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Cow Pies and Country Cousins

by Charles Well and Sam the Ham

Chapter 9

Right on Target

Trying to stay angry was a lot harder than it seemed. When the rest of his cousins returned from the swimming hole, Jimmy expected to hear complaints. He didn't. Nobody commented or even looked his way. The only one who spoke to him was Luke. The young boy asked if Jimmy wanted to play baseball. He thought of snapping at the kid, but in the end just shook his head. No doubt Luke would grow up to be just like his brother's, but it didn't seem right to be angry. He hadn't done anything to him.

At dinner, or supper or whatever they called it here, Jimmy didn't say a word until Aunt Kate asked how his day had gone. He was happy to mind his own business. But the woman seemed to have a 6th sense when it came to sniffing out problems with her extensive brood. And it was only then that Jimmy realized that sulking at a dinner table with 11 people was a lot different to when it was just four. That was especially true, when his eagle-eyed aunt had her 'trouble' sensors on full probing mode.

Jimmy wasn't sure what to say. He wasn't sure of anything anymore. He mumbled something about having a great time at the swimming hole. It wasn't true of course, and all the kids knew it, but nobody called the lie.

The next morning came all too quickly, as it always did on the farm. Jimmy would go through the motions. That was expected. At least he knew enough about his chores by now that he didn't have to speak to anyone. Stevie and Luke tried being friendly again, but they were the only ones. The two youngest Sullivan boys had a bizarre relationship. Sometimes they were at each other's throats and other times the best of friends. Jimmy found it fascinating to watch the interaction between the Sullivans. It was like being an anthropologist, examining the social, physical and the cultural aspects of a "lost tribe." He had read about some famous anthropologist last year in school. They lived with the tribe, but were never part of it. That's exactly how Jimmy felt. The other older boys were still ignoring him, and that was perfectly fine with the New York refugee. About the only good thing that the day did promise was everyone was planning to stay around the farm. That meant there would be no rush to the showers.

Jimmy lingered over his lunch that day and was the last one to finish eating. Fred and the two youngest boys were off to one side playing baseball. Stevie was still trying to figure out how to hit a thrown ball instead of one on a tee. The fact that that little piece of information had wiggled into his brain was somehow annoying.

The bunkhouse was empty. At least that was what Jimmy thought until he walked into the bathroom.

"Do you queers ever give it a break?" Jimmy snapped.

The twins and Damian were all naked. Damian was in between both of the twins, and they were rubbing against each other. Another piece of knowledge Jimmy wished hadn't come to him. Damian's butt was a hot dog bun for Bill. Harry was standing in front of Damien, and the two were rubbing their things together. He was sure that would have a name too, not that he cared.

"Sorry!" Bill said. "I thought everyone would be out."

Jimmy was annoyed that his insult was ignored. Worse still was the fact he couldn't take his eyes off the three naked boys and he continued to stare until Damian spoke.

"Ignore him. He's just sulking. He does it all the time. Every time something doesn't go his way, he throws himself a big pity party."

The silence that descended over the bathroom was profound. The twins had a good idea about the relationship between the two Bukland brothers, but no one was more shocked this time than Jimmy. His brother had never spoken to him that way before.

He stared at the kid in horror. "What did you say?"

Damian seemed surprised by the outburst, but recovered quickly. Separating himself from the twins, and still fully naked, he responded angrily.

"I said you're just throwing a pity party for yourself. Like you always do. Every time something doesn't go your way, it's always 'poor Jimmy.' Here's a little news flash. Nobody likes you. I hate being your brother."

Damian turned a little more to address the twins and pointed right at his sibling.

"You know he tried to get one of my friends in trouble once by saying he was stealing stuff from us. Jimmy just didn't like him because he got better grades in math. My brother is a bully and he's dumb enough to think people don't know. Every year at least one teacher tells me they're going to have to keep a special eye on me, because they taught Jimmy. They think I'll be like him. I hate it."

Damien snapped his head back around looking at the older boy. "I hate that people think I'm like you!"

Jimmy stared at his younger brother in complete shock. Damien was a punching bag. He was the one that would cry and not fight back. When did he grow a spine? As his brother spoke, the 12-year-old felt something in his stomach, something that twisted and hurt. He stepped forward intending to teach the boy a lesson. But the twins sprang into action and put themselves between the two Bukland brothers.

