For many years (the precise number of which he is unwilling to disclose) Major Nathaniel Peabody (USA, ret.) has diligently pursued his singular passion for bird hunting. He enjoys conversations with the people who own and use shotguns. He enjoys being in, on or near woods and fields and rivers and lakes—the places where operating shotguns are often found. He also admires dogs—in particular those willing to openly associate with wingshooters.
Major Peabody is quite knowledgeable about matters associated with gamebirds, shotguns and dogs. Generally speaking, he appears to be reasonably educated and knowledgeable, but there are a number of areas in which the depth and breadth of his ignorance are awe-inspiring.
For example, Peabody is incapable of keeping track of either income or outgo. He considers multiplication and long division to be occult sciences and is deeply suspicious of anyone who claims to be able to do simple addition or subtraction.
I once talked him into opening a checking account. It was a mistake. When he discovered he couldn’t write checks unless he had money in the bank, he resolved the problem by destroying his checkbook and thereafter keeping his funds in cash.
Financial prudence is a concept entirely foreign to him. His inability to manage money is legendary. Peabody’s parents recognized early their sole heir’s penchant for uncontrolled extravagance. They had the foresight to put his share of their considerable estate into a Spendthrift Trust, carefully drawn to give the Major an appropriate monthly allowance that cannot be pre-paid, pledged or alienated.
Of course Peabody has mastered a few of the more obvious principles of personal economics. If one buys cases of shotgun shells instead of paying one’s rent, one is apt to get thrown out of one’s apartment. If one insists on buying boxes and boxes of Dominican cigars and cases of single-malt Scotch on the first day of the month, one may not be able to buy food during the last days of the month.
Peabody recognizes these principles, but he disregards them. He is like the man who bought a horse, hitched it to his buggy and started to drive home. The horse left the road and ran into a cornfield. The man examined the animal, took it back to the used-horse dealer and demanded his money back, claiming the horse was blind. The used horse dealer refused, saying, “That horse ain’t blind. He just don’t give a damn.”
Major Peabody isn’t blind to the effects of his profligacy. He just don’t give a damn. Being flat broke a week or so before the end of the month doesn’t bother him. He looks upon it as a challenge and is often able to secure end-of-month funding relief from associates—at the poker table or through some sort of chicanery he prefers to call wagering. (He hasn’t borrowed money ever since he discovered he would be expected to pay it back.)
It was the 22nd day of a 31-day month. Peabody and Doc Carmichael drove from Philadelphia to a Georgia game farm known to contain numerous coveys of quail. They arrived at midday and, once installed in the hunting lodge, Peabody counted his money. Then he projected his expenses for the rest of the month: gas and food on the trip back to Pennsylvania and his living expenses for the balance of the month.
He did it three times. Though the actual results of each calculation varied, all three produced the same general result. Peabody was destitute. Showing his usual and remarkable disregard for financial planning, he already had spent practically all of his money. His assets consisted of a one-dollar bill and pocket change.
The Major’s financial distress did not keep him and Doc Carmichael from joining up with two Alabama hunters and spending a pleasant afternoon in the field. Peabody shot well—very well. That evening at dinner the Major, Doc Carmichael and the Alabamans met three newly arrived hunting companions. They were members of a trap club from Ohio.
During the post-dinner recreation hour(s), after there was considerably more air than liquid in an opened single-malt Scotch bottle, a friendly argument broke out. The three hunters from Akron claimed that a trap shooter could out-gun any ordinary field shooter. At this point the ears of one of the Alabamans laid back, his head lowered, his jaw thrust forward and he began to growl.
“No offense intended,” he snarled and immediately began a strenuous diatribe against trap shooters who, he contended, couldn’t shoot their way out of a wet paper sack.
He declared that a trap shooter was conditioned to stand at a station with gun at the ready, yell, “Pull!” and shoot at a clay pigeon as it came from a pre-determined spot in front of him and flew in an entirely foreseeable arc. Then the trap shooter would break open his shotgun, select another shell, put it in the chamber, close the gun, put the gun to his shoulder and again shout, “Pull!”
He claimed there was one helluva lot of difference between that and actual field conditions. Live birds paid no attention to shouted commands of “Pull!” Real birds moved in erratic patterns and didn’t flush one at a time. Moreover, by the time a trap shooter finished his ritual and was ready for a second shot, an ordinary quail hunter would have fired twice and dropped two birds and the balance of the covey would have been halfway to Atlanta.
Of course this heresy did not go unchallenged by the Ohio hunters, who responded that non-trap-shooting bird hunters were morally reprehensible and, worse, probably liberals. Then the discussion became heated.
When the Alabama hunters offered to back their philosophy with cold hard cash, a $1,000 bet was proposed by the Northerners. It wasn’t enough to scare the rebels. They accepted, and the trap shooters smelled a rat. Had they been sucked in? Was one of their Southern friends an Olympic-class champion shotgunner?
The Ohio hunters decided to insure themselves against Southern duplicity. Since the Alabamans had claimed that an ordinary wingshooter was superior to a trap enthusiast, the Ohio hunters insisted that they select an ordinary wingshooter to represent them—specifically eliminating the Alabama hunters who, they proclaimed, must be superior wingshooters or else they wouldn’t have made the bet.
The Major and Doc Carmichael stayed out of the argument, limiting their participation to being quiet observers and assuming the responsibility of reducing the amount of liquid and increasing the amount of air in the bottle of The Macallan. The Alabama hunters had already hunted with Peabody. They knew his degree of expertise and asked him to shoot for them. He accepted. The Ohioans selected their trap club champion as their representative.
Doc Carmichael saw an opportunity to alleviate Peabody’s financial distress. To appropriately compensate their shooting representatives, Carmichael suggested that each group pay their shooter $250. It seemed like a reasonable suggestion.
The two-day contest began the following morning. Peabody did not shoot well. He had an off day. At the end of the second day he was two birds behind the trap-shooting Buckeye.
On the drive back to Philadelphia, the Major thanked Doc Carmichael for proposing the $250 compensation. It would allow him to live comfortably for the few days remaining before he would receive his first-day-of-the-month trust remittance.
Doc Carmichael thanked Peabody for privately agreeing to shoot poorly. Carmichael had needed such assurance before venturing a $500 bet that the Ohio hunter would out-shoot the Major.
Galen Winter’s favorite Major stories have been collected and anthologized in The Best of the Major, available for $25 (plus shipping) from 800-685-7962; www.shootingsportsman.com.
- By: Galen Winter