Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Warrior

I'm actually not much of a hunter/killer. I've never even stalked deer or turkey, buffalo or elk, lion or bear. I have no mounted animal heads, I don't even have a stuffed fish. I have a laissez-faire attitude about wild animals in general. I see lots of deer at my home, turkeys too, I just let them be.
I have nothing against hunting, I just can't be bothered with the mess, the waiting and especially, the getting up so early. 
In my personal arsenal I have a few working firearms, none of which get fired very often. They are mostly plinkers and military antiques. I don't shoot much because it scares the dogs. Don't worry, I was trained by the military, I know what I'm doing.*
I also have a less-than-lethal weapon, a Daisy BB gun.
It's a cheap, lever action, spring-pump, Red Ryder model. Just like the one that annoying kid in that awful Christmas movie pined for. I've had it for years. Occasionally I'll plink at something while I'm waiting for the fire in the grill to settle.
It is not very accurate and it isn't really high velocity, so as an actual  weapon, it's pretty much worthless. Shoot anything of size with it and you are only likely to piss it off. Any injuries, because of the gross inaccuracy of the toy, are by statistical and ballistic definitions, accidental.
The BB gun popped into my head a few days ago, a specific purpose for which its many limitations would not be a significant handicap. 
    I live in the woods. My driveway is about 500 feet long. At the bottom near the house, it splits and circles around a few trees and a shady spot of land we call 'the island'.  When I get up in the morning and again later in the evening when I take the dogs out, I will either walk up and down the driveway's length or make five laps of the circle. Either will add a little more than a quarter mile to my otherwise lackluster exercise regimen. 
The last few days, as August settled into it's typical  hot and dry climax, the walks have been torturous, for myself as well as the dogs.
Some years are not so bad, this year has been terrible.
The Enemy: Genus Tabanus,  the horse fly.
We've had scores of them this summer, a lot more than usual, probably due to the very wet spring and early summer.  The last couple of weeks, they've been viciously aggressive. 
When they bite, they actually bite. Scissor-like mandibles tear through flesh, then the pest soaks up the blood in it's sponge-like mouth. This is what the females do, the males just dine on nectar and pollen. 
As blood suckers, these vile females are well known to spread diseases among animals. You name it, they spread it. Anthrax or Lyme disease anyone?
Photo: 2005 by Dennis Ray
These bites hurt like hell too. It's not a sting, it's a small, yet ripping, tearing gash, which hurts immediately and tremendously, then welts up and itches for weeks.
I'd tried swatting them. We have a tennis-racquet sized and shaped bug zapper that we use on indoor flies, it's fine for that. But outdoors, these bigger, more powerful, strong-fliers are almost impossible to smack down. They use the third dimension, up, to zoom away as soon as they see the swatter moving. In two evenings of my initial personal offensive against them, I was only able to swat down two, one survived. Because of all the dogs, we can't go chemical-mass-destruction on them either. (Nor did I utilize my brother's preferred tactic, a Bic lighter and a can of carburetor cleaner, an improvised flame thrower. I don't think I need to spell out the many, many reasons I didn't try that on my dry, wooded property.)
Then it occurred to me, based on observations of their behavior.
I'm not a scientist, nor even an amateur entomologist. But because of my frequent walking while trying to avoid them and my failed attempts to defeat them, I did notice several predictable things about the nasty critters.
The most important thing is that they will let you get stupidly close to them before they sense danger. I could spot them from a distance on my walks, my eye was learning to quickly discriminate between the big flies and the other natural detritus that routinely collects on the pavement. I could get within a foot or so of them before they took off. 
Secondly, the airborne brigade would hover in place, allowing you to get right under them.
The 'airborne brigade' is how I describe the group of flies that line themselves up, about nine feet off the pavement and about six feet apart, in almost single file, along the straighter uphill run of the driveway.
They basically just hover in place as you approach and then one at a time, dive down for the attack. This maneuver reminded me of Huey helicopters lined up over rice patties in Nam, buzzing in, dropping down one at a time to the LZ (landing zone) and disgorging small groups of unfortunate foot soldiers and marines. The low frequency, droning buzz of the inch-long insects was not unlike that of the Hueys on a smaller scale. You could actually hear them throttle up and bank in toward you.
Like the Hueys, they also had a weakness. 
As relatively big, slow to accelerate flying machines, it didn't take a massive hit to take the choppers out, you only needed to disable/destabilize the fragile and mostly unprotected flight control surfaces to take them out of the battle.
I formed a tactical plan. Well, not so much a plan as an experiment.
1. Load up the BB gun.
2. Walk up to a horsefly.
3. Shoot it.
4. Repeat.
A BB gun is smooth bore, meaning the metal pellet has the flight path of a frozen chicken. It is lousy inaccurate, only slightly better than a bottle rocket,  right out of the barrel.  But if I could get the barrel up close enough, even the rather timid velocity of the BB should be enough to damage the bugs. That's all I needed to do, damage  them, break something off. I didn't need a kill-for-certain head shot. Maim the mechanism, a wing , a couple of legs, crack the exoskeleton and  that's all it should take.
 I cocked the lever, spotted one standing still in a shady part of the pavement. I dropped down and nudged the barrel toward the nasty beast, closer, closer, pop!
A miss. She didn't even flinch. The pellet had whizzed by within a half inch of her ugly, bug-eyed, blood-sucking face but she hadn't perceived it as a threat. 
I cocked , slowly advanced, then fired again. 
This time the big bug took the BB square in the belly. I could hear the crack of its hard outer layer. The fly rolled to the side of the driveway, viciously buzzing and lashing about. It couldn't recover, couldn't even get itself upright, it was permanently out of the game.
It didn't take long for the bodies to start piling up. There were so many in the driveway that they had become complacent in their numbers
