Who’s the Sniper? An Eastern Shore Hunting Adventure

Goose Hunting on the Eastern Shore

Goose Hunting on the Eastern Shore

Many of you who read the L.C. Smith story, “My Trophy Wife” are wondering “who turned this guy loose with a 12 gauge in the first place”?  Well, this series of short stories shows that, compared to my hunting buddies, I may not be the nutcase after all.

Who’s the Sniper?

Let’s call him “Ritchie”, our caretaker at the time and one of the most avid hunters on the Eastern Shore …. as avid as my great grandfather and he followed great grandpa’s rules.  Seasons were respected only because shotguns are not generally available with silencers.  However, Bag Limits were another story – applicable to normal humans, not Ritchie.

Ghillie Suit

Ghillie Suit

Six of us, guided by Ritchie, started shooting geese at 6:50am on a Wednesday in January, wearing normal eastern shore business casual.  We had our limit within 45 minutes and I took off for work.

As Ritchie headed for his day job, he remembered the pair of Mallards that had been feeding in the shallows less than 50 yards from the pool. No matter that we already had our limit, these mallards were too good to pass up.  Ritchie hauled his ghillie suit out of the truck, struggled into it and plopped himself in the middle of the lawn, mid-way between the pool and the horseshoe pit – totally invisible – at least to the mallards.

Ghillie suits were developed by Scottish gamekeepers in the 19th century as a portable hunting blind.  Lovat Scouts, a Scottish Highland regiment formed by the British Army during the Second Boer War, is the first known military unit to use ghillie suits and went on to become the British Army’s first sniper unit in 1916.

After 45 minutes or so, the Mallards came to feed and, within several seconds, were toast.  Five minutes later, Ritchie was toast.

A DNR (Department of Natural Resources) agent clambered out of my neighbor’s tree, packing his binoculars back in the case as he shouted at Ritchie … “Hold it buddy”!  Turns out this goose cop had been perched in that tree since O-dark-30, watching us bag our limit, seeing Ritchie sling his geese into the back of his truck, watching him climb into his ghillie suit and taking the mallards

As I recall, that little episode cost Ritchie a couple of grand in legal fees, more than that in fines (may not have been his 1st offense) and a year or two probation.  Pretty expensive mallards.


Taxation (and everything else) without Representation

What's the difference between a pimp and a lobbyist

Image: zazzle.com

When we last tuned in, I was ranting about how our friends in Washington  are tightening his belt, “friends” who view our economic catastrophe as an academic exercise and who have no skin in the game, other than to get re-elected and stay on the ol’ government gravy train.

Our system of elected representatives, three branches of government, and checks and balances was brilliant when conceived two hundred and thirty-five years ago.  And, it has generally worked well until the past couple of decades.

The traditional American system of representation is now broke, really broke!  Our elected representatives are no longer capable of executing the will of the people.  As we head toward a fifteen trillion, strike that, make it $15,000,000,000,0** (sorry, the “0” key on my keyboard just wore out) deficit, there are certain steps that fall into the “no-brainer” category to get fiscally on track:

Subsidies of all kinds must be eliminated.  Let the free market decide:  is ethanol a smart use of our corn crop; should we need incentives to purchase hybrid cars; and, is video taping San Antonio school kids eating lunch critical to our nation’s health?  Particularly galling are the multi billion $$$ Oil and Gas subsidies at a time when the industry is recording record profits.

The military calls the shots on defense spending!  When the military says they don’t need something, how in the world can they be over-ruled by a congressman or senator?  Vested interests, that’s why.  Can you imagine an antique dealer from Easton, Maryland getting elected to Congress (Wow, that’s a scary thought) and instantly being able to tell the Joint Chiefs of Staff what kind of missile system to purchase, from whom and for how much?

The “Untouchables” are going to be Touched.  Ok, the elephants in the room are social security, health care and pension benefits of all kinds.  Any rational human being knows that these programs require serious adjustment NOW, not in 2024 or some non-threatening future date.  I’m not smart enough to come up with a solution, but I’ll bet its some combination of benefit curtailment, need based benefits and realistic retirement age.

Each of you can add several more items to the list that are probably more important than mine – that’s not the point.

The point is that our elected representatives are totally incapable of making rational decisions on how to get us out of this mess.  The “Washington mentality” infects everyone we elect.  Lobbyists, PAC’s, Unions and other big contributors have hundreds of times more clout than we in the hinterlands.  Back Scratching, Pork, Earmarks, and Political Trade-offs are the name of the game.  Do you really think that’s going to change in our lifetime – or in our children’s lifetime?

Imagine firing every one of our 535 elected representatives.  As the Brits say, we would officially make them redundant; they have been unofficially for years.  Think of the potential savings: nearly $200k each in annual salary, untold staff salaries, office allowances, travel and expense allowances, and, all of that wonderful office space that could be converted to hotels – high end naturally.

Can you imagine each of our 150,000,000 registered voters casting her or his ballot directly on the issues that affect our lives?  I’ll bet we could make some real progress in winnowing down local, state and federal government and turning the deficit into a surplus.  And, I sure trust the mid-western farmers, the southern gentlemen, the conservative New Englanders, the New York liberals and the California activists to decide my future more than I trust our elected representatives.  Well, maybe not the California activists.

And, the lobbyists would have a booger of a time wining and dining 150,000,000 of us rather than just 535.  What a boon to the restaurant and bar business!  I may open a Gentlemen’s Club.

