While attending college in Flint, a friend, Dale, asked if I would like to go rabbit hunting the following Saturday on his father’s farm. Weather was promising and I was looking forward to just enjoying a day outdoors tramping around on a Saturday in fresh air and sunlight. I hadn’t brought a .22 squirrel-hunting rifle to college, knowing I wouldn’t have time, so Dale agreed to loan me an old rifle of his.
Another student, Mike, heard about our plans and invited himself along. He had returned to college after a stint in the Air Force and delighted in reminding us of his military experience. It wasn’t clear whether he was ever more than a supply clerk, but he had a habit of imparting his world-wisdom whether asked or not. Mike assured us no one had more experience hunting small game as himself, and that he had been a great marksman in the Air Force. Up to that point, I hadn’t been aware the U.S. Air Force spent any time hunting rabbits. Saturday would be interesting.
Dale and I and another friend drove out to the farm Saturday morning and began unloading guns, coats, lunch bags, boots, and gloves. It was early November, a cool sunny day. A fresh breeze rattled a vast field of broken cornstalks that hadn’t been plowed under. Our outerwear consisted of jeans, worn coats, and orange hats, anything to keep warm and safe. I was glad to be out of my rented room and didn’t care if I saw a rabbit or even shot at one.
We were ready to go when we saw a car in the distance. It was Mike. He pulled behind on the narrow dirt road and got out, resplendent in a brand-new hunting outfit. It was as if he’d stepped from the pages of an L.L. Bean catalogue in a new orange shooting jacket with the wrinkles still in it. The jacket would have been great on an African safari, with all its epaulets, cartridge loops, extra pockets, and leather elbow patches. His heavy green-camouflaged hunting pants had never seen a thicket or mud bog. His new boots were luxurious supple-leather, and his yellow non-glare hunting sunglasses were amazing.
He greeted us, smiling broadly, unloading and assembling a brand-new Beretta over-under double-barrel twelve-gauge shotgun, sliding new soft leather gloves over checkered grips. The engraved receiver gleamed softly in the morning light, and he began inserting shotgun shells out of a box into the loops of a tooled-leather cartridge belt. When all the loops were filled, he resembled a cleaned-up version of Pancho Villa without a sombrero.
The three of us, wearing old clothes and carrying .22 rifles, were agog. Whether Mike’s outfit would impress the rabbits, I didn’t know, but we certainly were. But this wasn’t Vietnam and rabbits weren’t going to return fire. He didn’t have a single item indicating he was an old hand at hunting, whereas our old clothes and .22 rifles were more suited for an early morning cornfield. It didn’t help that he took pains to remind us yet again how much hunting he had done, as he was haphazardly handling the Beretta, allowing its barrel to swing past us dangerously. I quickly barked a warning and told him to be more careful, which wasn’t accepted very well. But I was determined to enjoy the day despite his presence. He chose this moment to order me, in no uncertain terms, to walk in back of him instead of in line with everyone else. Exactly why he wanted this wasn’t clear, but he insisted on having a clear field of fire in front. He said he wanted to know absolutely where I was at all times, in the interests of safety as he put it, even though I would have a loaded .22 rifle to the rear.
Of course, from a safety standpoint, it made no sense at all to hunt in anything but a single line, so I unloaded the .22 and left it, wondering again if he knew what he was doing. Dale’s quizzical expression confirmed my misgivings but, being safety conscious, I decided to continue behind the group. For the next half-hour, not a single rabbit popped up, but Mike had a great time shouting directions and generally acting the leader.
Returning to the cars for soup and coffee, we were walking down a dirt track. I was still twenty feet to the rear as I had been for the last hour when a solitary rabbit suddenly ran from behind. It had only scooted a few yards in front when it suddenly reversed course and ran straight back at Mike. Suddenly, wildly, Mike began drawing a close-range bead while the rabbit was only yards in front. Mike swung the shotgun toward the ground, the poor rabbit skittering past and back toward me. In a split second, lacking any field sense at all, fingers tightening on the triggers, Mike continued swinging the shotgun in an arc past Dale and toward me.
In the heat of the moment, out of control, he had forgotten everything he ever knew about firearms and field safety. I dropped flat to the ground, and he yelled “I got it!” firing both barrels over me while I was lying on the ground. Both loads of twelve-gauge pellets missed the terrified rabbit, ricocheted off the hard dirt track, and into the front of a wood-framed farmhouse only a hundred yards away, the rabbit long gone.
I picked myself up, shaking, completely hollow inside, Mike’s crestfallen, guilty expression and sagging Beretta slowly revealing all. If he had ever hunted before, it wasn’t apparent. Besides endangering all of us, he had almost taken my life instead of a rabbit’s. We left him standing there and drove home in silence. Whether he ever went back to the farmhouse to own up for the damage, we never learned, but Genesee County’s rabbits were safe for another day.