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by Citizen Ted

Few things invoke the smoldering, gritty nature of our country more aptly than the history of the American hunter. Hewn of tougher stuff than other men, the American hunter took off across the New World plains with a buffalo hide jacket, a tin of tobacco, a few pounds of hardtack and a flintlock rifle armed with hand-loaded buckshot.

It was in those wild, wooly days that men of iron took to the forests and hills with keen eyes and pricked-up ears, slyly stealing through the trees in order to secure a home and meal for himself, his woman and his brood.

Upon discovering native settlers in this strange and wonderful land, he did what any red-blooded American would do: he shot them in the back when they weren't looking, raped their women and fed their slanty-eyed babies to the wolves.

It was a hard life, but a life worth living, and as they moved west, these manly men took with them their pioneer spirit and enduring legacy of bloodletting and violence. They found the buffalo to be so wide a target as to be irresistible, and took to blasting holes in them from passing trains, merely to watch the huge, majestic creatures keel over with a satisfying "whump!".

As our flag filled with stars and our hard-fought homes blanketed the landscape, the hunters continued on, searching their states for a few desolate acres of untouched wild land, wherein may lurk a whitetail for the taking.

Their legend continued through the generations, and nowadays the image of the red-flanneled hunter, his eyes fixed on the horizon, his skin tough and wrinkly, his jacket reeking of Marlboro, his shotgun barrel gleaming in the shimmering rays of a November morning, has become nothing less than an icon of what it is to be American (or maybe Canadian, depending upon the province).

No American male can make any salute to his American roots without discussing the first time fired a weapon, and the first time he went hunting with his Dad. Of course, I never went hunting with my Dad, because he was in ineffectual little religious twerp who was more into swing bands of the 40's than swinging stocks on Ruger Mini-14's.

But we won't dwell on that; instead we'll take a look at where the American hunter has gone, and where his future lies in this, our proud nation...

Our story takes us to the Blue Ridge Mountains just west of Roanoke, Virginia. Here in these rugged forested hills, the romance of the hunter lives on in the faces of local tard hunters Milton J. Nordham and Caleb "Clem" McKnight. These men have plied these woods since boyhood, blasting away at God's creation with a fervor that can best be described as drunken avarice.

They represent the average Joe's in the hunting world: sturdy lower middle class stock, working laborious jobs with high school educations, raising small families in double-wide trailers, drinking racks of cheap beer at every opportunity and tuning out all outside news details except NASCAR racing results.

Milton (his friends call him "Bill" because of the long-beaked baseball caps he liked to wear as a boy) grew up in Roanoke, then moved to Bedford to be with his wife, Ruth-Ann. Though distanced from his school chum Clem, the two men still get together every fall (and winter, spring and summer) to go hunting, carrying on the brilliant torch of well-armed freedom handed to them by their alcoholic, abusive fathers.

They carry that torch with pride and plan to hand it down to their sons as soon as the lazy little bastards take five minutes out from playing that goddamn Nintendo Jap crap.

"We used ta go right out there, just west of here," motions Bill, his muzzle waving off toward the south. "But then they built that there Deer Run Glen development. Damn thing covers a thousand acres or so. Not a deer to be found anymore. Just a bunch of Warshington yuppies in their Volvos. It's sickenin', I tell ya."

"That's right," chimes Clem. "I kin 'member droppin' all kindsa critters up there. One day, I saw me a eight-point buck just outside old Hanweller's farm. Goddamn thing was a beaut, alright. I had 'im all lined up in mah scope, and then some goddamn revenooer comes up askin' Bill and me 'bout licenses er somesuch. I mean, who needs a license in the dead of summer? You know -"

"OK, Clem, that's enough."

"Oh. Oh shit, Sorry."

Today was a special day for these two valiant men. They are on the edge of a new horizon in shooting sports. With the local game all but banished to reaches inaccessible by overweight, drunken slobs, these men have found a new niche that promises to rekindle the dwindling spirit of the American sportsman: Tard Hunting.

Bill describes his excitement about this new vista in hunting:

"Well, let's face it. These folks is hardly human. The state don't know what to do with 'em. They're cloggin' up the hospitals and makin' life difficult on the good normal families round hereabouts. I mean, it ain't like there's much to lose in letting 'em roam free, so there oughtn't to be much of a big deal about us takin' a few every now and then. "I mean, if you know anything about these types, you know that once they discover that fuckin' feels good, they do it all the time, what with them bein' too stupid to do much else. We ain't, like, huntin' humans here er nuthin'. We're just cullin' the herd, if ya know what I mean."

Clem agrees:

"Bill was right there in the county meetin', tellin' them council people the way it is. They's Republicans, we voted fer 'em and they's sworn to cut down on gubmint overhead and all. Bill was speakin' for all of us when he asked to let them out of those there tard farms so's they can be free. You know - free for themselves and freein' us from that 6% property tax hike they was thinkin' about."

It was a landmark decision for the council members, who voted 6-1 to have the local tard farm's annual budget annulled. The tards were given the right to go where they pleased. Many wandered aimlessly about Bedford, finding only the cold shoulder from the townsfolk. They relegated themselves to the hills, quickly converting to a feral state in the patchy woods surrounding the towns. The true morons among them, those with enough analytical skills to string together a few rudimentary sentences, discovered mainstream employment at the pulp mill in Lynchburg where they work as conveyor belts, groveling on all fours as tons of raw lumber scroll across their backs.

But these success stories were few and far between, and most tards were forced into the foggy woods that meander mellifluously around the foothills and ridges of the Allegheny east. Bereft of contact with their god-like caretakers at the tard farm, these tards now eke out a primitive existence among the trees and bramble, fattening themselves in the summer by eating wild berries and chasing down squirrels with a stick. Come autumn, the tards become restless and start to move, stumbling unevenly across unused deer trails, settling in the snow-free arroyos where they can gather up turned leaves as bivy sacks and eat the bugs they find underneath.

