|Attack Of The Grizzley
© Copyright 2001 by Travis Humphreys
The attic was cramped and filled with dusty relics of bygone years In the back corner was a Havoline motor oil box with newspapers carefully tucked in around the edges to protect its contents. What might I find here for the garage sale? I carefully lifted away the paper and realized I had found a secret treasure-trove of old Christmas memories.
Staring into the dim interior of the box, I was flooded with memories. The contents had once been glorious dreams come true, for my siblings or myself. They had been waiting under our tree on those early Christmas mornings of our childhood.
When I lifted the box, the bottom gave way, its heavy contents cascading onto my feet. Swearing quietly,I dragged over an old metal ice chest. I began to transfer the mess into the metal box. I soon began to care a lot less about the dust, the mess on the floor, and the sore foot.
I picked up my brother's first baseball glove, now long since cracked and stiff, and my sister's 'Betsy Wetsy' doll. There was a teddy bear with only one eye, and a bent and battered chinese checker tin. These items had disappeared from our toy boxes, as they became old and disused. I always thought Mom had tossed them out. Mom never had much use for anything that was just taking up space, a wise and prudent attitude for the mother of six children living in a three-bedroom house.
Dad had always been a rather gruff, macho, cowboy. He never said much, and I certainly never thought he was the sentimental type. Here was proof I had been wrong. Mom never put anything in the attic. She was afraid of spiders and never went to the attic at all. It was Dad who had hidden away these special memories of his children's Christmas delights. It seems those Christmas mornings had been as special to him as to us.
As I lifted the chinese checker can I was transported back thirty years to my year of reckoning....
It was still dark as my siblings and I crept into the family room that cold Christmas morning in 1963. I was afraid to look under the tree lest I be disappointed. I had been shamelessly campaigning for two months, but who could tell how the minds of grownups worked, or if they worked at all! For all I knew, when I said 'pellet pistol' they heard 'clothes'!
I gathered my courage and braced myself for argyle socks. Holy jumpin catfish, it was there! Its shiny blue steel barrel was more beautiful to me than all the new fishin poles and autographed baseball cards in the whole world! It leaped into my hands on its own accord. I marveled at the perfect fit of the finely checkered walnut pistol grip, and the feel of the solid wood pump handle. The Christmas lights glinted on the gold trigger as I opened the action.
My head was spinning with joy. I was ready to join the big boys and hunt rabbits!
I held in my hand the ultimate weapon in air pistols. A real Benjamin .22 caliber single shot. It had its own pump! It needed no CO2 cylinders. At maximum pressure it would shoot like a .22 short cartridge!
In the oil fields of west Texas, nothing was more important to a 13-year-old boy than hunting. It was a sacred right of passage to bag that first jackrabbit with your own weapon, and now at last I had the firepower to get the job done.
My brothers and sister were noisily comparing their own treasures with giggles and squeals, while I sat numbly staring at my prize. Dad stumbled through with vexation in his eye and coffee on his mind. Ten minutes later, he passed through again with 2 steaming mugs of coffee in his hands and silently threw a baleful glare at us. The clock said 4:30 am. He headed into the bedroom to rouse mom. He had looked very out of sorts. The poor man had probably been up most of the night with pliers and screwdriver in hand.
My sister, my brothers, and myself wisely retreated to the sofa, where we put on our sweet innocent faces for Mom. We knew when She saw our smiling faces; she would make sure Dad used a camera instead of a weapon.
Soon dad was taking lots of happy snaps while muttering about being awakened at ungodly hours. With a familiar twinkle in his eye, he quietly promised us that should we pull this stunt again next Christmas, he would not wake Mom. He would just bury us all in the back yard with the brothers and sisters we never knew we had! My brother and I looked at each other, and then at Dad. We all began to laugh. We all knew this ridiculous speech by heart of course; after all, we heard it every year!
After breakfast, Dad and I read the pistols manual together. At last unlocked his gun cabinet and brought out a round; flat, green metal can of .22 caliber pellets. We went to the pasture and did a little target practice, after which I announced I was ready to go hunting.
As time passed, and my marksmanship improved, my mother learned to endure my invasions of her kitchen. I was often there preparing such culinary delights as sautéed sparrow, poached pigeon, roasted rabbit, and stewed snake. I had taken to heart my father's admonition 'If you won't eat it, don't shoot it.' With the exception of Pete, and my sister once on a dare, I never had a guest to share my exotic table fare.
