Sunday, February 20, 2011

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out

For those of you who may not know it “You'll shoot your eye out” is a quote from the movie “A Christmas Story”. It is a general warning to young boys that even a BB gun can be dangerous. Speaking for my own childhood I can attest to the truth behind it. As a child I often forgot that a BB gun wasn't just another toy. We certainly did things we shouldn't have and it was the grace of God that we didn't shoot our eyes out.

We spent a good deal of time outside and we spent many hours shooting at inanimate objects. As a general rule we weren't allowed to shoot anything living and if we did we had to eat it. It was a simple rule and kept me from ever wanting to shoot rats or mice or any other generally unwanted little rodent. All of us were fairly good shots. One Christmas we went around shooting mistletoe out of the oak trees in the neighborhood. It wasn't easy because you had to cut the stem with a BB. However, our aim was accurate enough that we ended the day with a garbage bag of mistletoe.

One fine spring day Danny Flint and I were out playing in the back yard with a couple of BB pistols. They looked very cool, but they weren't worth much as guns. Their aim was terrible and they had absolutely no power. He and I were out shooting at this and that when a little bird landed in the top of a nearby tree. We decided that it would be fun to scare it away and started shooting near it. I felt certain that even if we hit the bird it wouldn't do any damage at that range.

I never found out whether or not those pistols had enough punch to kill a bird. While we were standing there shooting again and again Josh walked up behind us with his BB rifle. He took one look and said “You guys trying to shoot that bird?” We both said “No!” in unison, but it was too late. In a flash he had raised his rifle, pulled the trigger and killed the bird.

An argument ensued because Danny and I really didn't want to hit the bird. However, Josh pointed out that if we hadn't meant to hurt it we shouldn't have been shooting at it. He made a very good point, so we got quiet. Having killed the bird there was only one thing we could do. Yes, we cleaned it, cooked it and ate it. To be honest, it was very good. There wasn't much meat on the little guy, but it had a good flavor and was very tender. Considering the fact that we had only roasted it over a little camp fire and didn't even have any salt it was truly excellent.

Still, in truth Williston was and is a bird sanctuary. We shouldn't have killed the little thing and I knew it. I made sure we all knew it after that. For many years none of our BBs ended the life of any little animal. However, one time Josh forgot his own rule. We were walking down the road and he saw a dove land on a telephone pole perhaps two hundred feet away. Josh was carrying his BB rifle. He decided to shoot at the bird even though he knew he was too far away to hit it, much less kill it.

He aimed carefully, pulled the trigger and the dove dropped off the top of the telephone pole like a stone. We all expressed our own version of “No way!” as we ran over to take a look at it. Josh picked it up and looked it all over. There wasn't a mark on it.

“Maybe my shot got so close that it fainted and then the fall killed it...” He said turning the dead bird over and looking for any obvious wound.

“What!?!?” I replied with a half-laugh.

“Well, look at it!” He said and handed the bird to me.

There wasn't a scratch on it. No open wound, no blood, nothing to indicate that it was injured at all.

“Maybe it had a heart attack at the same moment you pulled the trigger.” Sam suggested.

“What are the odds of that?” I asked.

“Well, look, the bird is dead and there's no bullet hole. Something weird happened!”

I had to agree with that, but I couldn't believe the bird just happened to up and die just as Josh shot at it. We continued to search the bird all over. Finally Sam found a small hole and a little blood right inside the bird's arm pit. (Not that bird's have an arm pit, but if I wrote “wing pit” no one would know what I was talking about.) What had apparently happened was that third bird had lifted it's wings just as Josh fired. The BB happened to hit in such a weak point on the bird's body that it went strait into it's heart and killed the bird almost instantly.

We were all amazed. The odds were astronomical. However, that is exactly why you shouldn't play with guns. My Grandmother used to say “Never point a gun at someone you don't intend to kill.” and she was right. Josh had forgotten the cardinal rule and the dove paid the price. (Cardinal... Dove... sorry, I couldn't help it.) That was the last bird we ever killed by accident. After that we didn't point a gun at one unless we were hunting. However, it wasn't the last time we did something we shouldn't have with a BB gun.

A couple of years before Josh accidentally killed that dove I learned a valuable lesson of my own. I had borrowed a pump BB gun from Jim Melvin and Josh and I had gone out and done a little shooting. On the way back I picked a handful of small seeds from a little bush growing on the side of the road. They were just small enough to fit down into the barrel. This gave me, what I thought was, a very clever idea.

