Maxed Out 

The hunting of the gopher

By G.D. Maxwell

I am not a violent man. Ornery, crabby, opinionated and cynical, but not violent. I religiously believe in turning the other cheek. If the other cheek doesn’t work, I’m usually quick to drop trou and give ’em the full moon. But I am not violent.

I can’t remember the last time I actually got into a fight. Literally. The exact details are lost to antiquity, though I’m pretty sure I was in no shape to remember them even as they unfolded in real time. If I’m not mistaken, it was during the hangover/recovery period of that particular bout I was able to formulate at least one of my tenets of nonviolence, which is this. Never, under any circumstances, mix tequila with champagne and then announce in a loud voice that all cowboys must be pussies because they wear high heel boots.

I can, however, remember the last animal I killed using anything more deadly than a Firestone. Bill Logan and I were out in the desert packin’ our .22s and huntin’ wascally wabbits. We, of course, posed absolutely no threat to any rabbit hopping around without the aid of crutches. But teenage hormones, rifles and the unforgiving New Mexico sun meant something more substantial than an empty Coors can was going to die that day.

Having inhaled enough black powder smoke to be giddy – 157 Coors cans, 0 rabbits – we were low on both ammo and sunlight when we headed back to wherever we’d stashed our motorcycles. The nondescript, brown sparrow wasn’t doing anything more aggravating than sitting on a low mesquite branch keeping watch for insects to eat. Its only mistake was warbling or chirping or clearing its throat at precisely the wrong moment. I snapped my .22 up to my cheek, aimed and dropped it in mid-warble. I felt immediate remorse. What a stupid thing to do.

I went home, dutifully cleaned my rifle, slipped it into its case and never fired it again. Other than a fish or two, that was the last animal I killed.

Until the gophers showed up.

Having spent an inordinate amount of time and backbreaking labour converting what was a perfectly good expanse of yard into a productive vegetable garden, I probably have an unbalanced sense of ownership in the growing plots of Smilin’ Dog Manner. Amending the Jurassic clay soil of the Cariboo into something capable of growing more than quack grass and thimbleberry carries with it the burden of expectation – I damn well expect to eat the fruits of my labour.

When the gophers first arrived, I did not begrudge them the few radishes they filched and the odd spinach leaf or two. I was willing, up to a point, to share the lettuce and parsley. I thought it destructive of them to gnaw on the young cabbage leaves long before any heads had appeared and I was getting annoyed at the holes appearing helter skelter throughout the yard.

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