Pushing heads………. An essay by William Marshall

It was shiny and new. To this day I still think that the little Savage/Stevens 20 gauge single shot shotgun was the best Christmas present ever. There is a picture somewhere of me holding that gun in our living room by the Christmas tree. I had the biggest smile on my face. Holding that wonderful gun, in nothing but my little tighty whiteys with my Grandmother looking on. Its obvious that I was too young to be considered a man, holding that little shotgun in my underwear in front of my grandma, but having a gun made me sure feel like one.

Owning a gun is a privilege when you are a kid. You have a prove that you can handle it. You must show that you are mature. I saved up $11.55 to buy my own BB gun several years before at the Woolco store, mom had to pay the tax, I didn’t account for that. I had become a sniper with it. But now, Santa had brought me a real gun.

As a kid, my favorite time was when we would go hunting with my uncles. My uncle Donnell and my dad owned a pack of dogs that they used to turn out and the dogs would sniff around in the woods until they found a deer. Then they would bark and chase the deer around. You would get in ambush position to try the catch the deer running away. It was quite exciting as a kid. Dogs barking. Quiet scary woods. Deer trying to sneak out. Sometimes slipping ever so quietly, sometimes they would rocket through so fast you thought they would stampede you.

Sometimes we would not have the dogs. Sometimes just a few of us would do a thing we called pushing heads. We would surround some piece of woods. Usually along an old dirt road or logging trail. Then one or two of us would walk through the woods making noise. Barking like a dog, some guys would carry a cowbell and ring it really loudly. We were trying to scare the deer and make them get up and run or slip away. The idea was to get them moving. The noise we made was also so that we knew where the hunters were. We all wore hunter orange vests and hats but the audio also kept us safer. We never wanted to accidentally shoot someone.

My uncle Russell sat me down on a logging road and told me where to watch. He was a young vibrant man. He was married to my mom’s sister. He always had a cigarette around somewhere. He always had a joke, and he was always stirring pots. He loved to make drama roll around in the pot. That’s his wonderful gift. That, and his laugh. He has such a great laugh.

The deer jumped across the road so quick, I think I heard it coming but I wasn’t that quick on the draw. Dang, there’s another one. Boom. I pulled the trigger. Leaves fell out of the trees. I didn’t even aim really…. At least I sure don’t remember. I’m not even sure my eyes were open when I pulled the dang trigger.

My dad was the one pushing the head this time. He was walking over to us. Uncle Russell had come and gathered me up. My adrenaline was a mile high. I had just shot at my first deer ever. As a Soldier, I now understand that adrenaline that you get from Army stuff and paratrooper things. I think this was probably the highest I had ever been.

I knew it was coming. I had missed. If you miss a deer in these parts, common lore is that your buddy is going to cut out a piece of your shirt tail and you would have to be ashamed of missing the deer and loosing your shirt tail. My uncle Russell made a big deal about it. I was ceremonially brought into the club. I was still a mile high.

A few minutes later, we gathered back up and went to push another head. I sat down just like before. Everyone was getting in position. The pusher hadn’t even barked yet. There was doe slipping through the woods right in front of me. She was just walking. About 25 yards. I cocked that little gun. I aimed just like I knew how to do. She was walking a little faster now. Boom! The little firecracker roared. The first thing I saw was bark flying like crazy. It actually almost hit me. Everyone of my 20 gauge buckshot was very conspicuously lodged inside a small pine tree, very close to me, nowhere near the deer. I missed again.

Everyone gathered around. By the time they all got there. I had shown everyone the pine tree. We didn’t even really look for the deer if I remember. I was a confirmed tree sniper. My uncle Russell came over. The ceremony wasn’t quite as big this time. I remember seeing the knife that he used. This time he said we had to cut the front of the shirt tail. I was with the program I guess. I hadn’t heard of it. But ok.

As he is right there with that big knife, cutting the front of my shirt. He is really close to me. This was a ceremony just between he and I at this point. He says, “boy, you missed twice. Shirttails all gone. You know what happens next right?” I looked at that big knife, the seriousness of rituals. My head was spinning. I didn’t know what to say. He made this clucking popping noise with his mouth, he popped his thumb out of his fist like he was ejecting it. He said, “next time, its off with your BoBo.”

I didn’t shoot again that day!

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