"If you're going to fight, take it outside. There are too many hard surfaces in here." Harry said stepping forward.

"Jimmy, I've been looking for you."

Everyone in the bathroom spun around to see Tom standing at the entrance.

Jimmy scowled at the older teen. "What do you want?"

Tom sensed the tension in the air and realized he had arrived on the scene at precisely the right moment. So he ignored his cousin's attitude for now.

"I was hoping to borrow you. It looks like we've got a pretty big raccoon creeping around the chicken tractors. I prefer we find it, before the dogs do their thing." Tom leaned against the doorway. "Are you up for a little hunting? It might be an experience for you. I'm guessing you don't do much shooting in New York."

Jimmy made a face. He knew some of his classmates considered hunting cruel. They even had a debate on the subject once in 6th grade. There were pro vs. anti-hunting sides. It had been one of those discussions for English class, but it was a topic upon which he didn't have strong feelings either way. Nature had been such an alien concept to him back then.

But his entire world had been turned upside down in the last few weeks. Everything was changing so fast and he hated it. Jimmy wanted to go back to New York. He wanted to see his friends again and hang with them. He desperately wanted his old life back. But as much as he wanted it, Jimmy knew it probably wasn't going to happen. For one thing, his relationship with Damien had clearly changed. Whatever happened in the future, either here or in New York, the understanding between them was now different. Before, Jimmy had always been boss, the kid with the friends and influence. Now his little brother had usurped that role. Damien fit in around here and he didn't. Plus, the kid had real friends. Everyone was starting to call him the third twin, and all three boys concerned seemed perfectly happy with that description. And worse still, the kid now had confidence he had never shown before. He had just stood up to him for the first time ever. They had both been saved from a full-on boxing match through Tom's intervention, but the die had been cast. Jimmy recognized that on some level, it would now be almost impossible to get that genie back into the bottle. His days of embarrassing and putting down his little bro were probably over. Maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. Perhaps something else could blossom in its place. The powerful relationship Tom had with his siblings was not lost on the New York boy. In fact, he was rather jealous of what the Sullivans had. What Jimmy found fascinating was that the power exercised by Tom was always benign and not oppressive. The oldest Sullivan kid did appear to genuinely care about what happened to his younger brothers and that respect was returned in spades. Could he ever be like that? He didn't know, but maybe he could work on repairing the relationship with his brother. As his Mom said, "they would be brothers for as long as at least one of them was alive." However, a decision about Damien would wait for now. Tom was staring at him expecting an answer.

But Jimmy Bukland wasn't stupid – well, smart enough to realize why Tom had invited him hunting. The 15-year-old Sullivan was doing his job of being the adult in the bunkhouse. He had no doubt their time together would involve 'a man to man talk' about his feelings at some point.

"Okay," Jimmy said. He gave his little brother a wry smile. "It's not like I have anything better to do."

"This is a Winchester 94 Sporter .38 caliber, lever-action rifle," Tom explained as he held out the gun for Jimmy to examine. "It's called a 94 because it was first produced in 1894. It's an updated version of an even older gun called The Winchester 73 from 1873. That was known as "The Gun that Won the West." If you ever see one of the famous cowboy movies from the 1950s and 1960s, that's the rifle they used. Every cowboy had one. Cartridges are pushed bullet-first into the loading gate on the right side here or through the top." He held that side up for the city kid to see where the rounds were placed. "After the magazine is loaded, the lever is pulled to chamber a cartridge."

Jimmy watched as bullet after bullet was side loaded into the Winchester. His nerves were a little on edge. It had been like that all day. Coming to the Sullivan farm had just been one new experience after another and none of them had been all that welcome. But this was different. His favorite video games were always first-person shooter action, and now he was going to try a real gun. He was pretty sure his parents wouldn't approve, but they weren't around, so why not.

Then Tom went on to explain about the dozens of different types of animals that were potential predators to the chickens they raised here on the farm.

"There are feral dogs and cats, weasels, foxes, skunks, raccoons, coyotes, and others. We need to kill them when we can, before they do serious damage. A pack of coyotes for example, could kill hundreds of birds in one night."

"I thought that's what the dogs were for?" Jimmy asked.

