All I Shot Was My Reputation

Dropping a gun into a tree? It could happen to anyone.

Let me start by saying I am not a novice hunter. I’ve been hunting for 25 years. I was taught to handle a gun safely by my uncle and the hunter education program of the State of New York. I paid close attention to those lessons. I always kept the safety on.

I never pointed my gun toward anyone-ever. Around others I was always as safe as I could be. My friends and I snickered at each other’s tales of hunter stupidity-those city folk. Well, now they laugh at me. Not only did I commit a bonehead act that autumn of ’88, but also in the process I achieved a sort of immortality in my hometown.

That year I had returned home to spend Thanksgiving with my parents and to get into the woods and as far away from civilization-a euphemism for “wife and kids”-as the trail would lead me. In the process of temporarily escaping my responsibilities, I actually intended to shoot a deer. Fat chance; I had not so much as seen a buck during any of the three previous seasons I hunted. Besides, Thanksgiving week was the second week of deer season in New York, so hunting pressure already had diminished my chances somewhat. Still, one does have to go through the motions, so at a considerable cost I purchased a nonresident license. I didn’t own a shotgun at the time but my father lent me his.

I hunted alone the first four days and time passed as anticipated. Civilization or deer didn’t bother me. I saw a number of does but nothing of the huge buck every hunter dreams about, nor even of the stupid little spike that every hunter comes to expect.

Then the fateful day arrived, the Friday after Thanksgiving. This was my last best chance. My father, a brother-in-law and a nephew were all going hunting with me. We devised a plan on where everyone would sit for the first several hours of the day. After a sparse breakfast we left the house before light and went our separate ways. The forecast called for the first really cold day in weeks. It began snowing as soon as I sat down. It wasn’t so much snow as small ice crystals, the kind that roll down your back and sting your face. Not long after the snow began the wind picked up.

At first every sound, every cracking branch, every groaning tree was a deer. As time passed my excitement waned. As the temperature dropped so did my spirits. I decided I should sacrifice my chances and do the noble thing. I would drive deer to my sitting relatives. And if in driving deer I wound up back at the house, all the better. Off I trudged and after miles of quiet walking and still-hunting through empty woods I arrived at my nephew’s stand. He was long gone. There was about an inch of snow on the ground by then but I didn’t see any tracks. By my reckoning, he had apparently left about 10 minutes after taking up position.

No patience in youth, I thought. I continued on slowly to my brother-in-law’s stand. Like his son, he was long gone, and the snow bore no sign of his passage. At least my dad would still be up on the hill somewhere, I thought. There was about two inches of snow by that time and the wind was blowing harder. Sure enough, I found my dad and after a short discussion we decided to go down to the house for coffee. I chipped him loose from the ground and we left. At the house we found the missing in-law and nephew sucking down hot chocolate.

After a quick warm-up and brief strategy session, it was decided I would be among the standers and my dad would do the driving. It took about 10 minutes of walking for me to get to the place I was supposed to stand. I looked around to find the best place to position myself and spotted a platform stand snuggled in the bare branches of an apple tree. It seemed to glimmer like a beacon shining through the darkness of this dismal, wasted day. Here I could wait in relative comfort.

**One Hungry Tree **
I circled the tree looking for a way up to the platform eight feet above. How odthat there were no steps. I surmised I would have to climb the apple tree. After all, I had been an expert tree climber since the days of my youth. There was only one problem. Once I got up in the tree, how would I get my gun? I stared at my problem for a few minutes. I mentally went over the short list of things I had with me that I could use for a rope. Maybe I could tie my socks to my long underwear. No, I decided, that wasn’t a good idea.

Looking again at the tree, I saw a convenient crotch. I knew I could set my unloaded gun in the confluence of branches, climb up easily and retrieve the firearm. Most of my plan worked. I propped the gun in place and climbed. But halfway up I felt my elbow hit the gun and knock it loose from its perch. Oh, no, I thought, I hope the gun wasn’t damaged from the fall. Funny, I didn’t hear it land. I didn’t see it either. No harm done. I would pick up my gun and stand over by another tree, head down until my dad came. I was embarrassed and glad nobody was there to see what happened. I had escaped by the narrowest of margins. Humbled, I bent down to get the gun but it wasn’t there. I knew I had heard it scraping bark as it fell. Strange. I went to the other side of the tree but it wasn’t there either. I looked up in the crotch of the tree but the gun refused to show itself. I walked around the tree three times. I looked up in it twice. Where could the gun have gone? There was only one place left for me to look.

It was then that I realized that God was sending me to His own special hunter-safety school. The tree was hollow and had devoured my father’s gun! Oh yes, this was going to be hard to explain. I could hear the snide questions: “Hey! How did your gun get inside the tree?” I wanted to think but I couldn’t. How was I going to get the gun out? I reached up to the crotch of the tree. Surely this little apple tree wasn’t deep enough to swallow the whole thing. Yes it was. Climbing up, I inspected the hole. The gun had gone into this bottomless pit.

I stuck my arm down the tree as far as I could to determine the location of the gun. I did manage to feel the end of the barrel but not enough to gain purchase of it. I decided to climb down and see if perhaps someone had left a giant magnet leaning against the tree with which I could retrieve the gun. Then I found that my elbow also was jammed in the maw of the tree and I couldn’t get it out either. It occurred to me that I might not be found until it was too late. Perhaps a pair of hunters carrying a huge buck out of the forest would find my remains:

“Hey! What’s that?”

“Looks like a hunter frozen to a tree.”

“Yeah, looks like he got stuck.”

“Maybe he shot a deer and thought it crawled inside to die.”

“Ha! Ha! Ha!”

