Thursday, September 01, 2005

The hazards of shooting left-handed

As a teenager twenty plus years ago, a friend of mine and I spent our winter weekend nights varmint hunting. Fur-bearing varmints, that is. I ran a trap line every fur season, but since neither of us were really interested in a social life, we chose to go after raccoons and ringtails on Friday and Saturday nights (and more often, during Christmas break). Neither of us could afford to buy a real coonhound, although we did own several mix-hounds during the years. None of them ever turned into very good hunters though. In fact, the best hunting dog I ever had was a half-German shepherd, half-collie named Rex.

Due to our lack of good huntings dogs (Rex excluded), we exercised our other option in finding coons at night: the spotlight.

(I know, this is getting off to a slow start, but I'm getting to the gun stuff eventually, don't worry).

Under normal circumstances, I used a headlamp. It was a light that strapped to my head with an elastic band, and was powered by a six-volt battery in a pouch on my belt. The lens had been painted with red fingernail polish to make it harder for animals to see (in theory), as well as not screwing with my human night vision too much. Unfortunately, on the night in question, my last battery had gone dead and I was forced to use a regular flashlight.

My gun of choice at this time was a Ruger 10/22 (it probably still would be, if it hadn't been stolen many years later...sigh...).

Also under normal circumstances, my 10/22 would have been loaded with regular ol' Long Rifle ammo. Unfortunately, on this night I had run out of LR's, so I loaded it up with my other favorite, CCI Stingers. The Stinger has a case that is about 1/10-inch longer than a regular LR case, which means it has slightly more surface area with which to transmit heat if it comes in contact with bare skin. It is also loaded with a larger amount of a slower-burning powder than regular LR ammo. This means it is exposed to a larger amount of burning cordite for a longer time than a regular LR. These differences might be minimal--they might not even matter. However, they eventually came to seem important to me on the night in question.

I remember it was a cold night. Cold enough that I was wearing long johns. Fortunately, they were two-piece long johns, so the shirt and pants were seperate from each other. This also came to be important to me on that night.

In case I didn't mention it before, I'm left-handed.

Rex had treed a coon. My hunting associate was working around the other side of the tree, trying to make enough noise to spook the coon around to my side where I could spot it and shoot it. I was in shooting position, gun at shoulder. My right hand was wrapped around both the flashlight and the forearm, gripping them both together. My right thumb was on the flashlight's button so I could switch it on as soon as I thought I saw the coon.

I saw movement up in the darkness. I switched on the light. I knew, since it was just a white light, that I would only have a split second to nail that coon before he scurried behind the trunk. His eyes reflected red, and I covered one with the front sight and fired.

I had just enough self-control at this point to more or less place the gun on the ground with my left hand, instead of just dropping it. At the same time, I was trying to rip my clothes open with my right hand. As my left hand was freed of the gun, both hands joined in. That flashlight fell to the ground, unheeded. Several choice epithets filled the still night air.

Afterward I pieced together what had happened. As I said, the flashlight was gripped up against the side of the gun. When I fired, the shell ejected and hit the flashlight, from whence it bounced backward, hit me in the throat, and fell inside my long johns. It briefly rested against my chest before dropping all the way to just beneath my belly button where my shirts were tucked in. It left me with three burn marks. The one on my stomach was the worst, where it was pressed against my skin for a full second or two before I got my clothes torn apart enough to make the shell fall out.

The one on my neck was the most obvious. Everyone thought it was a hickey (yeah, like that would have ever happened). I learned two things that night: don't block the ejection port with a flashlight, and always pack an extra six-volt battery.

Okay, three things. If you hit a raccoon in the head with a Stinger, he is dead before he even falls off the limb.

By the way, that 10/22 was my first gun. Although my dad signed the papers for it, I paid for it with money that I had made from trapping. Boy, sometimes I really miss that gun.

Submitted to Carnival of Cordite.

No comments:

Post a Comment