"It is, and they do a damn good job at it too. But being torn limb from limb by a pack of dogs is not a great way to die. Sometimes it's kinder to shoot the predators. But before we do that, you need to learn some basic gun safety rules. So listen carefully, because I won't let you touch a gun until you get the first three rules correct. Understand?"

"Yes Tom," Jimmy replied. He knew the older boy was being serious. The teenager worked the lever on the gun until all the ammo was unloaded. Then he checked the chamber and moved the sliding button behind the hammer to safe mode.

"Rule 1. Always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction. The muzzle should never be pointed at something you don't intend to kill. Rule 2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot. When holding a gun, rest your finger alongside the frame and outside the trigger guard. Until you are actually ready to fire, do not touch the trigger. And Rule 3. Always keep the gun unloaded until you are ready to use it. If you don't know how to open the action or inspect the chamber, leave the gun alone and get help from someone who does. Me, Junior, Fred and even the twins know their way around loads of different types of guns. Do you understand these rules Jimmy?"

"I think so."

"Good! Then repeat them back." The boy from New York did a very creditable job. Not word for word perfect answers, but it was clear he understood the three main rules.

"Okay," said Tom, "next we get some target practice. Follow me."

Jimmy noticed that the 15-year-old carried the Winchester rifle pointed skyward, (rule 1), his finger resting along the frame of the gun, not on the trigger (rule 2) and on his back he carried a bag with boxes of shells and protective gear. (rule 3). They walked off passed the woods that ran along one side of the farm house to the back forty, alpaca field number three. There were no animals there today, but a large target on a tall stand had been set up at the end of the field.

He followed Tom until they stood about 50 yards (about 46 meters) away from the target.

"These are obviously for the protection of your sight and hearing. Always use these when you plan to shoot more than a few rounds," said Tom as he handed Jimmy a set of noise reduction safety ear muffs and clear lens shooting glasses. "But don't put them on yet."

"You might think that shooting a rifle is simple," said Tom continuing the lesson. "Point at the target and pull the trigger, right? But accurate shooting is more complicated than that. I've seen beginner shooters that couldn't hit the side of a barn standing 50 yards away. Why you ask?" Jimmy hadn't - asked that is - but the older boy had Jimmy's undivided attention.

"A thing called cross-eye dominance. Are you right or left handed Jimmy? What hand do you use when you jerk-off?"

Okay that question was way too personal, but he guessed Tom had probably heard him going at it at night. There was little privacy when you shared a bunkhouse with 8 other boys. He held up his right hand.

"Okay, you're right handed and that arm will always be stronger than the other one. But it's the same with your eyes. Most people have one eye that is dominant, or stronger than the other. You've probably never noticed that before. You don't until you start shooting, but it's true for most people. Cross-eye dominance occurs when a right handed person has a left eye that dominates. Does any of that make sense?"

Jimmy had never thought of this before, but it made perfect sense and he nodded in the affirmative.

"The first thing we do is work out which of your eyes dominates. Extend your right arm in front of you." Tom demonstrated, "and put your thumb up so you can use your thumbnail like a gun-sight. Keep both eyes open and look towards the target and cover it with your thumbnail. Now close your left eye. Does your thumb still cover the spot? Open both eyes again and cover the same spot. Now close your right eye. Does your thumb appear to jump to the side of your target? If so, you are right-eye dominant."

Jimmy did as he was told and smiled. He was both right handed and he had a dominant right eye.

"Great!" Tom said. "That makes your life much easier. You don't need corrective eye gear. It's now time to start shooting lessons. Put on the protective glasses and the ear muffs. The glasses protect your eyesight and obviously, the ear-muffs your hearing. But they have another benefit for new shooters. The bang you hear when pulling the trigger is a shockwave that travels through the air. It can be felt and the larger the cartridge, the larger the shockwave. When you couple that shockwave with the intimidation factor of firing a gun, it can be unnerving and causes many new shooters to miss the target."

The final thing I need to explain is how to hold the rifle, and how to deal with recoil. Recoil is the backward jerk of a gun when you shoot, and it's directly related to the size of the bullet you fire. The larger the bullet, the more recoil. I'm loading the rifle with .25 rimless ammo and the recoil won't be that great. But still, holding the weapon in the correct position is essential. Bring the rifle up to your head. Don't lower your head to the rifle. Next, wedge your cheek firmly to the stock, and make your right eye comfortable and looking down the gun sight. Finally, the trigger arm is chicken-winged out to the side, and the support arm rests against your chest, creating a stable platform for the front of the rifle."

