Hunting in Squa Pan Junction
Today in the News: Christopherson Salt Chuthers makes his debut today on The Axe. I’ve known Chuthers for most of my life and have endured many near-death and near-arrest experiences with him. He’s a preacher’s kid, what do you expect? In all honesty, Chuthers was my inspiration to start writing. Between the stories that we created as young men and his phenominal writing skills, he has placed himself in the lore of my life. I’m very pleased to share his writing with you today and I hope that he becomes a regular fixture here on The Axe.
Hunting in Squa Pan Junction, by Christopherson Salt Chuthers
I started hunting when I was six.
My brother and I would steal my Dad’s shovel and drag it out to the back woods. We’d dig holes 18 inches deep and about a foot across in the soft loam of the forest floor, then tear fir boughs off nearby trees and place them cunningly over the holes. My brother said he read about the technique in a Zane Gray book. It was the way Indians caught buffalo, he said. I thought it was awesome: leave it to the Indians to figure out how to kill a buffalo with a hole in the ground.
Granted, we had left a few things out of our calculations. Like, Northern Maine doesn’t have any buffalo. And if it did, even a three-toed sloth with the IQ of a doorknob probably would have observed a freshly-stripped fir tree beside a large pile of fir branches and decided against climbing over the mound of branches. Even if it had been a suicidal buffalo, we had to use so many branches to disguise the hole that we effectively just built a slightly pitch-y bridge over our trap. So we never caught a buffalo. We did catch a lot of frogs. Sometimes I wondered if they were maybe eating the buffalo before we could check the traps. I wondered if the Indians ever had that problem.
After it became apparent that our holes weren’t netting us much, we started building bows and arrows. The theory was pretty simple: we’d cut a piece of ash about two feet long, strip off the branches, notch each end, bend the ash into a tight arc and tie a piece of kite string to the notches. Then we stripped the discarded branches of their leaves. Notching one side and sharpening the other gave us a workable arrow, even if they weren’t exactly straight.
In theory (and a couple of Gary Paulsen novels), our bows should have been capable of skewering a bird on the wing at thirty paces or a squirrel a half-acre away. Instead our arrows meandered through the air in a flight pattern similar to that of an inebriated buzzard. The only reliable aspect of the arc of our arrows was that they never landed more than fifteen feet away, not even with a decent tailwind. Our plan was to shoot a buffalo in the eye. To make that happen, we would have had to ask the buffalo to sit patiently a few feet away and try not to blink. Maybe the buffalo would have died of boredom. Maybe that’s how the Indians did it.
Everything changed on my fifteenth birthday when Dad surprised me with my very own shotgun. It was, he explained calmly, a matter of practicality: not only would this gift provide the family with the occasional meal; now he also had a quick and effective way to put down our animals without driving all the way to the vet. That’s my Dad: generous to a fault and thrifty to boot.
I spent every morning that October stalking the elusive partridge through the woods behind my house. I had never seen a partridge in the wild — just the dead ones my brother brought back from hunting trips with his buddies — so I didn’t know where to look, what to listen for, or even what they looked like standing up and not lacking a head. I imagined them lurking behind every tree, hiding in every thick cluster of branches, cowering behind every clump of mud. I stalked them like a ninja. I stepped carefully around twigs. I tiptoed around dry fallen leaves. I held my breath for moments at a time. I embraced the zen of hunting, silently blending my psyche with the forest until the forest embraced me as one and I swore I could feel the flow of the sap of the trees.
Unfortunately I wasn’t really on the hot trail of a flock of crafty birds well versed in the art of disguise and camouflage. Nope. Instead I was spending every morning and often every afternoon hunting every square inch of a patch of woods that CONTAINED NO PARTRIDGE. I’m pretty sure the partridge were a few acres over, pointing and laughing hysterically.
Two months of fruitless hunting changed my identity as a predator. I went through stages: first I was a ninja. Then I became a rationalist: surely sooner or later I was bound to see a partridge. Right? Law of averages and all that? I just had to be ready when the moment came. When the moment never came, I turned to religion. I promised God I’d never let my gaze linger over the brassiere page of the Sears newspaper inserts ever again if He would drop a woods chicken in my path. Eventually I upped the ante to heading to the missions field of His choice. No bird appeared. My faith evaporated. I started wondering if I should dig holes.
Then one cold and fateful November morning, I sullenly headed out the door for what I had taken to considering as ‘walking my gun.’ I popped a shell in the chamber, closed the breech, and ambled across the lawn towards the path through the woods. About four steps down the path, something stirred in the bushes. I glanced over, fully expecting to see a cat or squirrel or fox or chipmunk.
And instead, a small partridge bobbed its head at me and nervously shuffled its feet.
I would have been less surprised to see a buffalo.
Suddenly the weight of the moment began to close in. What if I missed? What if the bird flew? What if God had given me this beautiful opportunity and I flubbed it? Could I still look at the Sears fliers? Would I need to learn Urdu? Had I loaded my shotgun? Holding my breath, I sighted down the barrel of my 20 gauge and put the bead on its head, just like my brother told me to. The bird cocked its head at me inquisitively. And stifling a quick pang of guilt, my finger twitched the trigger.
There are no words available or font possible to convey the magnitude of that shot. The bird disappeared in an eruption of leaves and ground debris as it spun and gyrated, wings trying to coordinate flight with a head that was suddenly unavailable for comment. Panicked that I had merely wounded it, I popped out the spent casing and thumbed in a buckshot shell my brother had given me. I cocked the hammer, put the dot smack dab in the middle of the windmilling body, and pulled the trigger. PAAAAOWWWWWW!!!!
Suddenly, there was a definite lack of flapping.
Unfortunately, this coincided neatly with a definite lack of partridge.
I collected the shards—er, bounty – as best I could. Proudly I carried it into the kitchen, depositing the mass of feathers and dirty leaves in the sink.
“Wow,” my mother commented, struggling to look duly impressed. “You got one.” She poked the mangled wreck half-heartedly. “That’ll make a nice… stew….”
I nodded solemnly, working hard to hide my pride. “Yep.” I headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” Mom asked, discretely removing a pine cone from the supposed stew meat.
I paused and gazed stoically at the woods. My woods.
“Out.” I paused. Then, feeling something more was needed: “I’m getting good at this.”
The Indians couldn’t have done it any better.
Haha! Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,
Mike, Oscar, Hotel…..out.