The fact that it might take a few rounds per pest didn't bother me. The cheap little toy rifle held several hundred rounds, I could keep this up all day.
For the next hour, it was a methodical massacre. The surviving flies got edgier, more nervous, more cautious. However, another thing I knew about these  flies is that they can't stay aloft for very long. That powerful buzzing burns up a lot of juice. If one took off I didn't even bother with it. There was no way this little rifle was going to take one out in full, frantic, dizzying flight. I was blowing through three, sometimes more pellets each just to get the ones walking around on the ground.
I walked the circle, fifteen times or more, patiently waiting for them to settle and rest. This simple tactic gave me most of my kills. 
I was now the one feeling cocky.
A couple of them were quite crafty and clever, or just really lucky. One of them stayed near my car, around it, under it, on it. Perfectly safe. A copper pellet can damage windows and paint, this one had found his Switzerland, his DMZ, his safe haven. 
Boonie Hat
 It was my goal to vanquish them from the property completely, but the reality of that was of course, impossible. I could cut their numbers though , a war of attrition. The few that remained alive would be the craftiest ones for sure, but they would be alone against their other predators, the bats and birds that I counted among my unwitting allies. I left the corpses where they fell, some still, some twitching, nutrition for my feathered comrades. I had the momentary primal urge to thread their broken bodies together and wear them around my neck, to tear the sleeves off my shirt, pull my boonie hat (yes, I have one) down tight on my head, rub some grease stain lines or mud on my face and show the sturdy survivors the savage face of raw, apocalyptic terror. 
No, I didn't need the trophy, eradicating the pests was my goal and my reward.
Stage two, the airborne menace.
Having all but wiped out the ground forces, I approached the corridor.  As predicted I could hear the droning, hovering just out of reach overhead. 
As predicted, and apparently unaware of the fate of their brethren, I was able to stand directly below them. I had to be careful, my copper rounds could leave the property here, nothing between me and the street other than a straight channel to the road. I certainly didn't want to start a shooting war with my neighbors or accidentally piss something off.  I decided to go for straight upward. 
I stood below the front guard. She was hanging motionless except for the infernal sonic hum of her wings. I raised the barrel directly beneath her. Unable to aim in this position I swag'd the angle. I moved the tip of the thin metal barrel slowly, higher and higher, a foot, then inch by inch. At about six she darted away toward the darkening woods. I'd lose them there in the shadowy twilight.
I stepped up to the next in line. At about seven inches, I squeezed the trigger. 
The bug disappeared. 
I listened for a second, for two, then heard it clearly, the sound just like that of an acorn hitting the pavement. One down.
There was no shock and awe from the rest, they didn't even appear to notice. I stepped up to the next one. Behind me the first one was darting back and forth trying to decide whether to risk a counterattack, but never committing. We would certainly meet again.
I took aim again, repeating the motions, slow and steady. No adrenaline rush, just the cold, steely calm of an industrial process, a dis-assembly line.
This one provided the imagery that replayed in my mind and later my dreams. This shot clipped off the lady's port-side wing. The wing itself shattered into a puff of dust. The sudden instability torqued the rest of the bug into a violent, swirling tailspin. The remaining wing was racing furiously to keep it airborne, while actually having the opposite effect, sending the damaged blood-sucker spiraling, careening, into the pavement. It went down like a war-movie Zero that had been ripped up by lucky Navy flack, spinning wildly, helplessly, into the dark, cold ocean. 
I didn't get them all before the growing shadows shut me down, the beasts favor the evening sun.  I was about to lose them in the darkness completely. I took aim at one more, a cruel, bloodthirsty smile on my face, raising the weapon with one hand, mentally projecting through the shot, tunnel visioned, mentally locked on to my target. I was aware, but only remotely, of my surroundings outside my line of fire. 
I didn't even notice the approaching lights.
I snapped out of my battle trance and blinked once, twice, shaking off the bloody battlefield mindset. The window on the car idling beside me slipped downward. The nicely dressed professional-looking lady in the expensive sedan looked me over but said nothing about the strange man, covered in sweat and dust, wielding a toy gun pointed at the sky. 
"I'm looking for the dog place?"  She said.
Oh yeah, I knew that. Angel had told me that a potential new client would be stopping by to check out the training and boarding facilities.
Good thing maybe that I'd not been wearing the war paint, boonie hat, torn shirt and necklace of carcasses.

I didn't record a body count. Recollection put it at over twenty confirmed kills that first evening. On the next night there was more hunting and waiting than killing. I had indeed significantly reduced their numbers. Those smart few that stayed around the car were still there. I waited them out, eventually there were five carcasses in between the cars.  One or two members of the airborne brigade still remained in the corridor, diving for and cowering in the trees whenever I approached.
The potential client has not called back.


* I should elaborate. I spent nine years in the Air Force. I was formally trained on and fired an M-16 in basic training, I failed to qualify. That was the last time I ever touched a weapon during my entire military career. I was a spark chaser, usually armed with nothing more dangerous than a soldering iron or an oscilloscope. (although those things were quite heavy and would really hurt if you got hit by one)
So even though my service was of the unarmed, nerdy, 'in the rear with the gear' variety, I did learn gun safety and how to properly shoot, I just wasn't ever very good at it.
They also wanted to train me to maintain missiles. Yeah, I didn't qualify to carry small arms, but I was qualified to mess around the launch control systems for ICBMs, go figure.

1 comment:

  1. Ok, guy with glasses carrying a Red Rider BB gun, sounds like the kid in the movie to me. Oh, the kid did not have facial hair. Fun read, as to be expected. Sorry about the client.


Add a comment, if you dare.