Murphy, a formerly fuelish person who has come to believe in the energy crisis, dropped out of our hunting group because he could not justify the gas and oil and Coleman fuel spent on long drives to the mountains for deer and the shore for ducks.
Last summer he sold his guns, cabin cruiser and four-wheel-drive gas-guzzler and put the money into insulation, woodstoves and a bicycle. We missed him at first, and would drop by to chat, but he was always telling us how many children were starving in the no-longer-developing nations because Americans are willing to pay such a price for oil to waste that the Third World can't buy fertilizer for crops any more.
We got tired of listening to it, because we all work more or less in energy and deal with pretty much the same numbers Murphy uses and they add up the same way his do.If there's anything more tiresome than a sermon it's an accurate sermon.
Last week, coming back from an unusually successful hunt in the Chincoteague marshes, we fell to reminiscing about old times with Murph, and bearing in mind that we had more snow geese than we really wanted to pluck, decided to stop by his house and give him half a dozen. We figured he must be having withdrawal pains over hunting anyway, and the geese might help get him through January.
"I don't know where he is," Mrs. Murphy said. "He's out hunting."
"But he said he had given it up, and besides he sold his guns," Ronald Lee said.
She gave us a funny look. "He uses a rubber band and paper clips. And a slingshot, and darts, and I don't know what-all."
"Paper clips? Darts? What the heck is he hunting?"
"Bugs," she said. "Mice. And rats. He's out in the neighborhood somewhere right now, doing rats."
We were still trying to think what to say to that when Murphy appeared around the corner of the house, with two brown rats dangling from one hand and a long tube in the other. He was wearing his old camouflage turkey-hunting outfit, veil and all.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey," we answered, crinkling our noses.
"I wish you guys could have seen the second shot," he said. "Offhand at a running rat at 50 feet in semidarkness. Had to lead him almost 10 feet, and put the dart right in his boiler room. The other one was a piece of cake, a sitting shot at 20 feet, but the stalk took nearly an hour. Man, you don't know about stalking until you've-gone after rats. I think the little devils have radar."
He was obviously round the bend, and we changed the subject. "We thought you might like some geese. We limited out."
"Hey that's really nice of you, but I haven't got any room in the freezer. Unless you guys would like some starlings, so I can make room."
"Yeah. I slingshoot them in the back yard. Hate to shoot at sitting birds, but if you try a wing shot around here it goes through somebody's window. They're better than doves, especially if you stuff them with house sparrows and broil them for about seven minutes."
"Sure. They're tough to pick, being so small, so mainly I skin them and bake them whole in pot pies, like ortolans. I think I'll try them like woodcock too, baked in clay with the trail in. And maybe a sparrow in a starling in a pigeon. Pigeons tend to dry out, you have to bake them so long, and barding them with bacon obscures the flavor."
"Murph, how are you feeling?"
"Great," he said, leading the way to the basement, where he cut the tails off the rats and tacked them alongside a dozen others on a trophy board, with little tags giving the size, weight, distance, date and weapon.
"It was a tough adjustment at first. For a long time I just sat around the house moping, wishing I was out in the field with you guys. Then one evening a mouse ran across the room, and it set me to thinking. Thinking small, which is the way out of the energy trap. So instead of poisoning the rascal I hunted him. Took me a week to find his trails and figure out his routine and set up an ambush. Got him right between his beady little eyes with an air pistol, and it was a bigger kick than that nine-point buck I took last year, because I didn't feel at all sorry about killing him.
"Her, actually. That's another nice thing about hunting mice, there's no bag limit and does are always in season. But I'm resting the preserve now; I got a little carried away and overshot the place, so now I'm feeding them to build up the breeding stock."
"You're feeding mice on purpose?"
"Don't talk so loud. Fran doesn't know about it, and I'm not sure she'd like it. Women don't understand about hunting."
We said we didn't understand either.
"It's the same thing, just scaled down," he said. "The rules of fair chase apply, only you have to work them up as you go along. Take flies, for instance. I got so good at wingshooting them with rubber bands that I switched to the left hand. The air pistol turned out to be too deadly for mice, and anyway the ricochets were a problem, so I sent away for this genuine Jivaro blowgun I saw in the Shotgun News. With needlepoints the misses just leave tiny marks on the baseboards, and I don't lose as many cripple because it usually pins them. t
"For rats you need a heavier load, so I use broadheads: knitting needles with slots in the point for pieces of razor blade. For carpenter bees I use the slingshot and little balls of window-sealing putty, white, so when I miss and it sticks to the house it doesn't show. The same load goes for cockroaches, which are really sporting; you only get a second or two to shoot after you turn on the kitchen light. For cabbage moths I use a water pistol, because you have to be ready with those second and third shots."
"And the paper clips?"
"Japanese beetles. Matchstick darts bounce off those tough wing covers, so you need heavy shocking power. That's one case where you Don't worry about gutshots. I tell you, half the fun of this househunting is fooling around in the shop developing the weapons. It's all pioneering, because there aren't any ballistics tables for slingshots and blowguns. I shot doubles twice on starlings yesterday by zinging glass marbles against the garden wall just over their heads. The fragments patterned beautifully."
"What's you preferred load for wasps?"
"Negative on shooting wasps. They're a protected species, at least around here. You guys have any idea how many nongame bugs a wasp will kill in a day? And some of them pollinate flowers, too. You should read up about bugs; there are about a million of them in your house and yard, and at least half of them are your friends."
"Not my friends," we chorused.
"You poor guys are just stuck in the bigger-is-better rut. I can understand it, though," he said, as he tested the fit of a long, razor-tipped shaft in the blowgun. "Big game is the ultimate thrill. That's what this baby is for."
"The biggest. I'm not sure that even this No. 19 knitting needle will stop him, and to tell you the truth I'm a little worried about it. But a tree stand wouldn't be sporting, and anyway there aren't any trees near the garbage cans."
"What are you talking about, Murph?"
"The grizzly bear of the backyard world: Raccoon. I don't suppose one of you guys would like to back my shot? I've got another blowgun, or you could use the air pistol."
"See you around, Murph," we said. CAPTION: Illustration 1, no caption, By John Pack; Illustration 2, "The Animals Among Us" by J. C. McLoughlin; Copyright (c) 1978 by J. C. McLoughlin. Reproduced with the premission of Viking Penguin Inc.