I decided to cram several of the seeds into the barrel at a time and pump the gun up a good bit in order to make a seed shotgun. In case you don't know, a pump BB gun is more powerful than a regular BB gun. It has several pressure levels and the more you pump it the more power it has, up to it's maximum pressure. So, I crammed a few seeds in the barrel, gave it a few pumps and fired. The seeds shot out just like I had hoped. It was fantastic.

Having done a successful test I thought it would be funny to shoot Josh. I figured the seeds we fairly soft, at least compared to a BB. It seemed to me since there was more than one it would also make them fly slower and therefor not hit as hard. It felt safe enough to me, so I crammed about ten seeds in the barrel and pumped up the gun. I thought it best to give it ten pumps, which was the maximum, just to make sure it hit him hard enough for him to feel it.

Josh had been playing around near me the entire time, but hadn't really noticed what I was up to. We were out by the close line and Josh had been jumping up and hanging from one of the cross bars. I waited for him to do it again and as soon as he did I shot him in the lower legs. He was wearing a pair of high socks and I felt that if there was any chance of it hurting him the socks would stop it. I was wrong...

He let out a scream, dropped from the bar and ran in place for a moment. As soon as he could move in a single direction he flew into the house. There he began to explain to Mom, between fits of screaming, that I had just shot him. He pulled down his socks to reveal a number of large whelps. I felt terrible and apologized immediately. Josh accepted like a gentleman, as soon as he could speak properly, and then asked me something along the lines of “What in the world is wrong with you?!?!?” to which I had no answer.

That moment cemented the fact that BB guns are not toys, but rather small guns, in my mind. Seeing what those seeds had done to Josh showed me just how dangerous a simple BB gun could be. One would also naturally expect that Josh would have learned the same lesson, him being the victim of my mistake. However, the next story clearly shows the such was not the case.

Joshua, Brandyn, and Jeremiah Berson decided that it would be great fun to have BB gun wars when they were teenagers. They would go out into the woods and shoot each other until one of them gave up. None of them bothered to wear face masks of any protective equipment other than heavy clothing. I suppose that they felt not trying to shoot each other in the face was safety enough.

One hot summer day the three of them headed out for a fight. Each of them had a different kind of weapon. Jeremiah had some kind of semi-automatic rifle. Brandyn had actually gotten a CO2 powered BB machine gun that would fire a hundred BBs a minute or so. Josh had a single shot pump BB/pellet rifle. They decided the only way to be even slightly fair was to break up and go their own way for a few minutes and then start hunting each other.

Each of them picked a direction and started walking. Josh knew that he wasn't going to get many shots, so he found a place to hide and waited for them to hunt him. After just a few minutes he heard a fire fight between Brandyn and Jeremiah break out. In a mater of seconds he heard Jeremiah screaming and running through the woods. The BB machine gun was winning.

As Brandyn made his way through the woods he was calling out to Josh as he randomly shot one group of bushes after another. Josh didn't move, he just waited on Brandyn to get closer. He had decided that, as he only had one shot, it had better be something special. So, he loaded it with a pellet pointing backwards. A pellet is kind of shaped like a shuttle cock used in badminton. So loading it backwards pointed a small lead cup right at your target. He also gave the gun a full ten pumps, just to make sure it hit good and hard.

Brandyn ended up walking strait for where Joshua was hiding. He fired his BB machine gun right into the clump of bushes that my brother was using for cover, but managed both to miss Josh and still not see him. As Brandyn got closer and closer Josh lay there silently waiting for the moment to strike.

Here I have to take a moment and explain one of the differences between my brother and Brandyn. As I mentioned earlier it was a very hot summer day when they decided to do this. Each of them had put on a different level of protective clothing. Josh had the sense to pack himself in so much cloth that even if he got hit, it wouldn't be very damaging. He had gotten into a place to hide and laid in the heat without so much as moving a muscle. Brandyn had started very lightly dressed and once he had gotten good and hot he even took his shirt off. So, by the time he pushed into the bushes where Josh was hiding he was completely bare chested.

So, when Josh fired directly into Brandyn's chest there was nothing at all to protect him. The pellet stuck right in his breast bone. The result was that Brandyn threw down his gun screaming and began to work on getting the pellet out of his chest. Josh jumped up and helped him and in no time the pellet was removed and only a little bleeding circle was left behind. After that the game was over and Josh was declared the winner.

I would like to say that it ended there and that they never did it again, but that would be untrue. I don't know when they got old enough to decide that getting to shoot your friends wasn't worth the pain of being shot, but they did eventually outgrow it. As you can see it truly was the grace of God that we all kept our eyes intact. Before I give any of my children a BB gun I am going to have to give them a firm lecture on how you can, in fact, shoot your eye out.

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