Thanks to Kyle Johnson for sharing the great photo above via Unsplash
Dictionary result for ballistic
1) relating to projectiles or their flight.
2) moving under the force of gravity only.
(So yea, this is the correct word. . .)
I had shifted down to stealth mode and was crouching below a large leafed plant, staying as much in the shadows as possible. My gun was ready and so was I for my very – first – hunt. The field was quiet but I knew that could change in a heart-beat as I scanned for my prey. No joy for several seconds, then, ah – there he was.
It was much too long of a shot from here, so I carefully slipped out and followed the rim of tall hedge of brush, staying low and out of sight, around an abandoned utility pole, across a short open area to a dilapidated structure which offered some cover, but no shade. I carefully and slowly moved along an old concrete path and eased myself over a short vine-covered wall down into the shadow of a large tree. Staying low, I moved to the edge of the shadow, then around a smaller copse of tall shrubbery, but finally saw that I had to take a position in the open to get a good shot. The prey seemed unaware of me so far, but I knew he wouldn’t stay still for much longer.
I crawled out into the open, staying low and settled into position to take my shot. Looking down my rifle barrel, I saw there was a long obstruction between me and the prey, but as I watched, he turned in a way that exposed his full chest and this would be my best shot. I adjusted to be in the best position and found the trigger.
“Young man! I need you to lower your gun and remove your finger from the trigger.” Jerked from my adventure and back to reality, I turned to see a police officer holding out his hand, clearly he also wanted my gun, so I handed it over. He looked at it and smiled. “Ah, I’ve seen this model. It’s a nice BB gun.” He stood up and stepped over to the grassy front yard I’d just crawled across and discharged the chambered BB into the ground with a loud CRACK. He then came back and sat on the curb near where I was still laying on my back below that bird who was still sitting on a wire high above us.
“Let’s talk some about what you were just doing. As I see it, you were aiming straight up at a target, on a power line, in the middle of a neighborhood . So tell me, in the small chance that you shot at – but missed that bird, where would that BB have landed?’
It was a startling question, but I thought it had to be a trick question because it would certainly come right back down. Because I couldn’t immediately see the trick answer, I chose what I now know to be the worse answer possible, “I don’t know.”
The officer smiled, unwilling to let me off that easy, he stood up and offered me his hand so we could stand together. “And that is the first reason you should not take that shot. Never pull the trigger unless you know for sure every possible thing your bullet could hit. The second reason you shouldn’t take that shot is many of the places your BB could have landed is where – look around you?”
I did, saw his point immediately and felt foolish for being caught being so stupid. There were houses and parked cars – all normal neighborhood stuff and a few kids out of school for the afternoon just like me playing around in the mid-afternoon sun. I swallowed as I realized that I was this close to being arrested for being an idiot and even that would have been better that hitting one of my neighbors.
“Here’s what I want you to do. Take this gun and set up an area somewhere safe, where your target has some kind of wall or hillside behind them. So, if it’s an empty can and you hit it, the can bounces away, but if you miss it, you only hit that wall. And, never – ever aim straight up because your bullet, if you miss, can only come straight down, right back at you and you stand no chance of seeing it to dodge it. In this case, gravity is not your friend,” and he handed my gun back to me, smiled and said good-bye.
I watched as he walked across the street to where he had parked his police car, got in and drove away, leaving me feel like I had just dodged two bullets. What was I thinking? I felt like my mature 7 years of age had just been knocked down to something below kindergarten.
I glanced back up at the black bird and he was still there (mocking me?) so, feeling defeated, I decided to let him live, he tilted his head away from me, pooped – barely missing my shoulder and flew off.
Thanks to that officer, to this day, gravity and guns and I have a much better understanding of each other.
It was only a few weeks later that I began a hunter safety course with dad so I could get a license to hunt with him and while this was going on, my great friend Bill Lee and I staked out our whole backyard with a bench against a wall where we put cans and tall hard plastic monsters to shoot at. We spent uncounted hours moshing in parts of those monsters from across the backyard with our BB guns.
About that same time a friend and neighbor only a few doors further up our street got a new bow and arrow set.
