Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Looking for Love? We'll Find You a Keeper!

Outdoorsmen are a largely under-recognized resource.

We here at CCDS guarantee live delivery, and your date
 comes with a week's supply of venison jerky and a case of beer.

For whatever reason - be it the occasional failure to bathe or the fact that glass partitions during visiting hours make establishing a relationship difficult - outdoorsmen often find themselves lacking a love life.

I was reminded of this on a recent fishing trip to Lake Wisconsin with my buddy, John. He let it slip between crappies that his girlfriend had just broken up with him.

John is not a quitter, as evidenced by a long-standing relationship with a Madison jeweler who now touts the slogan "Buy Nine Engagement Rings, Get the 10th Free." But I could feel his pain.

He is a sensitive soul for an outdoorsman, and given to whimpering slightly if you set him on fire or beat him about the head with a railroad tie for several minutes.

Right then and there, in Wiegand's Bay on Lake Wisconsin, I resolved to help my friend - and other love-be-reft members of the sporting fraternity - by establishing "Cupid's Compound Dating Service."

You see, since most sportsmen are shy, retiring creatures of the forest, they might have difficulty procuring dates for themselves. But is this any reason to let a perfectly good resource go to waste?

We here at CCDS think not.

By using our service, any women can obtain dates with a serviceable man, though obviously his attractiveness is proportionate to your nearsightedness.

You also assure yourself of a continual supply of lean, healthy venison, and mallard, and pheasant breasts, for the pan. In these days of hormone-ridden beef and salmonella scares, you can't put a price on that.

Dining on overcooked cod and ocean perch billed as "all you can eat" only because you won't be able to finish what's on your plate? Those days will be over forever.

For you, it'll be fresh walleye, lake perch or brook trout with slivered almonds.

With any luck, your date will have cooking abilities himself, and when asked his favorite vintage will not reply, "Old Style".

Of course,our proprietary interviewing process helps separate the top-shelf prospects from the dregs - or the grouse from the crows, if you will.

We at CCDS know that women are reasonable people, and surely you wouldn't begrudge a man a few partridge-hunting trips with his buddies or a week off during the rut. That said, you have every right  to expect a man to be home on a somewhat consistent basis. You also have every right to expect him to maybe chip in a little bit when he is home, and not lie on the couch like a slug watching Dream Season for the umpteenth time while you haul laundry up and down stairs.

This is where our interviewing pays dividends.
For example, if a sportsman says he cleaned once - in 1962 - this is cause for concern, and CCDS will note it in his profile. If he says he cleaned once  - in 1962- and seeks credit for it as if he was with Patton at The Battle of the Bulge, this raises a serious red flag.

We all have flaws, but a lack of housework motivation coupled with, say, a sporadic employment history and a home brain-training operation equals outright disqualification.

It has been said that a man's home is his castle. But you will potentially be queen of the castle, and don't need a man who will retouch his decoys on the dining room table or spill Hoppe's No. 9 on the newly - refinished wood floors.

We ferret these fellows out, along with those whose idea of an acceptable amount of taxidermy involves the words "Museum of Natural History".

After all, you don't want the flow of positive energy in your home derailed by three deer mounts and a fox skull, cornered by a brown trout replica and finally smothered forever under a moth-eaten bearskin rug he dragged home from a garage sale.

You probably also want a man whose level of fashion-awareness amounts to more than "Have you seen my good flannel shirt?"

Our rigorous selection process ensures that not only will your sporting date own a suit purchased in this century, he will also ear it to more than just weddings and funerals and will never, ever use his ties as gun-cleaning rags.

We'd like you to give us a try. We even offer a money-back guarantee: if you're ever dissatisfied - for any reason - we guarantee you will not be able to find us and will thus never be able to get your money back.

We here at CCDS guarantee live delivery, and  your date comes with a week's supply of venison jerky and a case of beer.

We suggest upending the shipping crate in a dark corner to let your sportsman become accustomed to his surroundings before you attempt approaching him, as he may be somewhat agitated.

