Both guns performed admirably, and the bullets went where we aimed them. Dad’s .357 was almost like new, still in its original box and with no appreciable wear at all.
Mom’s Smith and Wesson Airweight .38 special, however, was a different story. It has extensive holster wear and a host of little scratches and dings from about 50 years of use. It’s amazing all of the memories that flood through my mind when I pick up Mom’s little Airweight. The moment I touch it, stories of the old gun and its owner jump out at me.
I guess I come from a most atypical family. How many kids grew up with a mother who packed a handgun? Both Mom and Dad spent almost all of their spare time outdoors. Dad was off fishing and hiking, while Mom was out collecting Indian arrowheads. While it’s politically incorrect today to collect arrowheads, back then it was a respectable hobby that took Mom into all sorts of remote places.
Dad didn’t feel he needed a gun astream, but a woman often alone in the woods found security in having a handgun on her hip. Once, up near the top of Ebbetts Pass, Mom was hunting her arrowheads when she came across a large, economy-sized black bear. Mom whipped out her Smith and Wesson Airweight and fired a round into the dirt near the bear’s feet. That poor bear probably didn’t stop running till he hit the Nevada border. Over the years, other bears would feel the sting of gravel from a closely placed bullet if they got to close to Mom or her loved ones.
Another time, Mom was wandering along the flats where Elbow Creek joins the Mokelumne River when she came across lion tracks in the sandy soil. Looking around a little closer, she spotted an adult mountain lion perched on a rock about 50 feet away. Again, another bullet carefully placed in the dirt near the big cat, and he was off in a flash.
Mom never wanted to hurt the bears or cats and was careful only to shoot near enough to pepper them with gravel. Snakes, however, were a different story. Rattlers seemed to be more plentiful on the eastern slope of the Sierras, as the land fell toward Nevada and the Great Basin. Unfortunately, the arrowheading was also better on the east slope, so that’s often where Mom ended up.
Whenever she saw a rattler, there was no warning shot — and eight times out of 10, there was a dead rattler. We never stopped kidding Mom about the time she missed and shot off a snake’s rattle instead of its head.
Even though she had her share of run-ins with some of God’s larger critters, it was the two-legged snakes that were most worrisome. The great outdoors are vast and wonderful, with beautiful vistas and fascinating delights to behold. Unfortunately, even though God made such magnificent places, there was always the danger man could foul it up.
It wasn’t bears or cats or rattlers that murdered those women up in Yosemite a couple of years ago — it was a deranged human. While Mom never had any significant encounter with the dregs of humanity, perhaps it was the fact that she carried her little .38 special that headed off trouble before it started. In all her years of carrying a handgun afield, Mom never had to draw her gun on a fellow human.
Perhaps there’s merit in the old adage that “An armed society is a polite society.”
As Donald and I tried to punch holes in tin cans with our old inherited guns, a tradition continued of peacable citizens who perceive guns as neither good nor evil, but simply as tools that can put food on the table, save you from a rattler or keep some pervert from finding another victim.
When we were finished, we packed our antique guns away in their cases and thanked our lucky stars that we live in a country where we can continue such traditions.
• Don Moyer is president and CEO of a consulting firm and has more than 20 years’ experience working with the outdoor recreation community, including anglers, hunters, backpackers, environmental groups and the public. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.