An acquaintance of mine in New Zealand tipped me off a couple of months ago that a young man he knows, Mike B., was coming to Virginia Tech as an exchange student; and that among other things, Mike's a keen hunter. I decided the opportunity was too good to pass up, and introduced myself to Mike a few weeks after he got here. One weekend I took him deer hunting as an "observer," and though we didn't get a deer, we did see several, and he had a good time, as did I.
The following Saturday I introduced him to still more aspects of the Appalachian upland culture: guns and squirrel hunting. We started that morning at a big gun auction in a local church's Fellowship Hall. Now I come to think of it, I suppose a southwestern Virginia whoopin'-and-screamin' Baptist Church was another "cross-cultural experience" for him. Even if they have Holy Rollers in New Zealand, I suspect they don't sell guns in their churches.
The auction was run by a prominent local firm, Linkous Auctioneers, who always do the charity auctions for our chapter of the Friends of the NRA. The proprietor, Larry Linkous, is one of the nicest and most upright men I know. No one who hears his southwest Virginia accent would ever mistake him for anything other than a Montgomery County Native Son, but he's a heck of a fine auctioneer, with the "chant" that's almost indecipherable unless you're bidding on something, and then it's clear as a bell. His son Taylor is following in Dad's footsteps and sounds just like The Old Man, too.
We spent about three hours there, two of what must have been 500 people milling around handling the guns and accessories. Since auctions are regarded as private sales, they're well attended: no paperwork is required to do a transfer, something which seemed to amaze Mike, who's used to the far more stringent requirements of New Zealand law. I explained that under US law, Larry isn't a "dealer," he's the owner's agent; the legal contract is between the buyer and seller, who are both residents of Virginia. This makes a sale purely INTRA-state commerce; if a transaction is within a single state, the Feds have no jurisdiction. The Jackbooted Thugs from the local BATF office have tried to tell him he needs a Federal Firearms License, but Larry knows the law, complies with it perfectly, and politely tells them to go kiss a pig, something I think every BATF agent should have to do, repeatedly.
I bought a small stack of reference books for my library, and Lot #1. This was a Montgomery Wards Model 10 break-open shotgun in 16 gauge in very good condition. I need another shotgun like I need another leg, but it was a dead ringer for the first gun I ever owned.
Then we got down to business. As a student at Tech, Mike qualifies as a "resident" for a hunting license, so he bought one (Thank you, DGIF, for the new the on-line license system!) so he was able to hunt this trip, a excursion into deep recesses of The Valley Of A Thousand Rodents. On the way in, climbing up a hill, he stopped and said, "There's a deer!" I couldn't see a thing, but he insisted and finally I made out the head of a doe watching us from perhaps 65 yards away, from her bed on a hillside. Kid has amazing eyes, I need to take him with me more often...then the wind shifted, and up she went, and BOING, BOING, BOING, off went about 10 more we hadn't seen.
We moved down into the VOATR, and sat down on either side of a big beech tree. Mike spotted two squirrels about 45 minutes later, and watched them run around, tantalizingly just out of shotgun range. At 2:00 we pulled up stakes and walked down the hill, and just about at the spot where we'd been when he spotted the deer, he spotted a squirrel, then another, and then another. It was Breed-And-Feed time and they were out in force.
He immediately dropped one with the 20 gauge I'd lent him, I popped a second with my Mossberg 12, and then he shot a third who fell into a creek below us with a huge splash. He was pretty pumped up. We went down and retrieved two bodies (one we never found, though I'm certain he was killed instantly by Mike's shot). The two we recovered were like Romeo and Juliet: a big boar squirrel in "Full Breeding Readiness" with a huge set of gonads; and his light-o'-love, a petite female whom he'd been intently chasing until Mike ruined his afternoon with his second shot.
That entire, excellent, and thoroughly enjoyable day was made possible by the existence of an Internet hunting discussion group I moderate, and the long-distance friends I've made through it. I've never met my NZ friend face to face, but after years of correspondence he felt comfortable with recommending this fine young man to me, and I knew that anyone whom he recommended would be a kindred spirit.
While this trip didn't make a new hunter—Mike was already one—I hope it may have blunted some of the anti-American prejudices a lot of foreigners seem to have. Last Summer I met some pretty unpleasant New Zealanders, older folks who blame the USA for all the problems of the world. Neither of them had ever been to the USA. At the meeting in Italy they remarked that "New Zealand doesn't have any enemies, and we don't want any!" I exercised restraint, and didn't point out that in fact they have the same enemies the US does; but New Zealand is a distinctly bush-league Satan, so it's far down the Islamic jihadists' hit list. I also politely did not say that had it not been for the United States Navy and Marines, they and their grandchildren would be speaking Japanese.
Thank goodness for intelligent and perceptive young people. Mike is not just here to study, he's here to learn, and making a real effort to integrate into America and interact with Americans in their daily lives. He's having a grand time at Tech (I suspect he's doing well with the young ladies, though as a gentleman he's never mentioned that aspect of his...um...cultural adjustment). I wanted to show him a bit of how life here really is, not how CNN and exported soap operas portray it. It's a privilege to be able to demonstrate to a young Kiwi that Americans aren't the hoofed and horned devils we're made out to be, and that we share interests.
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