Who knows, ladies, maybe you'll even be lucky enough to end up with my friend John.

He is a very hard worker, and is liable to help with the housework, if not to take it over outright. He is also an amusing fellow, though one with rather inflated opinions of his abilities as a hunter and fisherman.

Oh and ladies?
If you do end up with John, don't worry about that persistent odor. It's like living next to paper mill: After awhile, you almost don't even notice it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spring in Wisconsin !!!

After a long snowy winter, signs of spring are popping up everywhere ~ finally! Tulips, daffodils, day lilies, are all peeking out of the ground. You have to love Crocus being the tough little flower blooming in chilly April.

Yellow Crocus 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I'm Just One Good Excuse Away from a New Shotgun

     As summer gets long in the tooth and humid days give way to cool nights with the smell of approaching fall in the air, my thoughts turn to adding to my modest gun collection. I begin leaving Gun Digest books around the house, and the "Favorites" space on our computer becomes populated with the websites of firearms manufacturers.

     How fortuitous, then, that the Federal Government decided earlier this year that my wife, Lori, and I were eligible for an "economic incentive" payment. Like many, I questioned the wisdom of stimulating our country's economy by going further into debt. However, while I have done some dumb things in my life, refusing free money has never been one of them.

     For many sportsmen, the chief obstacle to acquiring a new firearm is the considerable veto power of a spouse. Lori has never been that way.

     "If you need a new gun, why don't you buy one?" she told me this summer. "You can use the money from the government."

     Of course, I returned her generosity. Marriage, as they say, is about give-and-take. For example, Lori advised me last week that she had not bought a new pair of shoes in ten years and was forced to go barefoot.

     I allotted her $10. I am not an unfeeling soul.

     For years, I've lusted after a 20-gauge side-by-side to tote to my favorite grouse coverts. But I haven't been able to pull the trigger, so to speak, because I don't live in partridge country and don't get after the brown rockets all that often.

     In my neck of the woods, the primary game bird available when fall fishing and deer hunting is over is...the common crow.

     Nobody ever waxes nostalgic about fine crow guns.

     Perhaps I'll be the first. I could order a trim Best Gun from the Basque Country of Spain. Inlaid in gold on the receiver would be a delicate scene depicting a brace of crows tearing into curb-side trash bags.

     Of course, here in the real world, there are three obstacles to me acquiring a new upland gun. First is the fact that a good side-by-side is expensive.

     Second is the fact that they are overwhelmingly made in foreign lands.

     People in Turkey and Italy need to make a living, too, but I can't justify propping up the economies of those countries with a payment meant to support ours. Third-- and this is a mental defect on my part-- a new 20-gauge doesn't fill a significant niche which needs filling.

     The last gun I bought-- a Marlin .22 semiautomatic rifle-- filled a niche. For several years, I participated in a rabbit-hunting tournament based out of a tavern in Monroe. The first year I was invited, I showed up with a Marlin 39A lever gun. My fellow bunny chasers looked at me as if I was from outer space. The rifle was far too slow with repeat shots on speeding cottontails.

     The next winter, I took along a .22 target pistol. Wyatt Earp I'm not. Those bunnies are fast.

     Finally, last winter, I achieved success with the Marlin semi-auto. It was fast and reliable in the cold as we waded through briars in search of rabbits.

     Sadly, this past summer, the bar which hosted the tournament burned down. Now I have the perfect gun in my cabinet for a niche which no longer exists.

     My friend, John, is not troubled by the idea that a gun must fill a niche to be bought. For years, he collected Remington Model 700 rifles-- two in each caliber.

     I can understand that. I'm a Remington fan, and have a Model 700 myself.

     John's problem-- in addition to gun-induced poverty-- is that he is extremely susceptible to advertising shown on hunting programs.

     He is currently enamored with the Thompson-Center Encore rifles that are so common on hunting shows today, and now all those Model 700's will simply become rudimentary tools to him, not even good enough to scrape ice off of a sidewalk.

