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Story ID:932
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Pony Montana USA
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by Kathe Campbell

It was the bummer of bummers, for I wish I had stayed in bed that day, no matter the invite. But then that's silly, for it's not normal to expect ugly things to befall us when all seems sunny and bright as we awake. Yet, oh how I still wish I'd stayed in bed.

"Kathe, we're running late. Jump in your hunting duds and strap on your .357," hollered my husband, Ken.

I hurriedly grabbed both our leather belts and holsters. It had been my first leatherwork effort and they were proud works to wear in the stalk. I oft crept unseen and unheard while spotting bull elk grunting and grating their majestic antlers, while old October warriors primed for battle with goading rut-necked youngsters. Ken was an excellent shot, but I emerged as the shakiest gun in the west as the recoil against my arthritic hand periodically sent me reeling. Nonetheless, my pistol gave me solace in the wilds of my beloved Montana.

"Okay, okay, I'm boogying," I yelled back.

Our son, Tim, and his college buddies had invited us to join them at their weekend hunting camp for an evening hunt and scrumptious chuck wagon. As long-time friends, the boys had made Eagle Scout together and knew their way around campfire stews and biscuits. We donned our orange down vests, jumped in the jeep, crossed the continental divide, and made for Potosi Canyon. The thought of tasty fare and the unraveling of hunting stories over a cozy bonfire stirred familiar mind pictures.

We pulled into the Whitehall Grocery to pick up a few extras, paper towels, etc. While on a mad hunt in the little store, I noted two bewildered shoppers surveying my every move. The old proprietor was holed up behind the cash register green with fright. Oh dear Lord, he couldn't possibly think I'm in here to rob him, I pondered while contemplating my pistol nestled in it's holster. Abruptly, visions of shocking headlines recounting this County Fair President's dim-witted misdemeanor, occupied my mind. I cautiously placed my items on the ancient wooden counter, coyly applied a demure smile, paid my bill, and was out of there ahead of the local posse.

Montana hunters typically wear side arms in the field, but as we drove into the country, I asked Ken to please kick me before I depart the jeep within any more town limits all decked out like Annie Oakley.

"'Twas a wonder you weren't pinched," he laughed.

What was done, was done, but as I watched orangey foliage flying up from the highway, I couldn't help but feel badly for the dear old store owner. There was nary a bullet in the chamber, but it had been such a tacky blunder.

I leaned back to recall so many autumns, my favorite time of year. I wondered how many mountains we crossed, creeks we followed, or snowy tracks led us to an ample supply of venison in those early days. Our children were raised on all kinds of wilderness fare, and when old enough, were taught the hunt. None was for the mere glory of a great antlered mount or snow-white robe, although our hunts yielded a few racks and pelts presently slung over the logs in our loft.

As an ex-urbanite longing to be country, I had found myself unable to take rifle or bow in hand for my evening supper. My sidearm was strictly for protection against bears, or to chase off a troublesome varmint snuffling venison hanging in the tree, or my campfire chili. I admired my family's talents, but preferred a brilliant fall hike, a camera, and duty as camp cook.

We were approaching the end of paved highway. Ken disrupted my daydreams long enough to ask if I had a bullet in the chamber. I took my .357 from it's holster, rammed in six bullets, spun the barrel, and put it on safety. In a split second there was an earsplitting explosion, a blast of cool air, and minute shards of glass peppering my face.

"Oh my God, Ken, I just blew out the windshield," I shrieked.

"Yes, and you just missed Sheriff Cunningham and his deputy returning to Butte," Ken scolded without missing the corner onto the gravel road.

My heart leapt into my throat while hesitantly turning to read Ken's face. His distress was evident, but he uttered not a word. I let the pistol slip to the floor, raised my feet up onto the seat, buried my head in my knees, and began to shake and sob. Not out of shame, not out of stupidity, or even the destruction I had caused, but out of pure fright and such relief nobody was hurt.

"Uh, should I inquire what happened to your windshield, dad, or should I just shut up," queried Tim.

"Oh no, your mother just shot out the dashboard and windshield and came close to killing our sheriff while loading her pistol," he wearily sighed.

The boys tried desperately to maintain solemnity behind tense smirks. They each gave me a comforting pat and hurriedly went off to hunt. Ken brought me my pistol and cautioned me to concentrate on marauding bears and pesky coyotes, not the game warden, should he drive in for supper. "Oh, and try not to shoot yourself in the foot," as he smiled and wandered up the hill with rifle in hand. Only slightly relieved, I promised and then busied myself with the beginnings of a hot coal peach cobbler.

The day had been a bust. I barely recall the taunting and jokes or how cold I must have been sitting behind the shattered windshield on the eternal trip home. It seemed so natural to look up and thank my lucky stars for pulling me through one more episode of living life on the edge.

Upon walking into the house, I hung my holster and pistol in the closet. That was the last time I touched a gun these past 30 years, and remarkably, that was the last time Ken took to the mountains to hunt. Because you see, shortly thereafter, instead of admiring Red Mountain from afar, we homesteaded upon her land amongst her elk, and deer, and moose. The animals feed upon our acres and occasionally come to show off their babes just yards from our deck. Our weapons had been silenced and it felt mighty good to have the trust and friendship of cherished wildlife. It had been a dream, and now that dream surrounded us, making us reverent and humble, and me scared spitless of firearms.

Kathe Campbell
copyright - 2005

At the risk of sounding like a complete dunderhead, I admit to the foregoing and currently find myself in a quandary. I'm now confronted with a marauding dog waltzing off with our waterfowl. Our son insists it's time for me to resurrect my .357 pistol and shoot over a few heads. The thought leaves me cold and loath to potential disaster. Like, for instance, a champion donkey or my beloved Corky. Therefore, I've armed myself with a $12.86 air horn from Wal-Mart. If it doesn't scare the predator away, it'll surely render us all deaf.