Gun safety, or the lack thereof

By: J.A. Bolton - Storyteller

As a young boy growing up in the ’50s, I loved cap pistols and toy guns. I was told not to ever point these guns at anybody or they would be taken from me.

As I grew older, Santa Claus brought me a new Daisy BB rifle. Back then, these guns were made well and were more powerful than those made today. It so happened that the same Christmas I got my BB rifle, my first cousin, Wayne, got one just like it. They were both lever-action and had a metal ring attached to the side of the gun, made to look like a real Winchester.

Being together a lot, my cousin and I would roam all through the woods looking for something to shoot at. Most of the time, all we shot was tin cans and rats. With some practice, we got pretty good at hitting our targets, but our parents told us never to shoot anything made of glass.

So happened, one Saturday we were watching a cowboy program on Wayne’s Dad’s new T.V. Some of the bad guys were shooting tin-cans off the good guy’s head. Well, if’en they could do it we could, too, right? We drew straws on who would be the bad guy first. That’s right, we started shooting snuff cans off each other’s heads with no safety glasses or any other type protection. Folks, please don’t try this at home! We were just young and foolish and didn’t realize the danger.

Luckily, neither one of us got shot, but watching more cowboy programs seemed to make us even braver with our BB guns. Why, one time we had our guns over at our uncle and aunt’s house in West End. While the grownups were in the house talking, we decided to hide behind my uncle’s wood piles and shoot at each other. Yeah, one of us was an Indian and the other a cowboy. Not really trying to hit each other, we shot as close as we would dare. It so happened, one of my shots ricocheted off a piece of wood and struck Wayne in the throat. It just broke the skin but he ran into the house and told our parents. Well, we both got our tails beat and our guns were confiscated for a month.

As Wayne and I got older, he got a pump-up pellet gun and my Dad bought me a Remington single-shot .22 rifle for Christmas. I think the biggest reason I got the .22 was that Dad got tired of borrowing a rifle every time we killed hogs. Now I want you to know, we both got drilled good about gun safety and if’en we did anything unsafe with our guns, they might be permanently taken away.

A month passed and I practiced shooting my new rifle every day except on Sundays, which is the Lord’s day. Won’t no squirrel, crow or blue jay safe in my Ma’s pecan trees. Why, I could shoot a hole right through a Luzianne coffee can at 100 yards. I even painted the tip of my front rifle sight a glossy white, so I was able to see how to shoot till the sun went down in the west.

One evening I was walking through a field with my rifle and I flushed a covey of quail. No, I didn’t shoot at them in flight, but one just happened to land in a tree and old dead eye shot him out. I took the quail to the house and showed it to my Dad. Knowing that I just had a .22 rifle, he told everybody how good a shot I was. You know, I never did get around to telling him the quail was sitting in a tree.

Before rabbit season went out that year, I had only managed to shoot one. Knowing the woods like the back of my hand, I knew pretty well where they would be sitting. But you know them rascals are hard to hit running — especially with a single-shot rifle.

One day while rambling in the woods with my rifle, I found an old butter churn. It was made of clay and had a large crack on the side. Being a little bored by not seeing any game, I decided to take a shot at the bottom of the churn. Even though I had been told never to shoot any type of glass or anything that would break, I took the shot anyway. I was standing about six or seven yards away, but at the crack of the rifle I felt something go through my boot and into my foot. What had happened? I quickly removed my boot and pulled off my sock. Fresh blood was dripping off my foot. Not knowing if the .22 bullet had ricocheted or part of the clay churn had entered my foot, I started dabbing the blood off of my foot with my sock and soon it stopped bleeding.

On the way back home, I stopped off at the tobacco barn, drained a little kerosene out of the tank, and rubbed it on my foot. Then I got to thinking: if’en I told my parents what had happened, my single-shot .22 rifle would be history. I just figured that I best not tell anyone.

Many years went by and I had clean forgot about my shooting accident. But you know, as we age, our body changes. I started having gout flare-ups in both of my feet. My wife told me I needed to see an arthritis doctor. Finally, after a painful attack, I made an appointment to see a specialist.

When I was called into the exam room, my wife went with me. After asking a lot of questions, the doctor said she needed to take an X-ray of my feet. Well, that didn’t take long and soon the doctor was placing my X-rays against a light on the wall. She studied one foot and then the other. She told me I had a lot of inflammation and arthritis in both feet. Finally, she asked, “How did you manage to get metal shrapnel into one of your feet?”

I could just see both the doctor, and, of course, my wife staring straight at me. Busted! I finally confessed what had happened many years ago to my foot.

Till this very day, I still have the metal shrapnel in my foot, as well as the rifle still hanging on my wall.

Young folks, don’t do as I did but do as I say. Always remember when handling a gun, it’s always “safety first.”

J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Anson County Writers’ Club, Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies and co-author of his new book, “Just Passing Time Together.”

J.A. Bolton