He demonstrated the correct position and then started loading the rifle with 8 rounds.

"When you shoot, aim the rifle, hold your breath, and squeeze, don't pull the trigger."

Jimmy slipped his ear protection on. At least that drowned out the sound of those damn cicadas. Tom handed him the rifle and the city boy tried to remember everything he'd been told. He held the rifle in the way Tom had demonstrated and sighted the target with his right eye. It really couldn't be too hard.

Tom tapped him on the shoulder and took several steps back. Jimmy looked down the rifle sights. The target, with its concentric rings and small bullseye was about 50 yards away. He squeezed the trigger slowly and felt the sudden kick-back from the rifle against his shoulder as the gun went off. But all the movies and video games he'd ever played, hadn't really prepared him for this. The kick of the rifle, the smell of gunpowder, and the loud bang, even with the ear muffs, was overwhelming to the senses. But worse still was the feeling of frustration as a cloud of black dirt spewed up into the air three feet away from the target.

"You flinched before you fired. Try it again," Tom said raising his voice.

Gritting his teeth, Jimmy lower the lever ejecting the cartridge and took another shot. This time he was a little high, but much closer to the target. He ejected the cartridge again before aiming and firing for a third time. But again, it was another near miss.

"Harder than you thought?" Tom asked.

Jimmy slipped one of his ears free from the earmuffs. "It's a lot different than the games," he said with a smile.

Taking a deep breath to calm down, Jimmy tried to relax for the next shot. He aimed the rifle with his right eye, held his breath, and squeezed the trigger. He knew what to expect this time with the noise and recoil and was pleased when he hit the target. Not exactly a bullseye, but he hit the paper.

Over the next 15 minutes Jimmy fired off another 40 rounds. By the end, he was hitting the target 9 out of 10 times, and got several bullets within the smaller concentric circles.

"I think you're a natural," Tom said as he took the rifle away from Jimmy. He checked the chamber and put on the safety. "But I think that's enough practice for one day. Let's go hunting for that raccoon."

Tom went back to the house, spoke to his father, and borrowed his Ruger 10/22 Takedown rifle. Then he met up with Jimmy in the woods that ran along the left side of the farm house. This forest area was only a small part of the farm property, but it had been kept in its pristine natural state because Aunt Kate's father, John O'Reilly, who owned and ran the farm until he died in 2001, was a keen sports hunter and gun enthusiast.

He handed Jimmy the Winchester 94 and watched carefully as the city boy loaded the rifle. "Safety on." Then they headed out.

"Back in the day," Tom said as they walked along an animal path in the woods, "Old Man O'Reilly was famous for his bear hunting parties each October. As many as 25 people, plus their dogs, would participate in each hunt. It must have been a thing to see. But grandad O'Reilly died before I was born," said Tom almost wistfully. "And my own Daddy never continued the tradition. But we still see bears here from time to time."

He smiled as Jimmy looked around nervously. About 20 yards further on, the older boy stopped and looked down at some black berry like animal droppings on the ground. He picked up several of the little pallets, crush them between his fingers, and raised them to his nose. "Raccoon, recent, say 24 hours old," he explained before he continued walking.

"Are raccoons dangerous? I thought they were just scavengers." Jimmy asked from behind.

"They're predators. They prefer to scavenge mostly, but they'll take one of our broilers if they can. Besides, if it's rabid, it could contaminate the water. You know anything about rabies?"

"Not really." Jimmy answered. The only time he had heard of rabies was that one chapter from Harper Lee's book, 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' That had just been a dog acting weird though.

"An animal with rabies can be very aggressive, even if that's not its normal behavior. I heard that one rabid animal can infect up to a hundred others. They can also become hydrophobic. That means they'd have trouble swallowing liquids. It's a nasty way to go and the last thing you want on your farm."

Jimmy guess that all made sense. "Do you think it's rabid?"

"No, raccoons are smart. This one seems to be getting too close to the cages, but it's been smart enough to avoid the dogs so far."

They continued walking for another 5 minutes in silence. Then Tom turned around and looked at Jimmy.

