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Author Topic: What Airguns Mean to Me  (Read 683 times)

Bullfrog

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What Airguns Mean to Me
« on: June 09, 2016, 04:52:47 PM »
What Air Guns Mean to Me

    It would be fair to say that hunting in the Florida woods is the life blood that energizes my being, my reason for waking up in the morning. Love and duty to God, my family, and my job (to the extent others depend on me to do my job) are all of course more important than the woods in the grand scheme of things. But setting those things aside, there is nothing that motivates me more than my love for the woods. The woods call to me, they reach into the core of my very being and seize my love. I do not worship the woods. Worship belongs to God alone. Yet the woods are a living testament to the mind of the Creator, something of great beauty and complexity that sprang from His mind, His very will. Something that came from Him that I can tangibly touch, taste, smell, experience. When this life is over and the day comes that He reunites my soul with my body, I can only hope that He will see fit to set me in an unspoiled Florida. If all of this sounds excessively emotional, I can only offer that it’s a sincere statement of my love of Florida. The real Florida. Not Disney World or modern Miami. All of those things are facades made by peoples and cultures with little or no ties to the old Florida. The Florida of the frontiersman and the Seminole. A Florida that’s in the twilight of its existence. Her death is that of one who dies of old age and senility. I hold her hand and try to keep it for as long as I can. But she’s slipping away from me. She’ll be gone soon. All I’ll have left will be memories of her.

    You have to understand my bond to this dying Florida to understand my view of the air gun. For the air gun is my bridge between the old and the new. The air gun is of course just a tool. Yet it is a tool that has accompanied me on my first hunting adventures in childhood. When I rediscovered modern air guns as an adult, I have been afield with them as often as any other hunting device I may use. I’ve bonded with my air guns more so than any bow or firearm I own. For hunting in Florida was not given to me as a pastime or a sport. Hunting is a way of life. It is the way my grandfathers fed their families. It is the single defining trait of native Florida culture. A bond with the land that comes from directly harvesting one’s food from nature. The bond runs deep, personal, and intimate. This bond runs not only between myself and the land, but also between myself and my weapons. My weapons are my intermediary between myself and nature. I lack the claws or jaws of a predator or the keen senses. It is only thru my killing tools that I can harvest what I need. Of all my tools, my air guns are my most precious to me. 
I hold that the air gun is the perfect hunting implement. Quieter than a firearm. More efficient in killing than a bow. The air gun allows me to hunt in stealth at long range, maximizing my chances at harvesting an animal and minimizing detection from other animals or man. This was the philosophy of the Florida frontiersman. Harvest from the land what was needed to provide for your family and do it as efficiently and silently as possible. Notions of fair play to the animal didn’t apply. Rules that contributed to the well-being of the species and promulgated respect for your fellow man were to be obeyed religiously. Beyond those considerations, no other rules applied. Kill fast. Kill quietly. Get home and feed your family. The air gun epitomizes this philosophy. Although my first “real” air gun was but anything efficient or silent.

    I was somewhere around 12 when I received my first “real” air gun. Like many rural children from all over the United States, I had been allowed to play with weak BB guns throughout childhood under adult supervision. I was also allowed to shoot certain firearms under stricter supervision. Yet at the end of my middle-school years my grandparents had determined that my brother, cousin, and I had enough age and maturity to begin handling some dangerous weapons on our own without direct supervision. The Christmas of that year we were each gifted with matching “pellet guns.” Benjamin 397s to be exact. Classic multi-pumpers in .177. We were taught how they worked, admonished to treat them just like firearms, and then unleashed on the world with them. We weren’t allowed to roam the deep woods with them (it would still be a few years before we earned our rights to venture into the deep woods alone), but we were given free range over the various family farms to go exploring and hunting with them. We were still more children than teenager, so our expeditions in those early years had all of the trappings of children’s imaginations. We would pretend to be great mountain men and don various grand hats and costumes and tools. We would pack snacks as if they were our rations and we would set off for half-a-day, stopping to “camp” and take provisions. And yet beyond the obvious elements of pretend, we were keenly aware we possessed very dangerous weapons that we had to use with the upmost care. To us the guns sounded as loud as .22 rimfires. We therefore attributed all of the same traits of a rimfire to them. We knew we could not aim towards people, houses, livestock, or anything else that we didn’t want to hit, no matter how far in the distance it might be. We cringed whenever we heard a ricochet, as if we had narrowly dodged catastrophe and soberly realized we had to be more careful. We understood that a misplaced pellet could bring death on whatever it hit.

