Have Gun…..Will Travel

By Joe Talbot | Apr 19, 2018

No, I’m not going to get sucked into the controversy on all the news programs in the media eddy, with everyone shooting off their mouths about how to end the gun violence.

Instead, I’d like to tell you what it was like in 1955 when I was working at the Shell Elms Gas Station at the intersection of Wood Street and Elm Street, in Camden, where “Serendipity Consignment” store is now. I was 15 at the time, and as the gray skies started to spit out snow in the early afternoon, Dick Hodson looked forcefully right at me, and moved his head in such a way as to say, “Lets get outta here,” and we headed for his pickup, and went immediately to his house on Molyneaux Road, a mile from the Snow Bowl.

We went in the front door, grabbed some gear and a sandwich, and went out the back door to the garage, and let the gang out of the kennel attached to the garage. Twenty legs were moving like lightning as the four Beagles raced into the woods beyond, while we sat on two stumps, getting ready for the sound of “contact.”

We reached into a canvas bag and took out a little red-colored toilet paper, wadded it, and put it down the barrel of the muzzle-loader shotguns, tamped it with a steel rod, poured in a measure of black powder followed by a measure of steel balls, more toilet paper, tamped it in, and yet another ,right behind that. Then a brass cap on to the nipple beneath the hammer and we were ready for war. Usually by the time we finished our preparation, the dogs were yelping with glee, having picked up fresh rabbit tracks, and the “loop” began.

Having arrived on the scene, in a few minutes Dick told me to say there and he would follow the tracks for a few minutes, and then take a stand. He told me to look to my right and watch for the rabbit to be coming my way a few yards from my stand, saying he should be on the tracks he had made on his first circle.

Standing still, using a tree for cover, and peeking around the tree, sure enough, the rabbit came running along in a medium slow lope, adding more tracks to the previous set made on the first circle. Remembering what Dick had taught me on other occasions, I aimed about a few yards ahead of the rabbit coming from my right and going toward my left, about 25 yards away from me. Pulling the hammer back, then taking a deep breath, then exhaling to a stop, while moving the gun to my left, keeping the aim ahead of him, I squeezed the trigger ever so gently, until the hammer released, made contact with the brass cap. A noise like a small firecracker when the cap ignited was definitely heard by Mr. Big Ears, and what happened then was absolutely hilarious! In the split second it took for the cap ignition to go through to the powder magazine, I saw the rabbit’s hind feet land about a two feet on the ground in front of his head, and he catapulted into high gear just like the road runner. Then the main magazine exploded, and he was lost in the cloud of smoke, not to be seen again. I couldn’t stop laughing at the scene.

When the smoke cleared, there were hundreds of little pieces of red toilet paper stuck on all the tree branches. Dick told me then to watch to the left of the cloud of smoke, and if I saw him running, then it would be clear that our rabbit had made an immediate left turn. But if I couldn’t see him we knew one of three things: 1) He ran straight on the track and is in the next county. 2) We’d have rabbit stew tonight. or 3) He turned right, and the dogs would figure out where he went for themselves.

Meanwhile, Dick would have heard my shot, so he’d be looking for Ol' Lightning to be approaching him at the speed of light. If he didn’t see him for a short while, then he’d start back to where I had shot, and we’d watch the dogs when they finally came to where we were, and we’d help them try to find him. Or…..they’d spend only a short minute, and take off again howling as before, and we’d get ready for round two.

While we listened intently to see where the rabbit was taking the dogs, it was fairly easy to determine if he was a true follower of the rules of all Maine rabbits by staying the circular course. However, the sound of the yelping dogs started to diminish greatly, and then we could no longer hear them. We knew we might as well head for the barn, our bunny could then be proclaimed a “runner” and not a true Maine rabbit. Without a doubt, he ran straight away from us and sooner or later, would lose the dogs. Dick took off his coat, and set it on a stump, and we left to go home and have peanut butter sandwiches instead of the planned roasted rabbit. By 3 or 4 a.m. the next morning, Dick went back to pick up his coat. It never failed; all four were sleeping in a huddle around the coat.

I cherished for all these years the time I spent with the Hodsons; they were very kind to me, and with a lot of practice, I was able to bring a couple of rabbits home on a few occasions, and my mom was an excellent cook. I guess we had better luck when there was no snow on the ground, because when the rabbits turned white for winter we could see them better. When there was snow on the ground, it was more difficult to see them.

In my young years our family truly ate off the land, deer hunting in the fall, rabbit hunting in the winter, fishing in the spring and early summer, bird hunting in the fall. And oh, I don’t want to leave out the lobster, that was an occasion once in a while, between all the others.


Joe Talbot is a former columnist for Peterson Publications’ “Off Road Magazine” and ” Four Wheeler Magazine.” He lives in Belfast.


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