Offhand Shots: Shooting Magic

When a hunter acts irresponsibly, Mr. Arterburn shuts down hunting

offhand shots
Offhand ShotsJoel Kimmel

A big four-door car pulled into the sandy driveway that circled past our farmhouse and stopped in front of our corrugated-tin shop. Except for a bumpy two-track that ran just west of our barnyard and dwindled to graded sand before intersecting the next north-south gravel road near the Colorado line, you could say we lived at the end of the road.

Company, especially in unfamiliar cars, was rare at our Nebraska farm.

Big, boat-like cars like this Ford weren’t so unusual back then. Pickups were not widely used off the farm, and the proliferation of four-door extended-cab pickups capable of hauling four hunters was still a generation away.

I could see four people in the car, which had Colorado license plates, not unusual because of our proximity to the border. The two guys in front got out. They were dressed in city-slicker hunting clothes: brown pants, new boots, padded-shoulder shirts. The driver wore a tan vest with shotshell loops loaded with fat red shotgun shells. The other guy sported a red Fudd hat (as we kids termed it later), flaps tied up.

Dad, watching from the door of the shop where he had been welding equipment worn from the recent corn harvest, wiped his hands on a rag and tossed it on the workbench.

As he walked to meet the strangers, he pulled his billfold from the back pocket of his jeans and picked through it until he found a newspaper clipping. He had paid for a classified ad in the Imperial Republican that stated simply, “Attention: No hunting will be permitted on Arterburn Farms property. Roley E. Arterburn.”

“Someone shot my horse,” Dad told these hunters, as he handed the clipping to the driver. The hunters read the clipping, handed it back to Dad, got back in the car, and drove away.

Before someone shot Magic, Dad would usually let people hunt. In his younger days, he hunted as well. But he worked at farming pretty much dawn to after dark, seven days a week. His shotgun, a 12-gauge Ithaca Model 37, and a .270 pump-action with open sights, he had set aside.

Now and then repeat hunters would drop off gifts for my dad—a box of apples or a bottle of Old Crow—as a way of saying thanks for allowing them to hunt our place. But someone—presumably a hunter—had shot Magic in the right hindquarter, creating a wound the size of a cereal bowl. A call brought Doc Schroeder from town to treat him with purple antiseptic. If we ever figured out details of the shooting, or even if the wound was caused by a rifle or a shotgun round, I don’t recall.

Magic was Dad’s horse, a big sorrel quarter horse at 16 hands tall, with a white blaze on his face. We had other horses. I remember Blaze (who also had a blaze on his face) and Sparky, a gentle Shetland pony that the kids rode. To us kids, Magic seemed big and, when you consider 16 hands, he was.

How could someone shoot a horse? Dad fumed when he discovered the injury. It wasn’t like someone mistook Magic for a deer or a rooster. He was in the corral just north of the barn.

And that was it for anyone hunting our farm that year. The lone exception was Elmer Hessman, our hired man, who sometimes walked the cedar row west of the barn for pheasants.

Eventually, Dad cooled off and hunting on our farm returned to normal. Magic recovered, but the scar was a stark reminder of the responsibility that comes with pulling the trigger, and of the fact that sometimes all hunters are tainted by the action of just one rogue. It’s stayed with me all these years later, the incomprehension that someone could shoot Magic.