     Of course, the same fate will befall the Encore when a new rifle comes along. Then, John might only look on his Encores with a slightly wistful eye-- such as you might a former girlfriend who was nice enough, but "not quite marrying material."

     Perhaps I'll buy a pistol-- made in the USA, of course.

     My brother Craig and I, along with our friends Gregg and Cary, make an annual trip to Fountain City. Shooting is our main activity, and a new pistol would be a nice addition to the shotguns and clay targets we bring along.

     In regard to the trip, Cary possesses what men would term an innocent sense of adventure. Cary's wife, Ellen, would use the words "questionable judgment."

     Before Cary left to join us this February, Ellen kissed him at the door.

     "Have fun," she said. "Be safe, and DON"T DO ANYTHING STUPID."

     And so a Saturday morning found us looking out a farmhouse window at a snowy landscape while we drank coffee and anticipated the day's shooting.

     "I wonder if my truck can make it all the way down the valley and back," Cary wondered aloud, before thinking better of it.

     He wondered again and again, until finally, he raced outside to his truck that evening as we cheered him on.

     We watched his taillights shrink into the night, until they stopped, remained motionless for an hour, and winked out.

     Cary clomped into the kitchen after his long walk back.

     "I'm stuck," he said.

     "But I just need a little push," he added, in perhaps the greatest understatement of all time.

     Now, four-wheel-drive is a useful tool. But for it to be effective, a truck's wheels cannot be prevented from touching the ground by six feet of drifted snow.

     The next morning, as we shoveled and shoveled and shoveled, I gasped, "Cary, what did Ellen say to you before you left?"

     "Don't do anything stupid," he grinned.

     Speaking of stupid, I guess buying a new gun probably falls into that category. Our house has been sporadically maintained since it was built in 1940, and there is no shortage of improvements to throw money at. Lori and I charged a new stove, and will probably be better served by using our economy-improving incentive to pay for it.

     So, no new gun for me.

     That's alright. I don't mind.

     Having an oven that lets you know when it's pre-heated is so much better than swinging a nice, light 20-gauge at ruffed grouse or clays on high-house Station 8.

     Yeah... I didn't think you'd buy that.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Apocalypse Now: When Even the Sheepshead Won't Bite

     I'm ready. And I expect you are too-- ready to feel a warm breeze on your face and to feel line slip through your fingers as a fish takes the bait.

     The fishing opener might not be as big of a deal as opening day of gun-deer season-- because fishing season lasts so much longer-- but it's close.

     Part of the reason it's so exciting is that we're enduring another long winter. Of course, I'm not referring to first-ice, fresh-snow-on-the-evergreens winter, with deer season just concluded and venison in the freezer. I mean the mid-February kind of winter, where you sit on the ice all day for a wind-flag on the tip-ups and a perch you could read a newspaper through. It's leave-for-work-in-the-dark and come-home-in-the-dark winter-- the kind where you kick at the frozen slush clods clinging to your vehicle and break a toe, thus ruining the weekend's planned rabbit hunt.

     I get through winters like a lot of outdoorsmen-- with a little ice-fishing and a little rabbit hunting. And, of course, I watch fishing shows on television. You know the kind-- walleyes the size of spaniels are the norm on every cast, motors never conk out, and nobody ever botches a net job with the fish of a lifetime on a buddy's line and then has to endure the long drive home with that fact sitting cold between them like a marital infidelity.

     When I tire-- usually quickly-- of watching fishing shows, I pull out my fishing journals. I've kept them since I was a kid. It's fun to relive memories, whether of ancient times or the season just past.

     A highlight of last season was a particular trip to Port Washington, a location my wife, Lori, calls my "Happy Place." On the day in question, I caught a huge brown trout shortly after arriving-- a great start to the day.

     Things got worse in a hurry, though, when Lori arrived and I had to explain that I'd blown the week's budget on a $54 electronic scale and a visit to the taxidermist. Happy Place, indeed.

