• James Eichenlaub

Every Boy Should Not A Hunter, Be.

Updated: Sep 11

Little did I know!

What a quaint way to begin a story, is it not, i.e., little did I know?

Oh well, here goes: little did I know that what began on that freezing November morning would change my mind forever about hurling a bullet in the direction of anything that lives.

Yea, I know; all of the great white (or whatever color they are) hunters scoff at the wimp that refuses to kill. Well, if and when it becomes necessary, like, for food or self-preservation, I will not hesitate. Not, however, will I kill just for the fun of killing.

That digression aside, on this very chilling morning, my older brothers, who were both experienced hunters that fed our family with deer, rabbits, and squirrels at one time or another in our lives, rousted me from bed well before daylight to join my first-ever hunting party in my celebratory thirteenth year of life. The needs of the belly outweighed the need for compassion in those earlier times. As well, who knew back then when the 'next' war would start, and hunting would once more be vital to existence?.

Being the only NON-hunter of the group, a friend loaned us a rifle to use as my first-ever deer murdering tool. It was a British military rifle. It fired a 30-caliber round and had a bolt action and elevated sights for distance shooting. (As if I would need 'distance' in the Pennsylvania woods.)

Purportedly, this particular rifle saw combat against German soldiers during the war. Which war I don't know for certain, but I presumed WWII. So I imagined that the deer we were about to hunt migrated from the Black Forest so that the weapon would feel at home shooting at German deer.

Of course, I did not ask such a question about the deer but instead convinced myself that this was the case. I was still a bit nationalistic back then despite our family being of German descent and being that the war was still fairly fresh in the minds of most older people. So I went along with the crowd.

After a quick breakfast of hot coffee and eggs, we stuffed our pockets with snack food, cigarettes, and matches to ward off the cold for the next three or four or five hours, depending on the tracks and the skill of both deer and man.

Off we set, in the old 57 Ford sedan headed for the hills (haha, headed for the hills, that's funny) just outside of Altoona, Pa. where just a few miles up route 36, not far beyond Red Hill, there is a place on the right called Devil's Elbow, or at least there was back then. (Things have changed so much over the past sixty-plus years that there is likely little evidence of the old elbow remaining.)

Regardless, we parked the old Ford in the elbow and walked a short way beyond before we began our ascent up the hillside in the direction of Spring Run and Wopsy lookout. The temperature was near zero that morning and, although the snow was very shallow, the frigid cold made the snow squeak and crunch beneath our boots. Quite noisy.

It was just breaking daylight as we moved up onto the ridge where we would wait for an unsuspecting animal to walk in front of our gun and allow us to kill it. Premeditated Buckiside!

After a hundred yards or so, my eldest brother stopped and began kicking the snow aside, clearing a large area of snow, leaves, and twigs and leaving me to stand on bare, hard dirt.

"Just stand here and face the wind." He paused "That way," he said, as he waved his hand back and forth, gesturing down the other side of the small ridge on which we now stood,
He continued, "Anything behind you will scent you, and you will never see it, so face into the wind, and if they cross from either direction, right or left, you may get a shot. And don't get buck fever and start shooting into the dirt!"
"Since the wind is blowing that way," I answered sarcastially, "I gusss that means I can smoke?"

Giving me a good-natured whack on the side of my head with his gloved hand, he walked off to my left. Our other brother had already moved off to the right on the top of the same ridge just out of sight. The wind was coming toward us from the North.

The chill crept into every crack and crevice of clothing I wore. The longer I stood there on that bare piece of ground; the less effective my winter coverings seemed to be. So much so, l I felt the need to tuck my coat into my pants, which was virtually impossible. So I crouched with my rifle securely across my lap between my legs and belly to have my hands free to put inside my pockets.

Scrooching my body into the smallest shape possible, I hoped to prevent that northern breeze from so totally accosting me. It was somewhere around the time of my third, or maybe fourth, cigarette, I heard the soft crunching of ice-crusted snow in front of, and to my right,

Raising myself slowly, I brought the rifle up to my chest and waited, intently watching the distance. Having already chambered a shell, I took the gun off the safety and moved it toward my shoulder as I continued scanning the most likely area of the sound, trying to detect any movement.

My insides quivered as I expected Bambi and his mother would soon come creeping through the brush. My brothers taught me that the males would always hang back and let the females brunt the danger first. So I waited, watching. Then, a little more crunching, and instead of Bambi, three doe walked slowly forward as if tiptoeing.

I was holding my breath! The lady deer move forward just a little farther, and there he was! Keeping his head low to hide his trophy, which was not large, but still, he did have horns; he was definitely the one I'd waited for all this time.

Slowly raising the rifle, I peered steadily down the sights, following him from the brush and into open view clear of all obstruction. The sudden and loud report of the shot was immediately followed by the explosion of wood and bark about twenty-four inches above the buck's shoulders.

Startled by the report and explosion, the buck's front legs buckled beneath him, and a split second later, he and doe were leaping into the distance. As he began to move, I slammed another shell into the chamber and fired, again murdering branches and tree bark, and then a third and final shot to who knows where! Then, silence fell once more, and peace returned to the battleground.

Seconds slowly passed, my heart was pounding, and I began to perspire when a wholly unexpected and sullen shout came to me from the direction of my final shot.

"Did you hit em?" The man asked as I stood shaking all over.

About that same instance, my brothers appeared nearby from either direction and, the man I likely could have killed also came walking towards me. Evidently, the gentleman came into the area from another direction, setting his spot before we arrived and never acknowledging his presence. It made me shake even more to think of what could have happened had my aim been accurate. Who knows where that bullet may have passed.

"No," I shouted in return as my shaking hands lit another smoke.

Waiting until my brother was next to me, I told him what happened.

"He was right there at the edge of that little clearing when I fired," I said, "but the bullet hit the tree above his back. I'm sure I was sighted directly in front of his left shoulder just behind the neck."

Taking the rifle from my hand, he looked it over. And then, just as he'd done when he left me earlier, he gave me a cuff on the side of the head with his gloved hand.

"Look at the sights, dumb ass!" he said. "Why did you raise them like that?"

"Damn it!" I shouted, "I must have hooked them on my clothes while I was crouched down trying to keep warm. I didn't even think to look before I aimed."

We walked together to where my first shot struck the tree, and there was no sign of blood. Following the trail of the running deer for several hundred feet, there remained no sign that the animal was wounded. The trees, on the other hand, definitely needed a doctor.

My antiaircraft assault had failed to kill a deer, but we never thought at the time to look for dead birds. With those sights elevated, I was shooting into the air and may have bagged a turkey, a dove, or a sparrow. Who knows! In any case, we left the woods an hour or so later with nothing to show for it but cold feet and a runny nose.

Sadly, I was indebted to my brother's friend for three bullets. So I cleaned and oiled the .303, whereupon I stood it in the corner to await return to its owner. My shooting days were over, well, at least at living objects. But if you are ever in danger of being attacked by a paper target at fifty to a hundred yards, I'm your man!

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