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Snail-safari adventures.

WE ALL HAVE OUR DREAMS, AND ONE OF MINE IS SOMEDAY--SOMEHOW, SOMEWHERE--TO LIVE IN A HOUSE WHERE I CAN SHOOT OUT THE KITCHEN WINDOW. NOT THE LIVING ROOM WINDOW OR OFF THE FRONT PORCH, BUT TO SIT AT THE BREAK ST TABLE IN, IN FRONT OF A STEAMING CUP OF COFFEE, PICK UP A .22 PISTOL AND POP TIN CANS FROM THE OPEN WINDOW.

I think about this a lot. Frankly, I admire folks who live in rural communities where this is possible, and I am envious of gunwriters who claim to have shooting ranges in their backyards. But being ensconced in Southern California's City of Lost Angels, it is illegal to even pull the trigger of a Daisy Red Ryder BB rifle.

It wasn't always this way. When I first moved into my home a few decades ago, the lawmakers weren't so paranoid. There were no regulations prohibiting the use of non-cartridge guns, and it was always a happy day when the new phone book arrived, for that meant I could use it for impromptu target practice. For this purpose I had acquired a nifty little .177 single-shot pellet pistol called the Webley Premier Mk II. It was notable in the fact that you had to unlatch and pivot the barrel all the way forward to cock the spring-powered mechanism.

But in spite of its formidable name, power wasn't the Hurricane's strong point. I once made a rear-end shot on a squirrel, and the space-shuttle-shaped pellet merely bounced off the rodent's posterior, causing him to spin around and look at me as if I had just stole his parking space

But the real advantage of the noiseless, gunpowder-less Webley was that was imminently adaptable for snail hunting. When domesticated, snails are referred to as escargot, and French chefs serve them on plates arranged in small groupings of a half-dozen or so. But as a homeowner, I had discovered these plant-eating mollusks in the wild. Devoid of their garlic and butter sauce, they are destructive creatures that serve no purpose other than to destroy gardens. Fortunately, it is easy to outrun them, and one can even sneak up on them without much effort. And that is where the Webley came into its own. Accuracy was not essential, which played well into the Webley's design. I mean, you have to wonder about a gun in which the entire barrel, including front and rear sights, moves on a pivot. Thus, close-range shooting was not only mandatory but actually became an integral part of my snail safaris.

Besides protecting my wife's plants, snail hunting was therapeutic; it helped fill the gaps in non-hunting months, and I would often don the pith helmet I had worn in Africa. Then, armed with my Webley Premier Mk II, I would stalk into the yard, carefully peering into the dampest, darkest spots. Hunting was especially lucrative after the rain or when the sprinklers finally turned off. That's when the little beggars would come out in herds, and I sometimes found I could hardly reload fast enough.

Of course, my shots usually ended up punching a hole not only through the snail but through the leaf on which it was chewing. Thus, it became a point of arbitration around our house as to which was more destructive, the snail munching or the cluster of .177 holes I would end up shooting in the leaves. To diffuse this situation, I occasionally placed a number of snails on a large sheet of cardboard, safely backed by the latest phone book, and practiced my skills on these slow-moving targets. I am proud to say that my snail safaris practically all resulted in one-shot kills.

Of course, as these free-range snails had not been purged with grain, as is the custom with escargots, I abandoned my usual custom of eating everything I hunt. And, with gutting and skinning out of the question by virtue of the fact that the .177 pellets were as destructive as a hollowpoint on a ripe watermelon, I left the bodies where they lay to be devoured by the possum that found my backyard an ideal spot for late-night snacks.

But the city's antipellet gun law ended my snail-safari adventures and has made it illegal to even shoot a telephone book. It's just as well, I suppose, for in time I probably would have started flipping through the pages looking for a taxidermist.
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Title Annotation:Final Round
Author:Hacker, Rick
Publication:Handguns
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Words:735
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