Lighter Side

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November 26th, 2001

The Best Wingshot in the United States
Ed Zern

By Ed Zern

Back in Frank King's market-hunting days, he was somehow appointed one of the assessors for the township - probably because he knew every inch of it thoroughly, and if his respect for property lines was not highly developed, his knowledge of them was unsurpassed.

It happened that a portion of an immense private shooting preserve, owned by a wealthy New York sportsman named Milford, lay within the township boundaries, and also that a great many of the deer and grouse Frank shipped to market came from within its closely patrolled confines.

In pursuance of his official duties, Frank learned that Milford was present at the main lodge one day, and so he put on his best bib and tucker, carefully picking off any stray partridge feathers that adhered thereto, and drove over to discuss the property's assessment with the owner.

The owner explained to Frank that he kept the place merely as a shooting preserve, primarily for the large numbers of grouse it harbored, and politely inquired whether Frank ever did any bird-shooting. Frank looked at the city man suspiciously, but when it seemed clear the question was asked out of prime innocence, Frank allowed that he somethings fooled around with a scattergun, and knew a grouse from a groundhog.

The owner then went on to remark that he considered himself the best wingshot in the United States. Frank picked up his ears, and allowed that the United States was a pretty big country. "I know it's a big country," said the owner. "But I've shot birds from one end of it to the other, and always with the best wingshots in the country. I've yet to meet a man I couldn't outshoot. And the same holds true for England and Scotland.

"Of course," he explained, "I ought to be the best wingshot in the country. I've never done much of anything else since I was a youngster, except fish for salmon. Got my first English shotgun as a gift on my twelfth birthday, and been shooting upland and lowland every since."

"Well now," said Frank, "mebbe you are the best wingshot in the United States. Like you say, you ought to be. But if you're the best, I figure I'm a real close second-best!"

"Really?" said the owner. "Well, Mr. King, I'll tell you what. I'll wager one hundred dollars that we can shoot grouse over the same dog for one day, and I'll grass two birds to your one. How does that strike you?"

"It strikes me fine," Frank said. "When would you like to settle this here wager?"

"How does Saturday suit you?" Milford said. "I've a fine grouse dog up with me that needs a work-out, and we'll make a day of it."

Thus the next Saturday morning found Frank and Milford setting out from the lodge with a good English setter, and it was a matter of minutes before the dog came to point on birds.

"How do you want to work this, Mr. Milford?" Frank asked. "If we're shooting alternate points, you take the first one."

"None of that, Mr. King!" chuckled the owner. "I'm not going to do you any favors, and I don't want you to do any for me. When those birds flush, you shoot as many as you can, and I'll do the same. This is every man for himself!"

"Suits me," Frank said. (Afterwards Frank said, "That's where that feller make his mistake. For ten years back I hadn't never let a ruff fly more than eight-ten feet, and mostly I hit em less than five.")

When three grouse flushed, Frank doubled on the two that came up on Milford's side while Milford was still bringing his gun up - and by eleven o'clock, Frank had killed twenty-seven birds to Milford's three.

"It looks like you've won yourself a hundred dollars, Mr. King," Milford said. "Let's go back and have lunch. And may I say that this has been one of the most disconcerting days of my life, and that you, sir, are beyond the slightest shadow of doubt the greatest wingshot in the world!"

"You'd better not tell that to nobody around these parts" said Frank. "Some of these Sullivan County boys can really shoot."

After lunch, Frank took the hundred dollars, thanked his host for a pleasant morning's shoot, and drove home. That afternoon the head gamekeeper of the preserve appeared at the lodge in a black fury, and announced his resignation.

"What's the matter?" Milford asked his usually mild-mannered minion.

The Best of Ed Zern

"Matter!" screamed the enraged bailiff. "Yesterday I hired two extra watchmen to keep Frank King off this place - and today you invite him in!"

Once a year thereafter until his death, Milford (which isn't his name of course) invited Frank to the lodge for a day of companionable (and non-competitive) shooting. "It's the only way I can give the watchman a day off," he explained one time to Frank, and they both chuckled. ~ Ed Zern

Credits: From The Best of Ed Zern published by The Lyons Press.

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