    Death we did bring to many a small animal in those years. Various birds, squirrel, even larger animals such as coons and possums (once we got old enough to incorporate real traps into our adventures). Many would frown on us today to know that often we did not eat what we killed, nor were we ever admonished to. Had we been killing endangered animals or actual useful game animals, we would have surely been halted in our activities. Yet coons, squirrels, and various vermin are a dime a dozen on the farms. The Florida Cracker* mentality towards animals values a willingness to take a life coldly above sparing a life emotionally. There’s no room for excessive sympathy towards animals on the frontier. If an animal requires killing, either to feed your family or just to make your life easier, you do it and think nothing of it. It is for this reason my forefathers hunted the Florida Panther down to near extinction. The cat was a direct competitor to the settlers. My great, great, great, great grandfather on my father’s side** was historically documented to have beat a panther to death with a fence post as it slashed my grandfather up as he defended his cattle from the cat. I have a living uncle today who recalls (very illegal and intense) panther hunts well into the 1950s and 1960s in some remote parts of Florida whenever the females were heard caterwauling, that is, calling their mates from miles away when they were in season and ready to breed. The objective, total annihilation of a cat, the cat that threatened their livestock and therefore their livelihoods. In terms of what fellow air gun hunters might understand, the cats were the house sparrows or European starlings of the settlers. Pests to be killed, but worse than pests because they were direct threats to life.

    The panthers are just an example of how the Crackers dealt with problem animals. I was born into that mentality. I was taught to kill first. Then, only after I was comfortable with killing and over the twinges of guilt that most children exhibit when they needless kill a small animal, a foundation of a deeper respect for nature could be built within me. But the respect had to be built on reason first, not emotion. It would be wrong to kill an animal needlessly, not because its makes one feel sad or guilty to do so, but because killing animals needlessly wastes the resource and steals from your fellow man who may need the animal in question. That isn’t to say that I was taught that it wasn’t acceptable to also feel sadness at a wasted animal life. I was and I do. But those emotions must be dryly tempered with reason. I learned that I had to ask myself, is there a purpose in killing this animal, even if the purpose is not directly food? If the purpose is there, then kill the animal and let no emotion interfere. But if there is no purpose, spare the resource and yes, spare the life itself for the animal’s sake. It took some purposeless killing on those childhood expeditions to lay the foundation for me to learn such. I had to learn to ignore my conscience when my conscience was offended for the wrong reasons, and then rebuilt my conscience with correct, reasoned, morality instead of emotionalism.
Going into our high-school years we generally retired our air guns. We had “outgrew” them. We were given access to new freedoms and weapons. Our first bows, rifles, and shotguns. Over time we were allowed to hunt in the deep woods unsupervised. We each killed our first large game animals. My first was a sow hog I shot in the ear with a .270 firearm when I was around 14-15. I had observed her for weeks and watched her young piglets grow into self-sustaining shoats before I decided to harvest her. I added more and more hogs to my tally those next couple of years and then eventually whitetail deer. I spent the next several years learning how to be a true woodsman from my grandfather. I was not only taught how to successfully hunt, I was taught how to walk the woods without getting lost. How to read terrain. How ultimately to feel comfortable in the woods and make the woods my ally. Years past and I became more and more married to the woods.

    Then when I was in my early 20s, north central Florida experienced a massive development boom. Speculators from south Florida began buying up millions of acres of woods. They flipped the land around and sold worthless swampland (as it seemed to us) for huge sums of money. The woods got hacked down and carved up. Overnight we lost access to nearly 100,000 acres our family had hunted and even lived in for over 150 years. We took for granted that the woods would always be there and we’d always have access to them. Our family culture changed. For a while we were in despair. My brother and I would often discuss that our generation saw hunting die in Florida, at least the kind of free-range, deep woods hunting we had known. Our children would never know the woods like we did. And yet we couldn’t move on and let it go. The woods defined us and our family. We had to find them again.

    In the years to follow my hunting horizons expanded. I found any scrap of land I could legally hunt, public or private, and hunted every season that was open to me. Up to this point I had left varmint hunting in childhood where I thought it belonged. Yet I reasoned that if the only way I could get into the woods was to chase coons, squirrels, or other animals that otherwise would only be fit for a child, I’d do it. I obtained my first .22 magnum and took up coyote and coon hunting. I began hunting public land with my bow with a degree of religiosity that I never had before. I had ignored turkeys in my early years, but I madly took up turkey hunting for no other reason that some of the family farms had turkey populations on them, ignorant of the fate that turkey hunting would become one of my great addictions. A point came where in spite of reduced access to the woods, I was spending more time in the woods than I had ever before. My year was planned around chasing spring turkeys on the farms, varmint hunting throughout the summer, and finishing out the fall and winter hunting public land for deer all over north central Florida wherever I could get access.
 
    Over time, my family was able to acquire some hunting leases. Although the acreage was only a fraction to the amount of woods we had access to in the decades before, it let us begin to recapture at least some of what we had lost over the past few years. We were able to begin managing a deer herd thru predator control, nutritional supplements, and harvest restrictions. It was a different kind of hunting than we grew up with, but it was better than nothing. Ironically, it was in these later years that I personally began to depend on game for food. Of course my grandparents had depended on game in their early years as they legitimately lived a frontier life by necessity all the way thru the Great Depression and World War II, and my father’s generation relied on game as a supplement although it wasn’t out of the same kind of necessity it was of my grandparents’ generation. But for me (and my new wife), we began to stop buying store-bought meat in favor of the meat we harvested ourselves. Hunting took on a whole new level of importance and I began to understand the wisdom of that old Cracker mentality towards the taking of animals. 