Anyone interested in a real thriller that carries this conversation to a scary extreme should read Vince Flynn’s 1997 novel “Term Limits”.

Who’s Belt Is Getting Tightened?

Blackies Newport Beach: John Birch Society HQ 1960s

Blackies Newport Beach: John Birch Society HQ 1960s

For many years, more than most of you have been alive; I have been a die-hard conservative.  The Tea Party is nouveau riche – my credentials are Orange County, California in the 60’s – Beach Blanket Bingo, Surfing, The Beach Boys, and, omygod, Gidget.  At sundown, it was $1.49 gallons of Rose’ (Mateus on payday) and the conversation turned to Ayn Rand, The John Birch Society and early Ronald Reagan.

Sand between our toes, soft guitars and tambourines in the background formed the perfect setting for us to advocate entrepreneurship, balanced budgets, reduced taxes, fiscal conservatism and the nirvana of small government.  Hours later, as the sun began its ascent in the east, a couple of final choruses of Kumbaya convinced us that all was well.

Orange County budget meeting

Orange County budget meeting

Now, Elephants and Asses, oops, Donkeys, are getting on the fiscal responsibility band wagon again.  Our elected leaders are going to rein in runaway spending, curtail outrageous benefits, and totally re-vamp healthcare.  The sound bites are aggressive, forward thinking and courageous, spoken by a couple of dozen Marcus Welby look-alikes oozing sincerity and confidence.

After waking at 2:07am for my nightly pit stop, I was trying to doze off again, feeling content that my future was in such capable hands.  Then, a scary revelation caused me to sit bolt upright.

These guys are screwing with my retirement income, healthcare options, and general well-being – and, they have absolutely no skin in the game!  They don’t have a clue about the real world most of us, their constituents, are living in.  Our elected officials wallow in their personal la-la land, worried sick about how to get elected again.

Our elected senators and congressmen, public servants is the euphemism I’m searching for, earn a minimum of $174,000 per year, have a Rolls Royce healthcare plan and can retire at age 50 at 80% of their salary – an old-fashioned (obsolete in the real world) guaranteed retirement that few of us can aspire to these days.

Politics, Newport Beach style (img: orangecounty.com)

Politics, Newport Beach style (img: orangecounty.com)

OK guys, I’m willing to put my future in your hands, sacrifice a bit of my Social Security check, pay more for Medicare every month and ride my bicycle to the grocery store because you have screwed up our energy policy so badly that I can’t afford to drive.

That is, I’m willing to play the game provided our elected representatives are on the same team I am.  Their salaries must take the same hit that small business men and women all over the country have; their retirement income must be tied to a decimated 401k, and their future healthcare must be the same Medicare I’m counting on to stay alive.

Only then will my elected representatives have the credibility to tighten my belt.  Lead by example guys.


My Trophy Wife: LC Smith

Trophy Wife

Beware the Trophy Wife

As a kid in Los Angeles, my exposure to guns was pretty specialized – ever hear of a Zip Gun?  Now, ex-altar boy that I am, we only made them for fun, like shooting at lizards (shooting at is intentional phrasing; never hit one), but I’m really lucky to have all my fingers and both eyes.

We moved to the eastern shore of Maryland in 1996 and at the ripe old age of 57, never having owned a gun (other than the Zip), I quickly learned that ‘ol eastern shore maxim, “ if you got a d**k, you gotta h**t”.

After a couple of not so successful hunting seasons wrestling with an old Remington 870 12 gauge that resulted in very few dinners on the table, the geese and ducks were flocking to my place – they knew they were as safe as under their momma’s wing.

Jean and the kids decided that my lousy track record had to do with that old male standby, the “E” word …. Equipment.  I needed a better gun.

Knowing my absolute passion for almost anything antique, the boys talked Jean into springing for a 1930’s LC Smith 12 gauge, side by side, for my 60th birthday.  What a gorgeous piece of mechanics; everything locked precisely in place with a satisfying click, the engraving was a perfect shade of blue with gold and yellow highlights.  The English walnut stock had the warm, soft patina that only years of skin oil can produce.  From September until the early season in late October, I cleaned, polished and caressed (a stupid visual, but that’s what I did) that beautiful piece of workmanship.  Old LC and I tackled the sporting clays a couple of times with less than spectacular results – I chalked it up to “having to get used to the gun”.

LC Smith Side by Side Shotgun

LC Smith Side by Side Shotgun, img: prices4antiques.com

Finally, opening day of goose season.  The other guys had their limit in short order and the geese actually started cackling as they swooped over my blind.  They knew, as I did, that I couldn’t hit a thing!  This went on for a several years, me rarely hitting anything, and suffering unbelievable abuse from my hunting friends.

Finally, one cold January day, I was so frustrated after missing my 9th shot (that is 9 shells after everyone else had their limit) that I threw the LC Smith down, grabbed the old 870 and nailed 2 geese with 3 shells, all in a few seconds.  Mike and Rodney were awe struck and chalked it up to luck, but we know better, don’t we?

Several years too late, I took ol’ LC to the pro at the sporting clays range.  He fired several shells, missing every single clay at first, but then hitting them consistently.  He handed LC back to me saying “it’s simple Mike, just aim 5’ low and 3’ to the left”.

Hell’s bells, I can hardly stay focused 1’ ahead of a slow moving goose; how in the world could I aim 5’ low and 3’ to the left?  Needless to say, LC and I parted company shortly thereafter; some marriages just ain’t worth saving.


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