Pixel Tracker

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.

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.