    On some of the properties we had acquired, pest animals were out of control including coons, coyotes, and hogs. These animals either directly preyed on our food animals or competed with them for the same resources. We had decided that the pest species needed to be eliminated. A first I relied on my trusty .22 magnum for the task. However, I noticed that pest animals would quickly pattern me after killing the first one or two animals. For example, it might be possible for me to pattern a group of hogs and kill one hog when the group visited a particular corn feeder. However, after killing that first hog in front of the others, the remaining hogs would then begin only visiting the feeder late at night when it was often inconvenient for me to go afield for them. After lots of observation, it seemed clear to me that the sound of the gunshot was the biggest factor in making animals more shy than normal. I began researching quiet ways to kill pests besides a bow, which I found to be too limiting and awkward of a weapon for efficient work.

    I cannot remember how a Gamo Whisper in .22 first caught my eye. What I remember is that it was about 10 years ago and I was fascinated by this air gun that shot (what seemed to me) to be a gigantic pellet. Although it didn’t cross my mind that the Gamo or any “pellet” gun would solve my hog problem, I decided it would be a fun gun to play with. I was blown away with the power of the .22 springer. The first pest I remember killing with it was an armadillo that was rooting up the back yard of the farm house. I remember the sound of the pellet thwacking him on the side of his shell and blowing thru him broadside. I was stunned. I had no idea a pellet gun could be so powerful. I began to research air guns over the next few years while also buying myself a .177 Whisper. I learned about the history of air guns. I learned that powerful air guns had been around for centuries. Guns so powerful they were once cutting edge weapons of war. I learned that some hunters used air guns for African big game. I studied the Lewis and Clark gun. There was an entire history of air guns I was ignorant of. It took some time, but eventually decided I needed a PCP. I researched the .25 Benjamin Marauder. There seemed to be my pest control weapon I was looking for. Without me realizing it, it all came full circle. I needed to coldly kill animals. Animals I wouldn’t eat, but animals that I had a purpose to kill non-the-less so that I could have more good game animals for food. The air gun would be my tool to do it.

    Surely it must be for this reason that the air gun has endured itself to me. The air gun is the embodiment of my past and my future. The air gun taught me how to kill as a child became my tool to enable me to provide meat for my family. Although the gun would be used for pest control and not for direct game harvest, I knew the gun had the capacity to take all available game with brain shots. If the need arose to take a deer with it out of desperation, the ability was there. 

    The adventures I’ve had with my .25 Marauder and subsequent PCPs over the past 5 years will be better left for another day to tell. In recent years I’ve began recording some of them and sharing them on Youtube. I would be honored if you would follow them on my channel. I pour a lot of myself into my videos. I wish I could have had a camera 20 years ago when I could have recorded some of the prettiest woods in North America when they were still around. I can’t show you that Florida anymore. And yet I hope that in the next few years Florida will allow large game to be taken with air guns. If that happens, I will probably hunt with air guns exclusively for the remainder of my days, except for those seasons that allow for only specific specialized weapons such as archery and muzzleloading seasons. Regardless, what adventures I have I’ll record and share***. I’ll also post various articles, some will be stories and accounts and others will be technical articles concerning what hunting knowledge I’ve acquired over the years that would be useful to the air gun hunter. I hope you enjoy this labor of love.

-   Travis Munden, AKA Florida Bullfrog

* “Cracker” is the name by which native Florida frontiersmen identified themselves as a distinct culture separate from other groups. Ethnically Crackers are American settlers that came into Florida, usually before or immediately after the Civil War and usually from Georgia and the Carolinas. Crackers are superficially Caucasian in appearance, but are often actually composed of mixed Seminole and Spaniard ancestry, as it was customary for Crackers to take Seminole and Spanish brides. There is a unique Cracker accent that is distinct from other Southern accents. Crackers are almost extinct as a people. My family, my wife’s family, and some families I know from north Florida are the only pure Cracker families I am aware of to exist in the modern era (by “pure” I mean made up of only Floridians who can trace their ancestries back at least 5 generations in Florida).
 
** Brunson aka “Bronson” Lewis was my distant grandfather who killed the panther “by hand”. Family legend says he was a big man that killed the panther with his bare hands. The historical accounts/books indicate that he was actually a small man and he killed the cat with a fence post. He lived in the great Gulf Hammock between what is now Bronson and Cedar Key. He was awoken one night to the sounds of cattle in distress. He went outside and found a panther and a freshly killed calf. The panther attacked him and he grabbed a fence post that was in hand’s reach and beat the cat to death. His injuries from the cat were so severe he was bedridden for 6 months and that his bed rotted underneath him several times due to the leakage of his wounds. He was a veteran of the Second Seminole War.

*** You may notice I don’t often show deer hunts on my Youtube channel. I take deer hunting very seriously because it feeds my family. I don’t want to sacrifice a shot opportunity at a deer for the sake of filming so I often don’t make deer videos. I am also not keen on sharing my specific deer hunting secrets I’ve learned over the years because of the advantages they give me. I’ve worked hard to learn how to beat deer senses and pattern their behaviors. Over time I may amend my policy and start sharing more deer hunts and secrets.

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