     Older journal entries take me farther back, to Menasha, where I grew up a few blocks from Lake Winnebago. I was obsessed with fish then, same as now, and spent every available moment on the water.

     Looking back, it was a kind of paradise. Apologies to my hometown-- it was a wonderful place to grow up, and I'm sure it still is-- but I believe that's the first time anyone has ever used the words "Menasha" and "paradise" in the same paragraph.

     It was impossible to get skunked, or at least it seems that way to me now. If the walleyes wouldn't cooperate, then the smallmouths would. If the bronzebacks didn't bite, there were always white bass. If the white bass weren't willing, there was always the lowly sheepshead. If the sheepshead weren't biting, though, then you had best get your spiritual affairs in order, because that is the first sign of the impending apocalypse.

     Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to a trip I made to Lake Winnebago last summer.

     "Should be a sure thing," I told my co-workers. "After all, I grew up there, and even if conditions are a little tough, well, I am an extremely talented fisherman."

     I didn't actually say the last part, but I certainly felt it. Hey, I thought. I'll ask my dad if he wants to go. Ya know, it would be kind of a nice thing to take the old man out, fill his freezer with walleye fillets, and just generally repay him in some small way for being such a great father over the years. On top of being an extremely talented fisherman, I'm also a genuinely giving soul.

     The night before our trip, I packed an arsenal of equipment into my boat. I neglected nothing. Heck, I even replaced a trailer tire that was looking worn. In addition to being an extremely talented fisherman and a genuinely giving soul, I'm also exceptionally well-organized.

     I hit the road under a sky filled with bright, crisp stars, or at least stars which were bright and crisp once I left Madison and they were no longer so tightly regulated.

     I enjoyed the time to myself. I sipped coffee to the hum of the radials, and listened to the o-dark-thirty radio themes of spiritual salvation and home hairball remedies.

     In Fond du Lac, the sky began to split with lightning, and as I drove through the little towns of Pipe, Calumetville and Quinney, I looked to the west and saw dawn breaking over a lake pounding with waves.

     O.K., I thought to myself, this is a little tough. I downgraded my assessment of the day's possibilities to maybe four walleyes apiece instead of the full bag.

     Dad looked skeptical at the door when I rang the bell, with the Weather Channel screen sprawling like a green amoeba behind him, but we headed to the launch once the sirens abated and the last barnyard animal had cleared the roof.

     In the water at last, I pulled the starter cord on my 9.9 outboard and it roared (well, popped) to life-- and promptly quit.

     You know that little hose at the back of an outboard that squirts the water out after it has cooled the engine? Apparently it's crucial that the hose be outside of the motor, and not inside of it.

     My father, who built a houseboat in our backyard in his early 30's, quickly figured that one out. His son, who at almost 40 is reasonably adept with a mechanical pencil, did not.

     As we cleared the High Cliff harbor and headed south toward Stockbridge, the wind had abated somewhat. However, it was at this point that I admitted to myself that while I was familiar with the west side of the lake-- or, more specifically, with a tiny section adjacent to where I grew up-- I didn't know a darned thing about the east shore.

     "All right," I said to the fishing deities. "I'll make you a deal. Two walleyes apiece. They don't have to be huge, you understand. Then, maybe throw in a jumbo perch and an undersized bass and we'll call it a day."

     We trolled and we jigged. We casted and we drifted, until at last, the extremely talented fisherman and his father called it quits and headed back to shore.

     Final score?


     Do I have to come right out and say it?


     One sheepshead.

     Apocalypse narrowly averted, and another notch in the belt of Boy Genius.


Friday, October 26, 2012

More Myth than Bird

     The morning air felt crisp and fine as the hunter followed the aging pointer through old, familiar coverts. The remaining aspen leaves twirled gently in the breeze as he listened to the tinkling of the bell. Suddenly the sound stopped. The hunter's pulse quickened. He walked in on the point, and the roar of one bird, and then another, found him with a shouldered gun. The double barrel spoke twice. After a brief search, the dog brought the birds to the hunter's feet. Later, as he cleaned his partridge by a woodland stream with gun broken over his knee, the hunter thought what a fine morning it had been.

