Deer hunting season. Most every state in the union has a deer season and most outdoor types participate. I was one, and the 1975 pre-season gave me a hair-raising education.
The blast roared up the hollow and back, a different sound that echoed from the hills before being re-mixed as deafening thunder. It didn't contain the typical, short lived BOOM! of a high powered rifle, and the patrons inside Libby's Luncheonette must have agreed as they filed outside to look.
The shooter lay on the ground at the front of his truck, hands at his face as he writhed in pain. He was a hulk of a man, pushing fifty and balding slightly. His hat lay several feet away, exposing a thin spot near the crown of his head. He had huge hands that sprouted even larger fingers as they appeared to wrap completely around his head. Almost Neanderthal, I thought to myself. Never mind that his short stature wouldn't allow him to see very well over the steering wheel of his three-quarter ton Dodge pick-up. I wondered more how he ever got one of those massive fingers inside the trigger guard of his large caliber rifle without accidentally setting it off. He pulled his hands away to expose a face that had been weathered by years of exposure to the elements. His left cheek sagged more than his right from the huge wad of tobacco that usually soaked there. He wasn't muscular or fat, just bulky. There was no neck that I could tell as being a neck. His head sat directly on his thickly bulging shoulders and his shirt strained against his thick biceps and forearms. He wore bib overalls and leather boots to mid-shin. Definitely Neanderthal from all appearances.
It was two weeks before the bucks only season was to begin. Even the truest of fishermen exchanged their fishing rods for guns and drifted over to Libby's to sight them in. It was a simple gun range, backstopped against a steep, grassy hillside behind the restaurant. Most shooters came to show off their newly purchased weapons and to enjoy the smell of fresh smoked, sugar-cured ham while using the trunks, hoods, doors, or whatever else jutted out from their vehicles as gun rests. The annual target shoot and open display of weaponry in this small mountain community was confidently entrusted to its residents. They understood the consequences of misuse, well, most of the consequences.
The injured shooter was an exception. An avid hunter who for years always filled his limit, he rarely bragged and never disclosed to anyone his hunting method or area. As long as I could remember, he had always successfully used an old .300 Savage lever action rifle with open sights. However, the 1975 season was going to be different for him. Fed up with the inescapable advancement of gun technology, Magnum Man had shed his pre-historic club and purchased a rifle the likes of which was going to leave its mark of technological history upon ballistics science and the already deeply pocked and pitted hillside behind the luncheonette.
It didn't take long for a crowd of admirers to gather around his truck when he laid the new gun case on the hood. This new rifle not only upgraded his status quo, it literally took the entire community to a new level of mindless avarice."Now, boys," he confidently aired, "let me introduce you to the latest and greatest in hunting rifles." He unzipped the leather rifle case in short, strip-tease type actions, causing the crowd to move in closer. Eventually he exposed a perfectly crafted Weatherby .375 H & H magnum complete with Monte Carlo stock and a 3 x 9 variable wide-field scope. We all nearly fainted from the lack of oxygen as everyone inhaled simultaneously. "It'll blow out the black of a bull's eye at 150 yards," he stated to no one in particular, gently fondling the weapon with those huge hands. A stream of tobacco juice erupted from his face toward the ground as he ran a rugged hand along the length of stock and barrel. He reached into one of the many pockets of his overalls and retrieved five rounds of ammunition for that hand-held howitzer. The shells were the same size as his fingers. I suddenly became aware of my near vicinity and sought sanctuary on the planet Mars.
One hundred fifty yards out, against the scarred ground of a hillside, stood a set of five targets. From the graveled parking lot where the shooters stood, the targets were pitched at approximately a 15-degree declination, set that way purposely in the name of safety. This short, burly, tobacco-packed man took a solid stance over the hood of his truck and brought the glistening beauty up, placing its smooth, solid stock against his right cheek. The three-inch diameter scope appeared to be micro-moments away from swallowing him head first. Homo erectus, I envisioned, peering over the edge of his cave ledge on tiptoes, poised to smite a wooly mammoth. I looked back at the scope. They are wonderful luxuries in providing shooters with less than eagle-eye vision the opportunity to place a distant target at the end of their nose for better viewing. However, they have a major optic flaw in that near and peripheral vision is totally obstructed as one peers through it.
It took a few seconds for everyone to absorb the concussion from the blast as it roared back upon us from its rambling trip down the hollow. The rifle bounced gracefully from the hood of the truck in slow motion and hit the ground on one end before slowly toppling over to stillness. Magnum Man was jerked violently backwards and onto his shoulders. I noticed more leaves than usual floating to the ground from the trees around us that fall day. The echo was deafening. Its yield thunderous. Then silence. People began to stir. Someone rushed in to attend to Magnum Man. Another quickly gathered his hat and gun. I returned from Mars. He sat up and began shaking his head. He looked at his hands. They were crimson covered and a stream of blood trickled down the right side of his face. Tobacco juice flowed down his left cheek. The scope had cut him deeply over and under his right eye in its failed attempt to gorge itself.
He finally stood up under swaggering legs and gazed around as if to get his bearings. He staggered back to the hood of his truck to lean there, convincing me to remain dumber than fish. It began in whispers, then finger pointing. The bullet from that magnum rifle never arrived at its intended target. The combination of the 15-degree declination, his simian stature, and a failure of the scope to see what the muzzle of the rifle saw two feet away led to the blow-out of a bright red truck fender.
The subject of that event and his magnum rifle was never discussed in his presence after that day. Some say an archeological dig centuries from now could possibly turn up the remains of a rusty, motorized vehicle with a big bore hunting device stuck deep in to its right front fender.