The .410-gauge Christmas

Like any sane person, I am opposed to all gun violence around us these days. I also don’t understand the ranting and raving from the folks who appear about as afraid of the Second Amendment as they fear the crazies who are shooting people almost every night in Charlotte, NC.

I have been thinking a bit about how I learned about guns.

In the 50s and 60s, we grew up a bit differently in Smalltown, America. Most of us went to Church on Sunday morning. A goodly number of us went twice on Sunday, and few even went to Prayer Meeting on Wednesday, too. 

In Wilmer, Alabama we also grew up learning about the purpose of a gun—to shoot squirrels and rabbits to put in the freezer. A few folks hunted deer, but not my family. Deer were hard on our rabbit dogs. 


Honeybee was just about the best rabbit dog we ever had. A 13-inch Beagle, Honeybee was mostly white with orange splotches. One rabbit hunting trip behind Granddaddy Mac’s, Honeybee hit on a deer’s scent, and two weeks later and 20 miles away—ten miles for a crow or Beagle—Uncle Roy (Cindy, Bobby, and Buddy’s father), a rural mail carrier, found her on his route. Honeybee was never the same again. You see, deer and rabbit dogs don’t mix. Unlike a rabbit who will run away from a dog in big circles, a deer runs straight, and runs and runs and runs, and a Beagle behind him will keep running too. Farther and farther away from the trunk of the car that could take her back home.


Our introduction to guns in Smalltown, Alabama, began, of course, with a Daisey BB gun at about five or six. Some folks graduated to a pellet gun, but most of us went from BB gun to .410-gauge squirrel gun at eight or nine. 

We knew that guns were significant and not to be trivialized because we usually got them for Christmas, and that was all we got that year. I remember one Christmas that Daddy, my brother Bill, and I each got a pair LL Bean boots. I might still have those boots in some box I have been toting around from house to house all these years.

I must have gotten my first .410 when I was about seven or eight. At any rate, I had gone squirrel hunting with Daddy as many times as he could tolerate me before that special .410-gauge-Christmas. Once I mastered sitting still (and my wife can tell you that at 73, I still have a hard time with it), he would let me carry my loaded .410 into the woods with him across the no-name red dirt road and into the woods behind Granddaddy Mac’s house.

Eventually—it took a long time—we would go in the woods, and he would sit me down at the base of a big oak in a prime squirrel-shooting spot and with the admonition, “Don’t leave. I will come and pick you up before dark. If you hit a squirrel, go find him, put him in your coat pouch, and come right back to this spot and wait until I come back to get you. If you come back and get still, you might just get to shoot another one.” 


Somewhere over my first season as I remember it, I was to learn that Daddy forgot to tell me was just how ferocious a wounded squirrel could be. Front teeth like planed down 2x4s and claws as sharp as a tiger.  He also did not tell me that often a shot-squirrel would play dead only to come back to life inside your hunting jacket back pocket. 

When you are seven years old, the only thing to make you come out of your clothes quicker than yellow jackets up your britches, is a killer-squirrel racing around inside your hunting jacket.


  1. Thanks for sharing

    Growing up in Manhattan NYC we weren’t allowed guns of any kind and as the years passed the gun laws become more stringent and strict. It wasn’t until I Moved to Cornelius did I regularly shoot a gun and joined a pistol shooting gun club in Mooresville. My shooting instructor was Joe Eisner a 30 year card carrying member and instructor of the NRA.

    I too am against automatic weapons or those that only law enforcement should have.
    See u soon


  2. Nothing like squirrel gravy on grits, loved squirrel hunting squirrel hunting in Wilmer as a kid and still love it.
    Thanks for another great story and memories.


  3. Hi Mickey,
    I have always thought of you as the consummate educator, but I must make an addendum to that. You are a consummate writer. Your essays are so entertaining and humorous. If you keep this up, you will be giving author Rick Bragg a run for his money. I look forward to reading each one. Give my regards to Sandy. Love you still.


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