     Has this ever happened to you?

     Me either.

     Well, the sentiment has, but the reality? Never. It hasn't because Bonasa umbellus isn't actually a bird.

     It's a myth.

     A squirrel is just a squirrel, and no one waxes nostalgic about the cotton-tailed rabbit or snowshoe hare. The white-tailed deer used to be more romantic, but years of 1 million-plus herds, bonus permits and car kills have made the deer seem, well, more common. But say "grouse," and the classic New England images of stone fences, apple orchards, small-bore doubles and braces of liver-and-white Brittanies come to mind. Never before has a beady-eyed, dim-witted, 1-pound bird received such a massive onslaught of public relations.

     I suspect I'm like most hunters in that I'm democratic-- I hunt what I can when I can. But I love grouse hunting, and get to do some of it each fall. My problem is that the classic images in my head never match my results afield.

     I remember well my first grouse. I walked along a trail near the Wisconsin River south of Stevens Point. With my gun at port arms, I looked ahead to see a block of woods consisting mostly of oaks but with some declining aspens. It was fronted by a thick wall of berry bushes and looked birdy. I had a sixth sense about what was about to happen.

     A grouse flushed and roared away with the sound of a bike with playing cards clothes-pinned to the spokes. I pointed the gun toward the bird and pulled the trigger. As the report faded, there was a dying flutter of wings on the forest floor.

     I was elated.

     While cleaning the bird, I discovered no pellets-- not even in the head or neck. It stood to reason. I killed the only couch-potato partridge in Wisconsin-- the bird had died of a heart attack. Shortly before I arrived, it had munched lazily on catkins while its mate nagged about the unused Stairmaster in a corner.

     Nowadays, I have a side-by-side double-barrel-- just like those in the fancy magazines-- which I sometimes use for grouse hunting. But it is a .410, and it only looks expensive when the sun hits it right. In almost every how-to grouse piece I've read, the .410 has been deemed inadequate for grouse hunting or has been damned with faint praise as an expert's gun. I'm no expert, but I routinely dismiss their assertions that the .410's pattern is too sparse and likely to wound a bird. I don't worry about that. When I shoot at a grouse, it's in the next time zone when my shot arrives where it was. Inadequate or not, I enjoy carrying the gun, mostly in my own nod to sentiment. It was my grandfather's. When I hunt with it, I think of him carrying the gun behind beagles, and recall what he used to say to me during games of cribbage: "Miss 'em with one barrel, get 'em with the other."

     I do him one better, and miss 'em with both.

     My regular grouse gun, though, is the same gun I use for everything else: a nearly 9-pound 12-gauge pump. The wood is plain, and the checkering is pressed, not cut. At the end of a day with it, I feel like I've been lugging a small child. However, it does the job when I do my part, and I like to think it hearkens back to the days when guns were tools, not status symbols.

     Occasionally, I encounter some waxed-cotton swell with a silver-plated, hand-embossed dog whistle and a gun that cost more than my car. I know there's a brand-new Range Rover or the like packed with the entire contents of two sporting-goods catalogs back at the logging road.

     "Road-hunter. He's only in it for the meat," I can almost hear him think as he issues a condescending farewell after a last glance at my gun. I get some perverse satisfaction out of that, and I think it's because of the chance to thwart one of the main elements of the old, classic, "gentlemanly" idea of partridge hunting: snobbery.

     Outdoorsmen are lucky because there seems to be less snobbery in our pursuits than in other sports, such as golf or tennis. But it is there, particularly in sporting clays, grouse hunting and grouse hunting's aesthetic twin, fly-fishing for trout. I think we've all encountered someone who acted as if the accumulation of accoutrements earned access to a fraternity. What these people don't understand is that we go to the woods to escape the social scale, not to climb it.

