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Backward Glances: Hunting

While writing a recent column  re-visiting the joys of fishing, past and present, my mind naturally drifted back to another of my youthful passions, hunting. Our dad was a hunter, mostly for the moose and venison which was our main staple of meat in those days, but he also loved to tramp through the hills in autumn and his rifle was always with him.

Owning guns was commonplace in rural homes of that era, not much different than having an axe out in the woodshed, and it’s a sign of the times that they’re now thought of mainly as weapons. As kids much of our play involved toy guns and I still remember the acrid smell from shooting my cap gun and dealing with an adversary with a well-aimed shot from my pop gun. Today I wouldn’t dream of giving my grandson a toy gun without asking permission of his parents, respecting our current association of all guns with violence.

Dad taught us early that guns, like other tools, were to be used carefully and with respect. My first Daisy Red Rider BB gun, purchased in Wenatchee, came with one rule, treat it as a real weapon or lose it. How many times were we warned to be careful not to shoot someone’s eye out, even though I never actually heard of anyone doing that. When we graduated to shooting tin cans and targets with our old .22 the rules went to a whole new level and a cardinal rule was that every gun, even when unloaded, was to be treated as loaded and dangerous.

Of all the gifts I’ve received in my lifetime, the most memorable was my first hunting rifle from my dad when I was fifteen. I’d “come of age” to hunt when I was fourteen, allowed to carry my cousin Murray Sheritt’s old Lee Enfield .303. My new rifle was one Dad had coveted for himself … but couldn’t afford! Few things other than hunting would have enticed me from a warm bed at 5:00 a.m. With Murray often joining us we’d try to be well back in the hills before first light. Unlike Dad, I would never become much of a hunter, I just loved being in the woods, and learning about the traits of animals and hearing stories of previous hunts.

We’ve just returned from another great holiday in the Flathead Valley of Montana, surely one of the most beautiful areas on this continent. Around Kalispell there are sports shops twice the size of Coopers, with guns and fishing gear occupying the largest space … racks and racks of shotguns, rifles, assault-style rifles and ammunition, all unlocked, as well as handguns of every description. Last year, on a similar trip to Sun River, Oregon, we’d noted on a visit to a WalMart that you could stop by and pick up a quart of milk as well as a Winchester 30-06 from their well-stocked selection.

I could never advocate anything other than further tightening of Canada’s rigorous gun controls, but I am still fascinated by displays of guns. Even though I will never again fire one they remind me of those long ago pleasures of hiking the hills, rifle in hand, enjoying the beauty of fall in the Okanagan.

Source: Rich Gibbons. Director, Lake Country Museum Society.

Richard Gibbons’ column Backward Glances was originally published in The Calendar.