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Sunday, February 17 , 2019, 2:13 am | Fair 48º

 
 
 
 

Captain’s Log: Growing Up a Hired Gun

Lessons about wildlife are often learned best from the critters themselves

I began my career as a hired gun at 9 years old. It was my first job and dang near my last.

Capt. David Bacon
Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

My dad survived the Aleutian Islands and the Normandy campaigns of World War II. He was a top sergeant in the infantry and later served as a drill instructor in the reserves. Before the war, he grew up as a young mountain man in the mountains of Washington.

So with a dad like that, by the time I was 9 years old, I was proficient at rifle drills, taking down, cleaning and reassembling a weapon, and, of course, I was a dead-eye marksman with thousands of practice rounds. Dad taught me much about hunting for food, but there are lessons about critters you just have to learn from the critters themselves — sometimes the hard way.

For example: The little old lady next door had a huge and productive apricot tree. Ms. Selma harvested those apricots carefully, canned them and made tasty jams. She sold much of her stock throughout the year, and the extra income was important to her.

Birds ruined a great percentage of her apricots on the tree, until she hired me and my BB gun to keep her tree free of birds. Yep, I was a hired gun. She paid me in apricots. I ate far fewer than the birds, so she felt she was getting a good deal.

One day, in a flurry of activity, I knocked a feeding mockingbird out of her tree with a well-placed shot. The BB gun didn’t kill it, but it sure made it mad. In a flash, its angry mate flew straight at my face, followed quickly by the angry and bruised bird. Like the classic scene in an Alamo movie, I stood there on top of a tall shed, swinging the butt of my gun at the oncoming and seemingly overwhelming enemy that almost forced me off the edge of that roof to fall to a concrete walkway far below.

I learned much that day and developed a newfound and lifelong respect for wildlife — especially tough little critters. I switched tactics to finding ways to string netting over Ms. Selma’s fruit tree to keep the birds out rather than shooting them. I learned and grew by such lessons taught by critters.

Some lessons I learned by watching critters fight each other for what was worth fighting for, such as children, food and home. Critters are not much different than us in that regard.

Here’s one such memory. A cat raced frantically across a larger open field, dodging like a jack rabbit and screaming in pain as a pair of mockingbirds flew a precise figure eight over the cat’s head, pecking savagely at every dip in the flight pattern. Both birds were just a fraction of the weight and power of the cat, yet their speed and maneuverability gave them the advantage. This was precision flying at its finest and deadliest.

The cat was threatening the nest of those birds, and they did what instincts taught them for the survival of the species. They fought valiantly against a much more powerful predator and drove back the attack. They chased the intruder all the way back home, showing no mercy along the way. I can imagine their satisfied feeling upon returning home to the nest, safe and sound. The cat, on the other hand, suffered a sore head. I’ll bet it was a good long while before the cat tried to raid an occupied nest of mockingbirds.

Critters make great teachers.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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