I was on his front lawn when he brought it out for several of us to see. We passed the bow and some of the nice sharp tipped arrows around for us to see. We made all the remarks, smart and otherwise. Suddenly, he had the bow again and was showing us how to notch an arrow for shooting, then before we could say anything he aimed straight up and let fly.
We all shouted our disapproval and got ready to scramble. Like the rest of them I now knew that we were in the target zone. The arrow flew out of sight. We lost it because the darn thing was painted white against a bright sunny sky and it flew really high and fast. None of us knew where to hide, so few of us had actually moved when the arrow reappeared and fully self-destructed against the concrete sidewalk. We all exhaled a large gasp of relief and turned on him for nearly killing one of us. I was not as enthusiastic about giving him grief because my hypocrisy spider-sense wouldn’t let me. But he was strongly encouraged to never do that again. Then we swarmed the arrow’s landing zone to enjoy the destruction, “Man, look at the arrowhead! It looks more like a mushroom now.”
A couple of years later, with shotguns in hand, my neighbor, Bert (absolutely NOT his real name) and I set out to walk from our homes, through several neighborhoods to the hills south of Petaluma to do some serious bird hunting. We were hoping for pheasant.
Much of the time between my own aborted shot into the sky and finding myself on a hillside with my neighbor, Pam – my dog and my 16 gauge shotgun had been spent mentally imaging what happened when I pulled the trigger. My original BB gun shot only one BB at a time but the shotgun, depending on the shell used might have hundreds of small pellets, exploding out in a small tight pattern which expanded greatly over distance. Something up close would be chewed to pieces while much further out would be peppered widely by lots of pellets.
What is not shown in the diagram is that the “shot” (that cluster of BBs) comes out of the end of the barrel at a tremendous speed, power and temperature, but immediately starts spreading, cooling and slowing down against the air and falling back to Earth like anything else would.
The full spread pattern actually looks more like this.
If you hit your bird too close – you explode it into cooked feathers and muck. If your bird is too far away and still in the pattern, you’re lucky if you annoy it.
So, mighty hunters that we were, we walked up a hill and came to a cluster of brush we hoped would contain a bird or two. The hillside sloped down on both sides of the cluster to become a ridge, so when we decided that Bert would go left and I would go right, we actually stayed fairly level while the area between us kept getting higher as the ridge got steeper and higher.
We’d walked quietly for about 10 minutes when I heard the brush rustle followed by Bert’s gun discharging and the geometric image of what was wrong immediately filled my mind. He had to have raised his aim to target a bird from the brush and the bird would likely head up and away from him. He most likely walked the same distance as I had so this almost certainly meant that he was straight across from Pam and I, below both the brush and ridge we were straddling. Given the range of shotgun bird shot, Pam and I were, oh no, right in the downside of his shot pattern that would go over the brush and then fall to where Pam and I were walking.
It’s actually frustrating at times like this, how your brain can be so much faster that your body. I fully understood what was about to happen while the sound of his shot was still in my ears, and even with the fact that shotgun shot is slower than sound, it still left me no time to do anything except begin to look down to protect my eyes from the wave of shotgun shot racing toward us.
I also knew that if the shot had slowed enough to fall, it would be going slow enough to not injure us – or at least not injure us very much. Well, we both felt each impact, but nothing broke through my jeans or jacket. My face and Pam’s whole body took hits, but as expected (okay – more “hoped”, than “expected”) none of the hits drew blood.
A quick glance at Pam told me that she was confused (Hey! Did you do that?) as she looked back at me suspiciously. So she was fine, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to yell back, “Damn it Bert! You just shot both Pam and me!” We then waited for him to panic, run back down the ridge, around and back up to make sure he hadn’t killed us. He arrived as expected (yes, this time I “expected” him to arrive) out of breath and frightened that he might have actually injured us with his shotgun. I finally grinned at him to make sure he knew all was well.
I have no memory of what we did next, but we most likely continued our hunt after talking about how lucky both of us had been (I doubt the taxidermist would have taken the job to make me into a wall mounted trophy) and I was pleased to walk away with nothing more than a great story of how much fun we used to be able to have in the hills of Petaluma.
Oh, and Bert grew up to be a great bird-lover. How classic is that?