February 2nd, 2009

Shooting Rats
By James Castwell

So you thought this was going to be about shooting rats, did you? Well, it is, but I will take my time getting to it. If you have a problem with folks shooting rats than probably you should turn out, 'cause I am actually going to write about it. And yes, it does have something to do with fly fishing. Really. Kind of.

I abide by the theory that some of the things a young fellow starts out doing in life sort of forms a mold and probably influences things he does in his future. I can see quite a few in my background like that. For instance. Fishing. I can remember two distinct times but I am not sure which one came first, but I think fishing for pan fish with some grubs we dug out of a horse manure pile for bait might have been. We were in a row boat, poles over the side, I had a bobber with my grub a couple of feet under it. I thought I saw it wiggle so I pulled it in. My uncle gave me heck for doing it because he said there had not been a fish on it. I remember I got 'unhappy' at that point and when the dang bobber went plumb out of sight I still didn't pull it in. Caught heck for that too. Should have been paying better attention.

So, that first time with horse manure, white grubs panfish and bobbers did not go really well. The next time I do remember was for multi-colored brookies in a babbling tiny creek with a stick and a hook that my grandmother found somewhere. Used a bit of bread dough on it. Caught the fish first time too. Hooked from then on. Castwell may have been born on that day.

Oh yes, so now you are supposed to dig around in your past and notice things that may have had some impact on how you do things today. I am sure you have many, I think we all do. Perhaps family habits and traditions came into play, a number of uncles, brothers, even sisters could have helped shape the mold from which you emerged. But, remember, shoot rats.

Have you ever ice fished? We did, my dad and I, we must have gone every winter out on Saginaw Bay, chomped an exciting hole through the ice and jigged for Yellow Perch. Got to be about the best eating fish in the world. Nasty to 'scale,' but we did a lot of it. Like many, we totted a bucket with us and turned it over and sat on it on the ice. Started off with a tiny pearl spoon. Jiggled it until we got a fish and then using the spoon for a handle and the hook part for a gouge, deftly slipped it under the eye of the first fish and used the eye for bait on the spoon.

Actually, it did not occur to me that the perch were in any great difficulty just laying there freezing and suffocating on the ice. Natural events. We fished. We caught fish. We ate them. Lots of them. Actually, we fished for perch year round I guess; from the ice, a row boat, off the gunnels of our duck-boat, a lake up north, in 'dredge-cuts' that led to Saginaw Bay. But, there was only one winter, fall actually, late fall that we shot rats. Not the collective 'we' but, dad and I would go, he drove of course, I was only ten or so, to the dump.

Did you know, sure you remember, stuff at the dump in the 'olden days' was on fire. Always. That was the way things were done. Pile it up and burn it. Well, it settles down and the edges cool some and at night, evening actually, rats poke about in it and on it looking for dinner de jour. Dad had given me a bb gun. A Benjamin, one of the ones you can pump up for more and more power. We had a target range set up in the basement and would spend hours down there boinking those old lead bb's around. Mostly they stayed in the target back, but the odd one would get loose and we never did find all of them. Forever kept popping out from places all the rest of the years we lived there. Anyway, the range was just past the little alcove that was under the basement stairway, where our lady Chesapeake dog had her pups. That was an event. Wow. Anyhow, I would rest my forearm on a water pipe that went up the side of the water heater and I could shoot quite a distance to the other end. Got pretty good of course. Show me any kid with his own bb gun and I will show you a crack shot. So we went to the dump and shot rats.

Can you tell me for sure what happens when you shoot a rat with a bb gun? You could if you had/have ever shot one. For those of you who have never shot a rat, want to guess? Do they just plop over? Blow up? (not with a bb gun silly!) Just croak? Give up?

They jump. Straight up, they jump. Like a spring went off under them. You may not have ever thought about it, but a rat can really jump well. Great powerful hind legs, tough critters, streamlined, lots going for them in the jumping department. But anyway, that is what they do. They jump up. They still do. I know they do. I still shoot them.

I was thinking a few days ago that it has been almost seventy years ago that I started shooting rats. And how a very short distance I seem to have come. It's this way, you see. I have a large cedar tree in my back yard with a hanging bird feeder in it, exactly forty-six feet from the sliding glass livingroom door. I keep the feeder filled with sunflower seeds and the birds and squirrels know it. So do the rats.

I no longer have the bb gun though. This one I only have to pump once, it is a 177 cal. and is very accurate. Oh yes, the feeder has a large set of bamboo wind-chimes hanging from it and when ever something takes a seed I can hear them. Even in the evening I can. And, if I rise from my easy chair, make my way to the glass door and gently open it a few inches, rest my 'old reliable' on the top of my 'already set in position camera tripod' and holding the high powered flashlight with my left hand…

Well, you understand. Some things are just ingrained. Things not under my control actually. Probably has something to do with my childhood, who knows. Inherited maybe. Did I ever tell you about how my dad used to shoot crows? Back about 1910, southern Michigan, on the farm, he would line up kernels of corn on a long board and then… ~ James Castwell

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Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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