The was nary a second between the crack of the rifle and the bullet slapping the water in front of us. So surreal was it that we gaped at the water as if an invisible fish had just leaped from the pond. Then another shot boomed, and the water splashed again, this time closer. Shock waves rolled through our bodies like the waves rippling through the pond. We were in the middle of nowhere, on a quiet summer day, two cousins casting lines into a fishing hole we’d been to many times before. Only this time, someone was trying to kill us…
One week every summer, we were Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Jim Bob and I didn’t have the Mississippi, but we had the Red River, along with creeks and ponds galore. Our .22 rifles were permanently attached to our hands, and every rabbit, squirrel, prairie dog, and noisome bird was fair game. We tried our luck at fishing, and usually bad luck it was, but we did reel in the occasional bass or catfish. Even before I had my driver’s license, my parents let me steer the Chevy down the dirt roads that crisscrossed Wheeler County. Up and down them we went, eyes peeled for wildlife, dreaming of the next big adventure. One year, while he was visiting in the autumn, we set up our tent near the river, and awoke the next morning with an icicle hanging over our heads. Somebody hadn’t checked the weather forecast. But an hour later, while we were thawing out around the campfire, a flock of turkeys ambled by not fifteen yards away. Without leaving the log he was sitting on, Jim Bob slowly turned, aimed, his bullet flew true, and these two would-be Daniel Boones were one turkey richer.
But the day the bullets flew at us was a different story. Mr. Hefley’s pond was cradled in the middle of a half section of grassland, with a stream feeding into it. Trees were clumped here and there about its banks. A small platform hung out over the water. And there we sat, poles in our hands, watching the bobbers dance. Watching, until the gunshots sounded and our hearts roared into overdrive.
I had been a hunter for as long as I could remember, graduating from a sling shot to a B.B. gun and eventually to a rifle and shotgun. I was adept and deadly with them all. But I had always been the predator, never the prey. When the bullets slammed into the water in front of us, my initial reaction was that of most prey: I ran like hell. I yelled at Jim Bob to grab his rifle, as I grabbed mine, and sprinted for the nearest trees. One more shot rang out, then silence.
Behind the trees, the prey became predator once again. Finger on the trigger, I scanned the hills around the pond, the trees on the other side, anywhere where a man might hide. The echoes of the gunshots had reverberated so much that the bullets could have come from any direction. I still remember the phrase, “Shoot to kill,” bouncing around inside my brain. We might have been two scared teenage boys, unversed in anything remotely military, but at that moment whoever was shooting at us was the enemy. And we’d do what it took to defend ourselves.
When laughter arose from a clump of trees on the south side of the pond, I looked over at my cousin, both of us wide-eyed and incredulous. Then came a voice, calling out our names, still laughing. I knew that voice, and I knew that laugh. I’d heard it many a time in my own home, around our table. He was what you might call a ‘friend of the family’, a young man a few years older than myself, perhaps 20 at the time. Over his shoulder was slung the rifle. A smile played on his lips, followed by another goodhearted chuckle, as he walked up and looked at our astonished faces with obvious delight. Somehow he’d found out where we were, and though how funny it would be to sneak down to the pond. Nothing wrong with a little scare now and then. He just meant to have a little fun at our expense.
I guess he had his fun. Neither that day, nor any day afterward, did I find it funny. I had hunted with this man. He knew guns, knew what they could do, knew they aren’t toys. Yet that day he turned one into a toy, a plaything to frighten two young cousins.
He should have been whipped, and his guns taken away, in my opinion.
Both of my children have grown up around guns, and gone hunting with me, as well as other family members. I’ve told them this story—not as a comedy, but a potential tragedy. Two horrible things could have happened that day: a bullet could have ricocheted off the water and struck me or my cousin; or I could have caught a glimpse of the ‘someone’ shooting at us from the trees and put a bullet in his skull before he had a chance to reveal who he was. Thank God neither of those things happened. But they could have. And that’s the point I make with my children. This story is for them, and for any of you who pass on the heritage of keeping and bearing arms—keeping and bearing them responsibly.