"This part of the woods is just a narrow strip of about 600 yards (about 550 meters) at its widest, but you can walk right through here and end up in the state park over at the swimming hole and caves area. You can just make out the mountains in the distance. And that park is huge. We've got a lot of forest in South Carolina. One of the aims of the Forestry Commission is to locate a park within 50 miles of every person in the state and they did a damn good job round here."

"There's other game in these woods as well. Like whitetail deer, wild boar, bobcat, fox, rabbit and coyote. Then you've got the game birds like turkey, duck, geese, and quail. And there are some areas of the state forest up there where archery-only hunting is permitted. If you want to hunt, you use a crossbow. Junior got one for his 14th birthday and he and Harry are both scary good with that weapon. It's as deadly as that Winchester you're carrying."

By now Tom sensed Jimmy had forgotten his concerns of the last 24 hours. The kid was relaxed and distracted by all the hunting and gun talk.

"I've known Dustin my entire life. He's a pretty friendly guy, but well, let's just say, his mind is rarely troubled with too many thoughts." Tom said as they continued walking. "I can't say I know Alex all that well. And Ricky" He trailed off. "Well, he's pretty laid-back most of the time. That shiner must have been hurting him something fierce. But he barely even mentioned it."

Jimmy didn't comment and both boys kept walking. Suddenly there was a rustle in the bushes a few yards away and Tom brought his weapon to bear in that direction. He was pleased his city cousin didn't shoot without looking. A large rabbit ran out and made for the thicker undergrowth some distance away.

Both boys smiled and Tom continued talking.

"A lot of things can throw off your shot. I'm not bad, but Ricky is probably the best among the boys round here. He won the Junior County Shooting Competition last year. He beat all my brothers, but just by a whisker. Of course Junior has his crossbow and he's damn good with that. But Harry is giving him a run for his money like I said. They both won their age group competitions in the archery contests at that same meet where Ricky won the gold."

Jimmy wasn't sure what to say. He had won a couple of gold medals in swimming, and his basketball team had come runners-up in the New York city competition last year, but maybe that wasn't as cool as getting the gold in shooting or archery. He wanted to fire the gun again. Should he have tried to shoot the rabbit they had just seen? Then he thought about what his parents might think. Well, his dad had a gun, but he had never seen it before. Knowing the parents of some of his friends, he guessed more than a few wouldn't have approved of that, had they known. Then he considered his mom's views on guns. Before she left, she said some of her best memories were from her time on the farm. It was strange she had never mentioned that before. Suddenly, a horrifying thought occurred to him. Did she know about the gay stuff that went on around here? Had she known her boys would be sucking cock? Jimmy felt his face flush and he turned away from the other boy.

"Jimmy, you want to try a few more rounds? If you want to take a crack at that raccoon, you need a lot more practice."

The 12-year-old shook his head. "I'm not sure if I really want to kill anything. I know the only reason I'm here is because you wanted to talk to me."

Tom nodded. "I also wanted to give you a chance to get away from the others in the bunkhouse for a while. I know you're not exactly happy here, but I'm doing my best to make you comfortable."

The teenager let out a sigh. "Ricky went too far and I know he regrets it. The others too, I think."

"Then they can come here and apologize," Jimmy said turning around. "I'm not going back to the swimming hole till they do."

"That's fair enough, but they did offer. Well, Ricky did. In his own way."

Jimmy rolled his eyes. "Yeah, what way is that?"

"He offered to show you a good time. Alex and Dustin might come too. They both said they would owe you." Tom shrugged and kept his rifle pointed down at the ground.

"Does everything come back to sex around here?"

The teen looked away. "I think for Ricky it sort of does. He's not exactly the happiest kid around."

Jimmy remembered the black eye and the cuts on the boy's face. He also remembered the twins complaining about Ricky's father.

"So you want me to feel bad for him?"

"No, he still shouldn't have done that. Of course, I also know Dustin. If you had spoken up, I'm sure he wouldn't have done anything to you." There was a moment of hesitation before Tom continued. "You haven't exactly had trouble speaking your mind so far."

Jimmy pursed his lips. That was true. He tried to recall what he had been thinking at the time, but his mind was suddenly blank.

"Fine, if they want to come here and apologize, I'll listen to them."

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