Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.
– Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Stunt, dwarf or destroy the imagination of a child and you have taken away its chances of success in life. Imagination transforms the commonplace into the great and creates the new out of the old.
– L. Frank Baum (1856-1919)
There were eight of them.
Late Tuesday morning, after rain had trapped us two days in the house and made us restless and eager to do something outside in the wild, we spotted the pack of velociraptors* lurking in the wet grass to the south of the old granary foundation. Six females and two males.
I had naively assumed that raptors had been extinct since the end of the Cretaceous Period, about 70 million years ago, but my 12-year-old grandson Ander informed me that the vicious little dinosaurs had been re-created by rogue scientists who had somehow gotten hold of a few viable strands of raptor DNA.
It was all explained in a movie titled Jurassic Park, he told me. But we did not have time to go into the details. We had to deal with this threat now, mercilessly, or else we would be raptor chow ourselves within the hour.
“They’re really kind of pretty,” I said. “Covered with bright orange feathers.”
“Yeah, the movie got it all wrong,” Ander said. “Except for a two-foot-long tail, they’re only about as big as a turkey. And they’re not covered with scales, they have feathers like an ostrich or an emu.”
But unlike those modern day flightless bird cousins of theirs, these murderous little beasts were pure carnivores. Don’t let their size fool you, Ander warned me. They are as ill-tempered and nasty as wolverines, and they have cheetah-like speed. “Sixty miles-per-hour if we let them get into the open,” he said.
Ander had no intention of letting them get into the open.
“Orange,” I observed, “is a strange color for a predator. You’d think they would be easily seen by any prey animal. I can’t help but wonder why their feathers are such bright orange.”
“Because you spray painted them orange,” Ander reminded me. “Besides, they don’t care if they’re seen. They hunt cooperatively as a pack and run down their prey.”
“Whitetail deer?” I asked.
“Mostly iguanodons,” he said, “but they’ll kill and eat anything they can catch.”
Since I have never seen an iguanodon on our place, I felt even more like today’s velociraptor entrée. “Think you can handle all eight of them?” I asked nervously.
“No problem,” Ander said confidently as he raised his Savage Rascal .22 rifle to his shoulder and peered through the peep sight. It was a long shot, at least 175 or 200 yards (relatively speaking), but I have seen him make much tougher ones. He waited until the pack leader came to a stop, then he fixed the bead of the front sight on the raptor’s silver-crested head and slowly pulled the trigger.
One second after the rifle’s report the big male raptor went down, dead but still kicking its back legs wildly and snapping its jaws. Instantly I realized Ander’s canny logic: shoot the alpha male and the rest of the pack will panic and mill about instead of immediately reacting and attacking. At least we could hope so.
I fed another .22 cartridge into the chamber, Ander slammed the bolt closed, and drew a bead on the next biggest target, maybe the dominant female of the pack. Pow! She was down and out. Seven more shots and the whole clan of prehistoric monsters lay sprawled in the grass.
Eight raptors killed stone dead with just nine shots. Amazing.
Ander opened the bolt of the smoking rifle and gestured for me to go down range and set them up again.
“Can I shoot one this time?” I pleaded.
“We’ll see,” he said. “If I get the first seven, maybe you can try for the last one. But don’t miss. A wounded velociraptor is big trouble.”
I walked down range and set up the five-inch pieces of steel-pipe again, a few in the sand pit and the rest here and there in the grassy lane leading up to the hayfield. Transforming these homemade silhouette targets into raptors requires some magic, but as Christopher Moore wrote in his novel Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, “Children see magic because they look for it.”
A grandfather can see it, too, if he sets his imagination free and stops being so boringly practical and realistic for a few hours. I’m all in for magical fantasies these days, since the actual, physical world has become more and more harsh and disappointing. Stalking a pack of raptors was just the thing to reawaken a dormant passion for the hunt — or at least for some backyard plinking.
So far I have not succeeded in getting Ander to substitute imaginary whitetail bucks for prehistoric game animals, but I’ll keep trying. In a few years, he may go on an actual deer hunt with me. Hopefully he will allow me to shoot my own deer.
In the meantime, we’ll stick with hunts in Jurassic Park forests. If we go after a tyrannosaurus rex next time, we will probably have to take the .22 magnum with us. As I’ve told Ander a dozen times, “Use enough gun.”
* Velociraptor is a genus of dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur that lived approximately 75 to 71 million years ago during the later part of the Cretaceous Period. It was a bipedal, feathered carnivore with a long tail and an enlarged sickle-shaped claw on each hindfoot, which is thought to have been used to tackle prey. (from wickipedia.org)
“Velociraptor dinoguy2” by Matt Martyniuk – image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Velociraptor_dinoguy2.jpg.
More stories about life in the North Country, hunting, bird dogs, and bird guns are published in my two collections of essays, Crazy Old Coot and Old Coots Never Forget, and my novel, Hunting Birds. All are available in Kindle and paperback editions at Amazon.com.