By Don Mallicoat- How many kids will get their first gun this year as a Christmas present? That’s why we relate to little Ralphie and his Daisy Red Rider in A Christmas Story. I was Ralphie as I approached Christmas of my 10th year. All I wanted for Christmas was a gun. We had already been the BB gun route. I wanted a REAL gun. And Santa came through for me with a J.C. Higgins .410 single barrel shotgun. I guess it was a coincidence that my Dad worked at Sears & Roebuck at the time.
The first thing Dad said was, “You are not going to shoot the gun until you memorize and can recite back the 10 rules of gun safety in the box.” A task accomplished within a couple of hours. So we went out to the woods on the edge of town that afternoon with the box of Sears .410 3” #6 shot and I shot a few empty cans. While other kids were riding bikes I was shooting a real gun! Poor other kids. I also got a pair of hunting boots and pants to get me ready for my first safari. And it wouldn’t be long in coming.
It just so happened that my great-uncle Jim was home on leave from the Air Force. He was a hunter. So on December 26th he and I departed for another great-uncle’s farm about 20 miles away. We were going to spend the night and go rabbit and squirrel hunting the next day. Uncle Jim was a big man with a booming voice that woke me up on the 27th with, “Hey boy. Wake up and look out the window.” To my amazement there was close to a foot of freshly fallen snow on the ground! Unusual for north Alabama (and also dating myself since there was no weather radar to warn us).
Aunt Ruth fixed us a hearty breakfast and off we went, Uncle Jim in the lead and me trying to keep up with my 10 year old short legs. There was nothing else to do but hunt! Road were covered in snow and power was out. Uncle Jim carried his Winchester Model 42 (which I now have) and me with my J.C. Higgins walking the fence lines and oak bottoms.
For two days we would go out in the morning to hunt, come in for lunch and dry our clothes by the gas heater, then repeat in the afternoon. I don’t remember what or how much I killed. I seem to remember bagging a couple of squirrels along with Uncle Jim popping several squirrel and rabbits. I also remember Aunt Ruth cooking squirrel dumplings and fried rabbit those evenings. I shot at blackbirds, blue jays, and anything that moved; never hitting any of them. But I was out hunting!
After a couple of days the roads cleared and we returned home. Thus began my immersion into the hunting life. People smarter than me say there are certain events in your life that imprint your personality. I know I’ve had others throughout life that influenced my behavior. Those two snowing days with Uncle Jim in Ohatchee. Alabama stirred something in my DNA that said, “You are a hunter. Embrace it.” And I’ve never looked back.
Uncle Jim was my hunting mentor in my early years. We hunted squirrel, rabbit, dove and quail together. There was a succession of other guns after the little .410. A single barrel twelve I reconditioned. A Ted Williams 20 gauge pump followed by a Stevens 20 gauge side x side. There have been numerous guns over the last 50 odd years. The tools have changed but the hunter hasn’t. That little J.C. Higgins shotgun is long gone but what it did for me starts something stirring in late August and continues through the winter. The urge, more the need, to hunt.
So a Christmas gun is not just a Rite of Passage. It is much more. The first gun, the first hunt, the first game harvested causes something to boil up from our ancestral soul that starts us on a life long journey. Famous archer Fred Bear once said, “Immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person.” Thus the soul of a hunter is born with the Christmas gun.