“What a shame.”

“Wonder what city he was from.”

“Ha! Ha! Ha!”

The Task at Hand
At this point I started to panic. Fortunately my wild thrashing caused my elbow to slip free. Maybe the cold had shrunk my joints. It was snowing harder and the wind was howling. There was only one logical way left to get the gun. I would have to get a chain saw and cut the tree down. I didn’t carry a chain saw at that time and only knew one place within walking distance where I could get one. I would have to walk out and borrow one from my old school buddy who had a gas station on the edge of town. I made my way down the hill to my friend’s garage.

“Can I borrow your chain saw?” I asked.

My friend eyed me suspiciously and asked, “What for?”

“I have to cut down a tree,” I told him nonchalantly.

“I thought you were hunting,” he said, holding tightly to the saw.

I would have to tell my dark secret. I dreaded the thought because I knew once the story was out I would be washed up in my hometown. What choice did I have? I explained to my friend how the gun got in the tree and why I needed the chain saw to get it out. By the time I was through, my friend and his partner were in gales of laughter. I grabbed the saw and stalked out. I hadn’t seen anything funny about the whole situation.

I lugged the chain saw the two miles back uphill into the cold and blowing snow. When I arrived back at the tree that ate my gun, I walked around it and considered the task of cutting the tree down. I checked all the angles and determined which way it was most likely to fall. Most of the tree’s mass seemed to be on one side but it was the side leaning into the gale. I wondered in which direction it would fall. I decided to bet on the weight. I had to be sure to cut above the height of the gun. I carefully marked the spot I wanted to cut. The saw sputtered to life on about the 50th pull. Like a professional, I swiftly cut a notch in the trunk about head high. The big wedge dropped to the ground. I set the saw down and rested a bit. Lumberjacking is hard work.

Moving to the other side of the tree and putting my face to the wind, I began cutting the final stroke. It took less than a second to realize that cutting at head height would be difficult and uncomfortable. The wood chips went flying, mostly into my face, with the force of the wind behind them. Ducking, dodging, spitting and blinking, I continued the cutting operation. I stopped occasionally to see if the tree was still standing and to shake the wood chips out of my ears. Most of the time I cut with my eyes closed because of the chips. After what seemed to be an hour of cutting, the tree started to fall. I threw down the saw and ran to a safe position to watch the top of the tree hit the ground. The tree went about halfway down and stopped for no apparent reason. I figured this to be a forest ploy. The tree was waiting to lure me in close enough to fall on me. I waited it out for a while, hoping the wind would finish the job. Nothing happened, and I could see that the tree covered the hollow that had devoured my gun. I retrieved the saw, which had stopped running. It started on the 50th pull. The next 10 minutes consisted of cutting and running until the tree finally gave in to my persistence and fell. At last I got Dad’s gun back.

I sat down on a nearby rock wall and inspected it. No harm done, why should there be? Yet when I brushed the sawdust from the gun I felt an inconsistency in the otherwise smooth barrel. Upon closer inspection I noticed all my careful measurements had been off by about six inches: a sawed-off shotgun the unconventional way.

No Hard Feelings
As hunters are wont to do, I began to run up the tab. I had paid the State of New York a handsome amount for a license, used up five vacation days, driven eight hours, spent hundreds of dollars for miscellaneous expenses, ruined a gun and cuw the gun got in the tree and why I needed the chain saw to get it out. By the time I was through, my friend and his partner were in gales of laughter. I grabbed the saw and stalked out. I hadn’t seen anything funny about the whole situation.

I lugged the chain saw the two miles back uphill into the cold and blowing snow. When I arrived back at the tree that ate my gun, I walked around it and considered the task of cutting the tree down. I checked all the angles and determined which way it was most likely to fall. Most of the tree’s mass seemed to be on one side but it was the side leaning into the gale. I wondered in which direction it would fall. I decided to bet on the weight. I had to be sure to cut above the height of the gun. I carefully marked the spot I wanted to cut. The saw sputtered to life on about the 50th pull. Like a professional, I swiftly cut a notch in the trunk about head high. The big wedge dropped to the ground. I set the saw down and rested a bit. Lumberjacking is hard work.

Moving to the other side of the tree and putting my face to the wind, I began cutting the final stroke. It took less than a second to realize that cutting at head height would be difficult and uncomfortable. The wood chips went flying, mostly into my face, with the force of the wind behind them. Ducking, dodging, spitting and blinking, I continued the cutting operation. I stopped occasionally to see if the tree was still standing and to shake the wood chips out of my ears. Most of the time I cut with my eyes closed because of the chips. After what seemed to be an hour of cutting, the tree started to fall. I threw down the saw and ran to a safe position to watch the top of the tree hit the ground. The tree went about halfway down and stopped for no apparent reason. I figured this to be a forest ploy. The tree was waiting to lure me in close enough to fall on me. I waited it out for a while, hoping the wind would finish the job. Nothing happened, and I could see that the tree covered the hollow that had devoured my gun. I retrieved the saw, which had stopped running. It started on the 50th pull. The next 10 minutes consisted of cutting and running until the tree finally gave in to my persistence and fell. At last I got Dad’s gun back.

I sat down on a nearby rock wall and inspected it. No harm done, why should there be? Yet when I brushed the sawdust from the gun I felt an inconsistency in the otherwise smooth barrel. Upon closer inspection I noticed all my careful measurements had been off by about six inches: a sawed-off shotgun the unconventional way.

No Hard Feelings
As hunters are wont to do, I began to run up the tab. I had paid the State of New York a handsome amount for a license, used up five vacation days, driven eight hours, spent hundreds of dollars for miscellaneous expenses, ruined a gun and cu