get a little aggravated at me because I never missed. Even as good as I was, I had never killed an animal except for a good reason. I had to kill a skunk that was getting into our eggs one summer. And then there was the wild dog that was fighting with my dog. The wild dog had Ol’ Mitch down and biting him in the throat. My mom and dad both seen me shoot that old stray in the head and kill him. That bullet was plumb center and passed within inches of my dogs head. It was shot I had to take to save my dog. Mom told me it was one heck of a shot that saved Ol Mitch’s life. My dad said it would have been a better shot if it had been on a deer. He then turned and walked away.

My dad passed away last year. Even with our problems, I loved him very much. I guess I wasn’t made from the same cloth as Dad and didn’t see things like he did. My mom still lives in the old house by herself. We have tried to get her to move in with us. I live about 20 miles away with my family. I check on her as often as I can. The last visit was just last week and that is what this story is really all about.

My wife Ella and the kids decided they wanted to take mom into town for a `girls only’ lunch. And that was fine with me. After they were gone, I roamed around the house reminiscing the old days when I was just a kid. I saw Dad’s shotgun leaning against the fireplace. I had shot it many times in my late teens but only at cans and the like. It had become somewhat of a joke when I took the old gun out between Dad and me. He would always make some remark about not killing his deer. We would both smile. We had made peace between us.

I decided to take the shotgun out and shoot it. I loaded it with slugs and started out toward the old gravel pit where we used to shoot targets. It was a short walk through a wooded area; maybe a quarter mile. I wasn’t paying much attention walking along. That’s when I heard a noise and turned in that direction. A huge buck deer was standing sideways to me. He didn’t seem to care if I was there or not. I thought of my dad and knew he would have loved this opportunity at such a huge animal. I also knew mom hadn’t had deer meat since Dad had gotten ill better than 2 years ago. I had to search my soul as to what to do. I didn’t want to kill the deer yet it would supply my mom with meat for the winter. It would also make my dad smile where ever he was. And maybe it would answer a couple of burning questions I have been asking myself for a lot of years. Could I kill a deer? Was my defiance due to being a coward?

I knew I had the ability to make the shot. It was only 20 yards. I could hit a can with the slug at that range. This was to be a defining moment in my life. I could answer those questions, feed Mom deer meat, and make my dad proud, all in one shot. I picked up the shotgun to my shoulder and seated it. I looked down the barrel and placed the aim just behind the deer’s shoulder blade. The deer continued eating grass. I squeezed the trigger and the gun fired. I didn’t even hear the explosion or feel the recoil. It was a shot of a lifetime for me. Of all the hundreds of shots I had made in my life, this one I will always remember with pride.

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