I often regaled my family with stories of my childhood in Alaska as we sat around the table after dinner. I remember getting up early that morning long ago...
"Put the cooler in the trunk" Dad said. Excited by the prospect of my first hunting trip, I played pack mule, lugging equipment to Uncle Norman's vehicle. Norman teased, "Think you'll be able to bring down a moose with your popgun?" I grinned and kept loading. On my 10th birthday I received a .22 cal. single-shot bolt-action rifle. I knew I could take down any animal that was foolish enough to get within range.
We headed north of Fairbanks to the Chatanika River valley. Hours of rattling on a gravel road brought us to the Chosen Land. The Chatanika, a clear rock bottomed river bubbled and gurgled down snowcapped Twelvemile Summit in the White Mountains. Hours later we parked and set up camp. Fresh water was close at hand and there were fresh signs of moose. We would sleep in the open, no sissified city-boy stuff for us! Trees with scraped bark up high gave us an idea of the size of the animal we were after. Visions of trophy size racks and 100s of pounds of tasty moose meat fed our greed and tantalized our taste buds.
Supper was fresh caught pan-fried grayling, dumplings and coffee. Relaxing by the campfire Dad and Norman mulled over their plans. A crashing sound came from the bushes at our backs. Turning towards the sound we were startled by a huge moose erupting out of the darkness. To my 10-year old eyes the beast stood 20-feet high and weighed 10 tons. Before we could react the mighty creature thundered through the middle of our camp and disappeared into the night. Though hunting season didn't open until dawn Dad and Norman discussed getting a jump on things by going after the moose. "Suppose we can lasso 'em?" Dad asked, sounding completely serious. "That could be a bit dangerous," Norman replied, "unless we use Mike as anchor man." It would be our luck that a game warden would be hiding behind a nearby tree, so we waited until morning to bag our moose.
Most of the weekend was spent tromping up and down the valley without seeing anything except moose sign. Sunday we packed up and headed back to town. A few hours down the gravel road we pulled off to the side to take a nature break. I spotted a rabbit in the ditch.
"Mike get your rifle," Dad said, "This will be good experience for you." Excited by the thought of bagging my first animal, I grabbed my rifle and chambered a round. I sighted on the rabbit frozen in fear in the ditch and squeezed off a round. A hit! My elation at making a clean shot in the head evaporated as the critter flopped over squealing piteously. Writhing in death throes it sounded like an injured human baby. I looked at Dad in shock, "What do I do now? It's still alive."
"Shoot it again." Dad wasn't letting me off the hook. "Always put them out of their misery." With trembling fingers I managed another shot. Still it didn't die. The rabbit's flopping and heart wrenching squeals were getting to me. Dad said, "You've got to do it. Shoot it again." With tears streaming down my face, voice choked with emotion I pleaded, "I can't, you do it." Dad sternly ordered, "Shoot it." I could barely see the sights through my tears. Wiping them away, I aimed towards what I could see of the rabbit's head and fired. Before the poor animal died I put 5 rounds of .22 long rifle into it, with few of them hitting the poor animal's head.
Norman and Dad thought the whole affair funny. Norman, through peals of laughter said, "Let's tie it on the hood like a moose." After tying it spread-eagled in the middle of the hood, Norman stuck some twigs for antlers in the holes I'd shot in the rabbit's head. Dad found a poster board in the back of the car. The only thing they could find to write with were ripe blueberries near the road. Using them Dad wrote, "Low Bush Moose" in large letters. Laughing with glee they fastened the makeshift sign to the car's antenna and we headed into town.
I eventually recovered my manly composure and was willing to pose with the rabbit stretched out on the hood, the ridiculous "Low Bush Moose" sign in the background, I looked every inch the big game hunter. Whenever I look at the picture of Dad with Norman's rifle, and myself with dad's .300 Winchester magnum and the rabbit tied on the hood I laugh. The rabbit was so small and that rifle was as long as I was tall.
That was not the end of the story. Dad insisted I skin and gut the rabbit. Before I finished I had blood and guts all over me. With Dad's guidance, I carved up what meat there was and gave it to mom. Later she fixed it for supper. Fortunately she also fixed other food for dinner. That rabbit was so tough and strongly flavored it was inedible.
Learning to deal with life can be nerve wracking and funny at the same time. This taught me how to do what has to be done when it cannot be put off. No whining political correctness allowed in real life. Buck up and deal with it.