     When trout fishing, I use spinning tackle --the horror!-- and favor spinners and chub tails as bait. My pet stream is a jungle laced with deadfalls, swamp muck and stinging nettles, and I like to get so far back that the only boot prints I see are mine from a month earlier. I despise coming back-- cut, stung and sweating, cooled only by the leaks in my waders-- to find some sneering chap belaboring the bridgeside pool for the few remaining hatchery trout because backcasts are easier to make there, and besides, those alder thickets upstream are just so nasty.

     Enough of my vendetta. Back to grouse.

     When I was in college, my friends and I hunted a small patch of woods near Polonia, which is near Stevens Point. We hunted a lot, and our grades reflected it. The land was beautiful-- a brook trout stream ran through it, and a peak gave way to reveal a golden cornfield framed on three sides by flaming maples and aspens. The spot looked classic, and every time I paused there I thought of a painting: Two birds roar away from a pointing dog as a gentleman shoulders his side-by-side.

     But the birds didn't care about art. They were in the thick stuff; a nearly impenetrable jungle of black spruce. We got through by lumbering, sweating and falling, cursing as we became mired in muck and as branches slapped us in the face. The partridge were there, but we couldn't shoot what we couldn't see until one of us hunkered low to the ground and walked like a crab. We imitated him. Shots came awkwardly, but at least we could see. One memorable day, we killed three grouse that way; all on the wing, which was an important distinction in those days. We celebrated with beer and pickled eggs in a Rosholt tavern; bent low over the bar to minimize the pain in our backs.

     A week later my grandmother commented on my poor posture.

     Maybe I'm just being cranky, and I-- who received 12 years of Catholic education-- should be more sympathetic to the old idea of grouse hunting and its quirks. After all, what is grouse hunting to the people who live for it but a religion? And discounting snobs, maybe the fine guns and the hand-signed, limited-edition prints are just symbols of the religion, which gets its faithful through off-seasons and off-cycles when birds are scarce. Maybe my old pump-gun ethic is itself a form of snobbery, and I'm guilty of confusing poverty with morality.

     I don't know.

     I bought a glossy sporting magazine the other day; the kind where the writers have names like landed gentry and where you swear the publishers have infused the pages with the smell of English leather. In the magazine was an advertisement for a gun; a fine gun with two barrels, gold inlays and exotic wood to match an exotic name. I want that gun.

     A turnaround?


     But at night, when the moonlight streams through the blinds and glints off the barrel of the pump-gun leaning in the corner, I hide the magazine under the mattress, like a teen-ager with a copy of Playboy.

     One year, we hunted up north, the entire Jump River crew. It was the third day, and we divided into groups, each with a dog, to explore new territory. Before we left the logging road, Kevin's golden put a bird up. It flew straight away-- an easy shot.

     I missed three times.

     The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to limit my magazine's capacity to one to conserve lead.

     Hours later, we were exhausted and soaked, and I remembered why they call it Indian Summer: it was hot.

     We missed everything we shot at, and the dog had long since departed for parts unknown. Below us was a vast expanse of bog that we had to cross to reach a birdy-looking stand of popple. There wasn't a New England-y stone fence or apple orchard in sight.

     We started down the slope, calling for the dog. I thought of the words of another New England icon, Robert Frost. Other lines are more famous, but I remember these:

     "And miles to go before I sleep.
      And miles to go before I sleep."

     I did sleep later-- a nap before the campfire-- and I dreamt of grouse. They were as big as turkeys, and they were laughing at me.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

BB Guns, a Mortgage and the Flow of Mystical Energy

     After years of living in apartments, my wife Lori and I just bought our first home, a bungalow just a couple of blocks from Lake Monona on Madison's east side. It's a nice little house, and we like it a lot. But while owning a home to me chiefly means that at long last I have a place to bury fish guts, it means much more to Lori. She's been painting like a fiend, using colors with names like "Seafoam" and-- I'm not kidding-- "Frosty Melon." With names like that, it's obvious that paint companies are catering to women. If they catered to sportsmen, my den would be "August Algae Bloom," and not "Pear Cactus."

