Fred the Hunter
During my stay in juvenile, my social worker was impressed with my art work and pulled enough strings to get me into a foster home run by the Wilcox family. They had two sons of their own, one younger than me and one older. Staying at their home had it’s drawbacks and it’s benefits. Their house was in the outlying area of Detroit. That meant taking two buses to get to school at Cass Tech in Detroit, one Great Lakes Transit bus and then transferring to a regular Detroit city bus. Cass didn’t care where you lived as long as you maintained a B average and could get to school on time. In fact, I had done the same thing when my mom sent me to live with my aunt Bernice first, then my uncle Shanky, and finally my aunt Jim, all in Pontiac, Michigan. That was the drawback.
The benefit, however, was that we were far enough outside of the city limits that I could hunt. Pop Wilcox let me have an old single shot 410 shotgun with a missing firing pin. Being very good at jury rigging even before I knew what that old navy term meant, I substituted a carpet tack where the firing pin should have been. The only problem was that the carpet tack actually punched a hole in the shell primer causing enough of a blowback that I couldn’t place the gun too close to my face when firing.
As a young kid, I had watched all the Robin Hood TV shows and fell in love with archery. Actually I got pretty good at it as evidenced by my placing an arrow in my uncle Wilford’s leg when he returned home from the Korean War. Also, we kids played a game of “chicken arrow”, where we’d stand back to back, point our bows upward with our eyes closed and shoot our arrows into the sky, counting to ten before opening our eyes again and dodging the falling arrows.
Another test of our skill was shooting water filled balloons from the hands of any kid we could talk into holding them. To be new to the neighbor meant holding the balloons. Not one neighborhood kid was ever injured, but we all became very skillful with our bows.
So, while at the foster home, I managed to score a used Bear Kodiak recurve bow with several arrows and found I could replace the target tips on the arrows with broadheads or blunt tips for bird and rabbit hunting.
We hunted mostly pheasant in that area, sometimes quail if pop Wilcox let us use his good shotgun. I liked using the bow. Shooting pheasant with a shotgun isn’t easy and shooting them with a bow is harder yet. First, you need a good birding dog and we just happened to have one. A mature German shepherd named Butch. Butch was fantastic in finding and getting the birds to take flight. Pheasant are very heavy birds and they stay on the ground as long as possible, making them hard to get a good shot. A good dog, however, will flush them out. Now, being such a heavy bird, it takes them a while to get up to flying speed during which time they’re also going up at an angle to gain altitude. At one point, they kind of level off and that’s when you have to take your shot. Wait too long and the bird is going too fast and even a shotgun will fail.
The best time to go hunting, although illegal, was any day before the season legally opened. It was suicide to go out into the woods during the season. Many times we had to dodge bullets from the weekend hunters, the guys who had desk jobs in the city and thought anything moving in the woods was a deer.
One day, I managed to bag eight pheasant and prayed that the game wardens were eating lunch as I carried my prizes home.
Lakes and creeks in Michigan are clear enough to bowfish and I would often nail a few trout or carp in a nearby stream. Now a lot of people don’t eat carp, but they’ve never had to worry about putting food on the table. You eat a lot of different things when you’re poor. Plus an adult carp can feed a family of four pretty good if cooked properly. I’ve also lost arrows shooting carp with a bow. Carp are hard headed fish and I’ve had arrows simply just bounce off their fishy little skulls and they go on their way.
Flash forward to my first submarine duty on the USS Piper…
When I finished submarine school and got my first assignment to the USS Piper, it was kind of a let down. We were only doing sub school operations. That meant taking a bunch of sub school students out and spending a whole day diving and surfacing, diving and surfacing and trying to teach them what submarines were like. I did it when I was in school. The only good thing was that you became more proficient and went home every night.
Then, one day, we received orders to participate in what was called “Springboard”. Springboard was an annual exercise that meant transiting to Puerto Rico and most likely the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands to operate with surface ships. Having seen photos of the fish in those areas, I knew I had to take my bow with me and even bought a real fancy bowfishing rig just for the trip.
Now, the old diesel submarines usually strung sets of lights along the hull when moored in foreign ports. We called them med mooring lights and the purpose was to enable the sentry to be able to spot any swimmers in the water that might be trying to get on board. The lights also attract lots of zooplankton, small fish to feed on the zooplankton, and big fish that fed on the small fish.
I was standing topside by the engine room hatch and looking over the side when I saw a flash of silver in the water. “Wow, that’s a big fish”, I thought as I started going below to get my bow. A little while later, I returned to the same spot fully armed. I saw that silver thing flash in the mooring lights several times and made my calculations for the next time it would happen. I was ready and excited.
Sure enough, there was the flash of silver and I fired my arrow where I had calculated my target would be. Nailed it. The line from my arrow to the reel on my bow started paying out. However, I couldn’t reel it back in. Whatever I had hit was too darn big, so I just let the line pay out trying to figure what to do next. That wasn’t my decision to make. As soon as the line reached it’s limit, there was a big jolt that almost pulled me over the side. I was just gaining my composure when the second jolt occurred, this time I had to make a choice between going over or simply letting go of my bow. I let the darn bow go.
Two days later, some guys on one of the tugboats were talking about the big tarpoon someone had pulled out of the water with a fishing arrow stuck in it’s side. My arrow! But no bow was ever found.