To my chagrin, 9 months passed, and I still had not been able to bag one jackrabbit. They infested the sand hills and mesquite flats that surrounded our home on the edge of the Caprock and Pete was ragging me unmercifully about my shortcomings. Pete was 2 years older than I and had dispatched many jackrabbits with his Stevens single shot .22 rifle. He always remembered to ask me about my quest in front of my other friends each day as we boarded the school bus. Each afternoon when we departed the bus I set out with renewed determination to bring down this most elusive of prey.
Dashing into the house, I would pause to change clothes, grab the pistol and a can of ammo, then sneak quietly into the wilds before Mom thought of a chore for me to do.
I saw plenty of jackrabbits, but they seemed to know the effective range of the pistol. They managed to stay just a few yards out of reach. To compensate, I began pumping more pressure into the pistol to try and make it shoot a little farther.
This was causing the check valve inside the pump to weaken. Now with a failing check valve the weapon would't hold its pressure over an extended period of time. Therefore if I fired the pistol within 10 minutes of loading, I had plenty of power, but if I waited 15 minutes the pressure fell off rapidly. This of course required me to pump more air into the gun before shooting. As almost any parent will tell you, a 13-year-old boy has an attention span of 13-14 minutes... tops! Ergo I never remembered to add additional air to the gun when 15 minutes had elapsed. It would be under powered, and instead of the sharp, pow! I expected to hear when I fired, I would instead hear a rather sickening poomph. I could actually see the projectile leave the muzzle and travel in a lazy arc to bounce harmlessly off the beast, causing it to sneer and make obscene gestures as it sauntered lazily away into the chaparral and sage. I was left red faced and feeling foolish as I struggled frantically to reload before the smart aleck rabbit strolled out of range.
The logical solution would be to take the pistol in for repairs, but the idea of waiting two to six weeks for the repairs was so ridiculous, it was beneath consideration. I resorted to the best of all possible solutions from the viewpoint of a 13-year-old, "ignore it and it will go away!"
One Saturday morning after a particularly bad week of razzing, I had circled the pasture to the north of the house without success when I came to the pipe yard where my Dad stored the large pipes for the wells he maintained. I felt a cold chill and looked around with not a little fear. Dad had urged me rather strongly, to avoid the pipe yard.
During the day, cottontail rabbits would take refuge inside the pipes. Earlier that year, Pete and I had found a way to catch them. We went from pipe to pipe till we found one we couldn't see through, and we had our rabbit. All we had to do was flush him out, and then take his carcass home with grand stories of how we had stalked and killed our quarry. To flush the bunnies out of the pipe, we used long, thin joints of 'sucker rods'. We would put something large, such as a stone into the pipe, Then simply push it through the pipe and catch the rabbit as he emerged.
Pete quickly decided he would push and I would catch the rabbit. I never thought about it until then, but rabbits have claws and long teeth! As I waited at the end of the pipe on our first attempt, I began to wonder just how upset that rabbit would be by the time it reached my end of the pipe. I wasn't anxious for any one to know it, but I was a little afraid of grabbing a live, frightened, and possibly very angry rabbit by his head!
Somehow, the first 2 rabbits we tried this trick on managed to get away despite my "best efforts" to grab them as they bolted from the end of the pipe. After the second failure, Pete angrily came around to my end of the pipe. As he towered over me, he quickly demonstrated in a very physical manner, how something large can easily over power something small. After that rude mishandling of my person, I was far more ready to face the rabbit's teeth than Pete's brutish behavior. Soon we were taking home rabbits with all the aforementioned grand tales about our prowess as hunters.
All was well until the day came for our dads to get a section of pipe. They found several joints of pipe with the sucker rods firmly wedged inside. Sometimes when Pete pushed the rod through the pipe the rock would turn, and the rod would pass under it and get wedged. Pete and I already had our rabbit so we didn't see this as a problem. Our fathers disagreed. They had to use 2 trucks and chains to get the rods out of the pipes. You can be assured they didn't "spare the rod" when the talked to us about the pipes.
I was back at the pipe yard again with the sting of Dad's message still fresh on my behind. I was skirting the place when I decided I would just look inside a few. That couldn't hurt their darned old pipes!
The first rack didn't have any signs of life. Two more empty racks, and then I found something I had never seen before in a pipe. Three feet from my nose was a huge jackrabbit looking straight back at me...