     Lori also bought new furniture, which she's been arranging according to the principles of feng shui. Since most outdoorsmen come from the "Case of Beer Doubles as an End Table" school of decorating thought, I'll explain: Like 99 percent of manufactured goods, feng shui is from China, and supposedly it alters the home environment by improving the flow of Ch'i, or universal energy. After trying dozens of furniture combinations, Lori discovered that the chief obstacle to the harmonious flow of energy in our home was, in fact, me. That's alright. I like it down here behind the water softener, with the litter boxes for our four cats and the scaps of wood left by the previous owner. My goose decoys are here, too, and while Lori's upstairs thinking color combinations I'm thinking of punching some Horicon Zone tags with my friend Bruce this fall.

     I am allowed out of the basement on an every-other-Tuesday basis, and this was my week. I was lying in bed, wide awake, and I could tell that Lori was awake, too.

     "You know, I've been thinking," she said. "I'd really like a winding cobblestone path."

     Ironically enough, I had been thinking the exact same thing, though where the path would wind to I have no idea, since the toad which lives in our backyard can traverse the entire length of it in about 3.5 seconds.

     Actually, I had not been thinking of a winding cobblestone path. I had been thinking of something far, far better, and no, it did not involve Keira Knightley, a hot day, and two hundred pounds of gelatin. I had been thinking of building an airgun range in the basement. Not only would it give me something to do during those bleak days between gun deer season and turkey hunting, but it would make our cats' trips to the litter box far more interesting. A home airgun range would also do something else: bring back a piece of my childhood.

     Remember how much fun BB guns were? Do you remember the thrill of seeing a long box under the tree at Christmas, and the pleasant heft of a tube of BB's?

     My brother Craig and I had twin Daisy air rifles when we were growing up in Menasha, and we spent hours in the basement with those guns, shooting at targets and pop cans and plastic soldiers suspended from a string. We were jealous of a neighbor who had a barrel-cocking European pellet gun which achieved velocities over 1,000 feet per second, but when it came to any kind of competition my brother and I always won. Since we spent countless hours behind the sights of our guns, we were far better shots.

     Mostly, our BB guns were directed at inanimate objects. I hesitate to say this, but I say "mostly" because I did once plug my brother from hiding as he walked home from school. That we are close siblings now is something to wonder at, and I suspect that at some future Thanksgiving between the corn bread and the pumpokin pie he'll drill me with his Daisy and yell, "Twenty years! For twenty years I've been waiting to do that!" That's alright. He already got me back. In high school I had no luck with girls, to the point where I was considering buying a mail-order bride just so I could get a date. My buddies and I would be at my parents' kitchen table, trying to remember which card was trump, and Craig would waltz in with a dozen of the most beautiful girls to be found in the Fox Valley. Maybe it was his prowess with a BB gun.

     Sometimes Craig and I trained our sights on my father's nemesis: starlings. Dad had a birdhouse which he had built erected on a pole in the backyard. It was intended for purple martins, but its chief tenants were starlings and English sparrows. We'd be at the dinner table, with Craig and I trying to sneak scraps to our collie Bonnie, and Dad would hiss "Starling!" One of us would slowly nose a barrel through the kitchen window, tighten a trigger finger, exhale and...


     Of course I long ago graduated from cans and starlings to deer and geese and turkeys. My wife Lori was kind enough to let me buy a gun cabinet for my new den-- I guess it didn't interfere with the Ch'i too much-- and there are a couple of empty slots. One of them might just have to be occupied by a BB gun-- maybe even a Daisy like I had when I was a kid. Then, one day when winter is getting to me, I'll slip into the basement with a tube of BB's and while away the hours plinking at targets.

     A man has to get away from Frosty Melon somehow.