Butch Goes Hunting

(Photo courtesy of Butch Dale)
Young gun-slingin’ Butch

When I was 6 years old, I accompanied my Dad one afternoon back to the woods behind our house to hunt for rabbits. He carried an old J.C Higgins 12 gauge pump shotgun, and I tagged along behind him with my Hopalong Cassidy capgun. My father served in World War II in Patton’s 3rd Army, carried an M-1 Garand 30-06 rifle, and earned an “Expert Markmanship” badge. Within a short time, Dad had bagged two rabbits. I had never seen anyone shoot an animal prior to this, and I felt sorry for those little bunnies, but Dad said that hunting put food on the table. I certainly did not want to watch what came next, so I headed inside to watch TV. After my mother cooked and laid those two rabbits out on a big plate in the middle of the kitchen table, I took one look…That did it. Eating a cute little bunny wasn’t for me. However, Dad informed me that I would eat what was on my plate…”There are people in Africa who are starving.” I managed to get it down…with the help of a lot of ketchup. That was the first…and last time I ate wild game. However, to judge my ability to fire a gun, a week later…while Dad was in the barn, I loaded up the shotgun on the back porch, walked outside…and fired off a round. Not a good idea for a 6-year-old. The next instructions I received were, “Bend over and grab your ankles.”

Three years later I was thrilled to receive my very first B-B rifle as a Christmas gift. After shooting out all of the glass balls atop the lightning rods on the barns, the kitchen window, and my little brother Gary (yes, an accident…and only a flesh wound), I decided that I would bring food back for the family by going on my own rabbit hunt…so off to the woods I marched. I shot lots of things…trees, rocks, mud puddles, spiders…you name it, but no rabbits in sight. But as I crossed the fence to head back, there it was…I spotted a rabbit running into a hollow log. I had it trapped! Unfortunately, even though I knew that rabbit was inside the log, I couldn’t see it because of the darkness. I cocked and fired my Red Ryder 15 or 20 times into the log…surely I had bagged my first game. I went to the other end to see if I could lift up the log and dump out the rabbit, when all of a sudden that wild bunny took off out the open end and ran, yep…like a scared rabbit. I had missed. And to be truthful, I was glad, and I have been that way ever since. I have never liked to kill animals, even the ones that could hurt humans, pets, or livestock. I guess I am just too soft-hearted. On the occasions that it was necessary, I always felt bad afterwards.

I am an animal lover. When Mom and Dad butchered chickens, I absolutely hated to help, but I was assigned the duty of plucking the feathers and then cleaning the gizzards. And one time I went with Dad to the slaughterhouse when he had a hog butchered. That was it. I never wanted to see that again. Today, except for shrimp, fish, and occasionally fried chicken, I eat very little meat. I could become a vegetarian without any problem.

Now here is the strange part of this story…As many of you know, I have a Federal Firearms license. I have had this license since 2006, and I buy and sell a few guns each year as a hobby…but only collectible guns that are usually 50 years old or older. Mostly I sell collectible guns on consignment for people. Of course I carried a gun when I was a police officer, and there were a few times when I thought I would have to use it, but I was a “good talker” with angry, drunk, drug-induced, and deranged people, and never had to shoot anyone…thank God. I don’t carry a gun today or feel that I need one for self-protection, although I might if I lived in a large city with a high crime rate.

I have never been a hunter, and I never will be…and I am not a “gun nut.” The only handgun I own is the Smith & Wesson .38 revolver that was awarded to me by the Indiana Sheriff’s Association in 1984 for attaining the highest score of any officer in the state who attended the police academy that year. I just like older firearms because of their history and high quality, as most older guns were made by skilled craftsmen at Winchester, Colt, Smith & Wesson, Marlin, and other gunmakers. Many people buy these as an investment and never shoot them…because if they do, the value decreases.

Many of you guys who are “baby boomers” like me, probably watched several TV westerns, which were abundant in the 1950s and early 1960s. My favorite shows were Wyatt Earp, the Lone Ranger, and Gunsmoke. I really believe watching these shows, along with all of the westerns at the Sunshine Theater, was one reason, perhaps subconsciously, that I became a police officer…and likely why I like old firearms. In those TV shows and movies, good triumphed over evil, and no one was ever really shot…it was just acting.

In my short-lived solo hunting career at the age of 9, I guess I was just acting, too. It was a showdown at Dodge City…me against the rabbit. The rabbit won…and I was glad!

– John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.