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I was in my 20s, I think, when I first learned that “discharging a firearm within the city limits” is a crime in many places. When I was growing up in Blountstown, it was sometimes a necessity and sometimes entertainment. And on rare occasions, it was both.
For example, during my senior year of high school, we had a pretty serious possum infestation around the house. That bothered my father because he worried that they would get into the attic or take up under the house. It bothered my mother because she flat-out hated possums. To her, they were hideous, giant rats with snakes for tails. Just the sight of one through the window would send her scrambling into the next room.
The solution was obvious: We just needed to relocate them to a more appropriate habitat. And by “relocate,” I mean shoot. And by “appropriate habitat” I mean a hole in the backyard.
Toward that end, Daddy brought out his old .22 rifle and propped it up beside the back door.
“If one of those possums wanders up, shoot him,” Daddy said.
That was all I needed to hear. With those words, Daddy had just opened hunting season in August and I wasn’t about to pass up the action. I’m sure he only meant for me to shoot the possum if I happened to see him in the course of my normal routine, but I decided to be more proactive. I actually set out a can of tuna on the patio and watched the back yard like it was a food plot.
The first night, I stayed up until 1 a.m. but the possums didn’t show.
The second night, one wandered up, but ran off before I could get the door open.
On night three, I managed to get the door open and fire off a shot, but I couldn’t see the sights.
Next night, same thing. There just wasn’t enough contrast between the iron sights and the darkness of the night.
By the fifth night, I decided to kick it up a notch. After my parents went to bed, I broke out the Remington 1100, loaded it up with No. 6s and started my nightly vigil.
It was after midnight when the possum waddled up on the porch, wearing his smug possum grin and dragging his snake-tail behind him. I slid the glass door open as fast as I could and shot twice, the second just for good measure.
Two spent shells lay on the floor and the smell of cordite was thick in the air. The possum war was over, at least for now, and I took pride in knowing I had repelled the invasion.
Right about then, I heard Daddy’s feet hit the floor and come bounding toward the kitchen.
I’m sure I had a grin on my face, when he rounded the corner, bleary-eyed and highly agitated.
“What are you doing?!” he asked in a rather loud tone.
“I shot the possum,” I said proudly.
Instead of thanking me for defending our homestead, he just growled, “You can’t fire off a 12 gauge in the backyard in the middle of town. You probably woke up everybody on Gaskin Street.”
As if on cue, the phone rang and Daddy answered. It was Mrs. Kathryn Tucker next door.
“Yeah, we’re okay . . . no, he was just shooting a possum . . . sorry about that . . . you too.”
As soon as he hung up, it rang again. This time, it was the same conversation with Earl Dority who lived across the street.
After another call or two, Daddy finished his tirade and stormed back to bed.
I’m not sure what lesson he intended to leave me with, but I went away with the understanding that it was perfectly fine to shoot a rimfire in town — but not a shotgun because it makes too much noise.
Years later, I read a newspaper story about a man who was arrested in some town up north for using a 12 gauge to shoot mistletoe out of a tree. I remember shaking my head and thinking, “Of course he got arrested. Probably disturbed the whole neighborhood. Should have used a .22 like you’re supposed to.”