Gun Shy, by Christine Callahan

“Give the gun three pumps and be ready!” I yelled over my shoulder as I flooded the holes under the deck with cold water.

It had only been two weeks since the groundhog moved in and already the kale had been reduced to pale green nubs, the shredded remnants of mescaline lettuce had gone to seed and the once towering clusters of ruby red bee balm were deep shadows that clung to the garden border like ghosts.

“I had no idea you were so blood thirsty,” Mike said as he held the gun as ordered but without conviction.

My brother-in-law had an artillery of weapons locked up in closets all over his house: a compound bow that could take down a bull moose, a couple of standard issue rifles and a handgun “for intruders” were just a few that I knew of. As a kid in the country, he and my husband, Joe, used squirrels for target practice and under their father’s orders, setup elaborate death traps with electric wire and bowls of milk to cull the herd of stray barn cats that plagued the neglected farmhouse across the road.  For the past ten years I’ve listened to countless retellings of his years spent hunting caiman in the Florida swamps. Sitting in tree stands for hours in the thick mangroves and longleaf pines waiting for a black bear, white-tailed deer or wild boar to come into view.  When we bought our land in the Northeast Kingdom last Spring he asked if he could deer hunt there and suggested to Joe that we buy a rifle to have at camp.

My husband and I are far from gun enthusiasts, but we respect people who use them responsibly to hunt for meat and we allow our neighbors to hunt deer, moose and black bear (with permits) on our property when we’re not there. I even spent days clearing knotweed and birch saplings away from the scraggly apple trees by our driveway because the apple droppings attract rough grouse – popular with the local bird hunters.

But I grew up in suburban New Jersey with a view of the Manhattan skyline from the hill behind my house.  Growing up, guns were associated with drug dealers, gang members and armed robberies. Hunting was a novelty and guns in the house were taboo, frowned upon as dangerous and neglectful.  So when Mike gave us an old air rifle of his years ago to ward off problem squirrels, I reluctantly accepted it, then tucked it away in the dark recesses of our basement with no intention of ever using it.  Even this air rifle, which most gun users would consider a toy, gave me the creeps and made me feel uncomfortable just having it in my house.

That is, until groundhog moved in.

So here I was on a sticky hot July afternoon crouched on my hands and knees aiming the garden hose on the “flood” setting right into the holes dug under my deck, as Mike stood by with his air rifle loaded with one pellet and Joe, bent over a greasy bike engine in the garage, muttered to himself about me taking things too far.

“Christine, I don’t know if we should shoot it.  I mean, it’s possible to kill it with these pellets,” Mike pleaded.

“Isn’t that the point!” I snarled revealing my exasperation. “If we only scare it then we’ll be right back here tomorrow.” I found myself getting defensive and flustered by Mike, who just last weekend spent a full eight hours ogling over firearms at a local gun show, being so conflicted about shooting a destructive rodent with a BB gun.

I could sense his wavering enthusiasm and could feel Joe’s dissent seeping through the cracked garage window. As usual, these two were forming a united front against me and my cause and Mike was caving under his big brother’s unspoken pressure.

“Look, my garden is to me like your motorcycle is to you.  If there was an animal destroying your bike, busting your tires, scratching your paint job, and bending your frame, what would you do?”

“I’d kill it,” he admitted.

“Ok then, let’s do this!” I cried, and gripped the hose again, but this time more firmly.  “On the count of three I’m going to flood the burrow with water.  As soon as I do, he should come running out.  Be ready!”

“1…2…3….”

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