You can always tell a Czech, you can always tell Finn,
You can always tell a Limey when he’s had a shot of gin.
You can always tell a Canuck from ’way north Ontario,
You can tell an old Swede farmer if you tell him really slow.
You can always tell a Rooskie, you can always the Deutsch,
But if you try to tell a Norsky, well you cannot tell him much.
Lessons in deer rifle protocol and good manners
Talking about deer rifles can be a dangerous topic. It’s okay if you get on your high horse now and then and brag about your rifle while you drink a few beers at the Bohemian Lounge (which is the best bar and grill in Verdigre, Nebraska), especially if you have just shot a bragging-size buck and have a picture of it on your vest pocket camera or your cell phone. Nobody is going to take offense at that, except the boys at the bar will probably tell you that you’re full of prunes when you say you can shoot half-inch groups at a hundred yards.
But if you talk down another man’s deer rifle you are likely to get a trip to the Knox County Veterans Memorial Hospital Emergency Room like Emil Novotny and Arnie Hjermelund did several years ago. It was all about good manners.
Their disagreement started with some personal opinions exchanged over a plate of klobása sausage and bvramborové knedlíky potato dumplings, escalated to an argument fueled by Grain Belt Premium Beer, and erupted into a full-fledged altercation with the support of a pint of peppermint schnapps and a half dozen kolaché sweet rolls.
It’s hard to say that the debate was a success, because after all the data and viewpoints had been presented and refuted by Emil and Arnie, the pro and con representatives of the Northeast Nebraska Czech Heritage Association and Norwegian Cultural Society, there was still no clear resolution of the point of contention: that a .30-30 Winchester is a superior deer rifle compared to a .25-06 Remington, or vice versa. They did reach a gentlemen’s agreement that the $1,983 in medical bills would be split 50-50, so some compromise and mutual benefit did emerge from the dispute.
To this day, no one really knows why it got out of hand. Emil and Arnie have hunted together since they were boys and have been best friends for thirty years. They came into the Bohemian Lounge at the tail end of the last day of the ’97deer season to share some hunting tales with the rest of the orange-and-camo clientele, and Arnie was showing off pictures of a nice buck he had shot five days before. Emil had no deer at all because he had shot three times at a mulie doe on the run and missed her clean with every shot. Well, these things happen to every deer hunter now and then.
Arnie and Emil were joking about it at first, sitting in their regular booth at the far end of the bar, drinking on-tap Grain Belt beer, and chowing down on the house special, which is klobása, really spicy klobása, with bvramborové knedlíky. Then they ordered some shots of peppermint schnapps with two more beers for chasers, and the conversation got less friendly and more high-and-mighty.
Arnie told Emil he wouldn’t miss so many deer if he would get rid of his piece-of-junk .30-30 Winchester Model 94 lever-action with its open sights and buy a Remington Model 700 bolt-action rifle in .25-06 with an adjustable 3-9 power scope, just like Arnie’s. Because any fool could see that was the best rifle for the kind of hunting you do these days in that rolling farm-and-range country where Verdigre Creek meets the Niobrara River.
Emil was probably feeling grumpy about those three missed shots at the doe because he let his temper get the best of him, and he suggested that Arnie should stuff his .25-06 caliber bolt-action rifle up his ass, starting with the over-priced twenty-four inch custom Shilen barrel and ending with that worthless Leupold scope.
Arnie thoughtfully replied, “You thick-skulled Czech, you don’t know the first goddamned thing about a good deer rifle!” Emil concluded that the best counter argument would be a quick left jab that split Arnie’s his lower lip. Arnie refuted by throwing a haymaker right that caught Emil in the center of the forehead, which broke two of Arnie’s knuckles and jammed his wrist because it’s absolutely true that the Novotny’s are thick-skulled Czechs. Some would say the Hjermelund’s are equally thick-skulled Norskies, but that is a whole different topic for debate.
After that it was primarily a wrestling match on the floor in the blood and beer and schnapps and klobása, with bvramborové knedlíky – plus a tray of kolachés that got knocked off the counter. When they had both run out of steam and swear words – English, Norwegian, and Czech – friends loaded them into separate pickup trucks and took them to the emergency room in Creighton for repairs. Total charges for ER services, supplies and medications came to $1,983.
Arnie and Emil shook hands and split the payment for the bill, but it didn’t end there. They missed two days’ work and got docked two days’ pay at Niobrara Building Supply & Farm Construction yard where they are both on the concrete and masonry crew. Emil’s wife Margo was so damned mad at him he didn’t get laid for six months; fortunately for Arnie he is a Norwegian bachelor farmer.
Emil still has the scar in the middle of his forehead where Arnie’s Harley-Davidson ring cut it open, and Arnie’s wrist never healed exactly right, but they did get back to being friends again before the next deer season. They still hunt with the same rifles, too, but they don’t argue about whose gun is best anymore. They don’t even mention the subject.
So you see it is possible for old deer hunters to learn good manners late in life. It just requires some open and honest… discussion.
More stories about wildlife, outdoor ventures, hunting, fishing, and life in the North Country are published in my three collections of essays, Crazy Old Coot, Old Coots Never Forget, and Coot Stews , and my novel, Hunting Birds. All are available in Kindle and paperback editions at Amazon.com, and in paperback edition at the North Country bookstore Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa, and through IndieBound independent bookstores.