Technically, my first jackrabbit probably should have been free ranging. While there were no written "fair chase" rules, it was sort of understood in the brotherhood of young nimrods I associated with. No one ever strayed from this understanding unless, of course, there was no chance of anyone catching him.
I looked around carefully; Pete was probably skulking around somewhere nearby so he could expose my transgression to the jury of my peers on the school bus first thing Monday morning. I climbed on top of the rack and looked around.
With no one in evidence, I quickly made my plan. There was not a moment to spare! I climbed down and lay down on my belly. I aimed and squeezed the trigger.
Things started to happen fast after that shot. First I heard a sickening "poomph". Next I saw the jackrabbit accelerating. I knew he would break fifty miles per hour before he reached my face! A microsecond later, that rabbit hit my face like a' Cassius Clay right cross' and never slowed down. He ran up over my head and down my back like the roadrunner crossing the coyote on a lonely highway!
I sprang to my feet with my eyes watering and nose bleeding. I spun around to see where he had gone and saw him attacking a three-foot high mesquite bush. His teeth were popping and his front feet wind milling wildly. He squatted and leapt straight up, kicking out viciously with his huge hind legs, raking the bush with his claws! My deepest secret fears were looming in front of me. Was this a rabbit or a bear? Was there such a thing as a grizzly rabbit? Whatever it was it had seen me move and decided to take on a foe without thorns. It froze in place while it stared at my trembling form through red-rimmed, hate filled eyes. Then without warning...it charged.
I raced down the south side of the pipe rack with "griz" right behind me. I tucked the pistol under my right arm as I tried to fish a pellet from the open can in my hand. I turned east, and as I was rounding that corner, I dropped the can of ammo. Looking back I saw the rabbit round the corner. There was no time to stop and pick them up, so I made a lap. The vicious hairball was holding his position behind me as I circled the rack and made a desperate grab for the pellets that were strewn across the sand. All I came up with was sand. I remembered an old Gene Autrey movie. I spun and threw the pistol at the rabbit's head... the rabbit dodged the pistol just like Gene had and I began running once more.
From the corner of my eye I saw someone coming down the road from the house. I was horrified to see my older sister headed my way! As to what was worse, being eaten by a grizzly rabbit or having my older sister tell everyone in the free world about me being chased by a bunny rabbit, the choice was obvious. I had to let him kill me. I went to the back of the pipe rack to made my stand. When the rabbit rounded the corner I managed to kick him into a mesquite bush and he attacked it with a vengeance. I looked down and saw a three-foot length of steel cable under my foot. I scooped up the cable and played 'bunny-baseball' when the rabbit came hurtling out of the bush.
The rabbit was a gonner, but I was disheveled and bloody. My pistol and ammo were strewn across the sand, and I had no cover story of why I was even in the pipe yard! I was panicky about my sister. I scrambled to the top of the tallest pipe rack and saw she had turned into the east pasture to catch her horse.
I was safe! No one needed to ever know about my humiliating battle with a bunny rabbit. I cleaned my self up the best I could and went home with the jackrabbit in hand, telling a great story about making a fifty-yard running shot. I figured the low velocity pellet hit the rabbit just right to cause brain damage and turn him psycho. Had to be a million to one shot...
I finished collecting the items from the torn box, and took them down the stairs to be sorted, priced, or trashed. They weren't going to take all of them with them to the retirement home, there wasn't going to be room in the apartment. I decided to keep the pistol with me for a while.
After I finished with the attic I went to the garage and found a can of machine oil and lubricated the pump and bolt. With a little work I had it freed up and the old pump actually held air. There had been some pellets in the box and I had them in my pocket. I decided to go out in the pasture and see if it would still work. I put a pellet in the chamber and pumped the handle nine times. I aimed at a nearby limb and, to my delight, it shot just fine. I reloaded and wandered aimlessly for a while, reliving those carefree days of my youth spent learning about nature in this sandy wilderness. Fifteen minutes later I wandered into the old pipe yard. I waved at my sister who was walking along the road nearby, no doubt reliving some private moment of her own. There were only a couple of the old racks left now, and only one had any pipe. I bent down and looked inside a piece of casing pipe and I couldn't believe it! I was looking into the eyes of a big old jackrabbit!
Who said you can't
go back? I quickly aimed and squeezed the trigger...poomph.
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