This is when the tards are most vulnerable, and when Bill and Clem find the hunting most amenable.

"I seen a few of 'em up on Anderson hill. They was looking pretty haggard, but I could pick out two males and a female. The males was wavin' they arms around, slappin' at themselves. The female was makin' some gruntin' noises, pickin' her nose. I ran around Hoat's Road Trail to get a better look, but they was gone. I tell ya, fer tards these buggers can be quick if they's wants ta."

After finishing up fourteen more beers, the men drove me out to their secret tard hunting grounds. They asked me not to disclose the location for fear of spoiling this prime sighting spot, so for the sake of expediency I will say that we stopped the rusty F-250 at a muddy trail somewhere between a forked foothill in the Blue Ridge mountains.

Bill exits the truck with a Winchester 70 hunting rifle, outfitted with a Springfield 4x14x56 Mil. Dot illuminated scope. On his hip hangs a holstered .45 Glock semi-automatic pistol. Clem follows him out, checking the action on his Browning BAR Mark II Safari chambered for .308 ammunition. Clem also sports a holstered handgun, in his case a Smith &Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver. Before I could ask them what they might need handguns for, Clem reaches behind the front seat of the truck and removes a Remington 870 Wingmaster shotgun, with the last five inches of barrel sawed off.

Clem responds to my raised finger of inquiry as he slings the shotgun across his back.

"You ever seen a tard on a rampage? Snipin' 'em from a distance is one thing. But if you ever get to seein' the whites of their eyes, you best have some stoppin' power. At some point it comes down to your or them, and I don't know about you, but I'd like to have extry back up, if'n you know whut I mean!"

Both men festoon themselves with bandoliers of ammunition, asking me to carry a heavy backpack laden with watery beer and extra packs of cigarettes. I blithely demure, for I am still an interloper on this trip, so I may as well take it like a man...

Also on the trip is Booner, Clem's aged bloodhound, who shows a great deal of vim for the outdoors, as experienced by his gamey odor and inability to refuse urinating on each and every vertical object in his path. Clem insists that Booner is a born tard spotter, a claim I can hardly refute, having never seen Booner let loose in Macon, Georgia.

The four of us head up into the foothills, trying our best to be quiet despite our tipsy gait, cracking the autumn undergrowth with what sounds like explosive regularity. I find myself having great difficulty negotiating the grade with a wet 70 pound pack on my back, but I try to make the best of it so as not to offend the party.

Fortunately, both men are so sloppy and out of shape that we take frequent beer breaks, giving me a chance to remove the pack and lighten the load by drinking some if it down with the boys.

We were on our twelfth break, when Booner suddenly heard something. Though we mere humans were oblivious, Booner started making short yowls in the direction of a dark path to the east. Bill raised his rifle scope to his eye and started scanning the area. Clem hushed up Booner, and the air was filled with that magical intensity of possibility that only a hunter can experience.

"See anything, Bill?"

"No not yet. But dammit, we're close. I say we head around just north of that trail, stay high, keep them moving below us. They ain't smart enough to head for high ground, so we should take the opportunity. You with me?"

We all agreed and headed up a steep embankment above the trail. As we rounded the top of a treed ridge, the cool autumn air started rushing deeply in our chests. We were weary of the climb, yet driven on by the thrill of the hunt. The anticipation was palpable.

The boys started doing their tard calls, trying their best to imitate a wayward tard looking to join his kin. This is a clever ploy, as many dispossessed tards are still leaving the crucible of civilization and finding their uneasy way to the wild tard tribes in a search for acceptance.

Bill marched along, making noises like "Nyyeeeah! Hnnnnh! Hnnnnh! Noraaaaaaaaanyik! Hunh!" They were fairly convincing representations of the real thing. Clem, not so practiced, merely crossed his eyes and smiled, shouting out "Doooey! Duh! Ny-huk! Dooooey! Nyert! Nyert! Nyaaaaak!" I joined in the fray, palsying my arms, rolling my eyes and going, "Nyeeeeeah! Hreeeanh! Hunh! Nyooooiiiiii! NyAaAaAaHHH!", trying my best to entreaty a feral tard.

It was all tremendous fun, and provided some levity as we trudged up the muddy trail. We had just cleared past a thick patch of stickers when Bill caught sight of something.

"Shhhhhh! I got sumpthin'! Hang on!"

I got my field glasses out of their case and pointed them in the direction of Bill's muzzle. There, far below us, were two tards, moving slowly among a spotty grove of alders.

"You see that?" asked Bill.

"Yeah," I said, "they're heading toward that creek. You see?"

"Well, they ain't gonna make it," said Clem, bringing the Browning to his twitching right eye.

I was now torn between following the tards in my binoculars or watching the teamwork of these two great sportsmen; I couldn't tell you which was a more compelling scene.

The two men became deathly silent, and gripped their weapons with an almost sober precision. I followed the tards in my binoculars. They were two overweight males, dressed in layers of filthy rags. They seemed to trudge daintily through the bramble, their fat arms dancing stupidly as their pudgy legs bored across the rocky trail.

"OK, Clem. Don't cross our fire. I'll take the one on the left. With the red cap. You get the one on the right, the bald one."

"Roger that."

My heart was now beating out of my chest. This was that pure moment that, though experienced untold times by untold hunters, still remains as the one true thrill bourne solely from our primeval roots; that moment of mortal truth when it's man against beast and one false move could mean complete victory or irreversible failure.

I had a hard time keeping my field glasses still, when a sudden CRACK! exploded in my left ear. Bill's weapon had discharged and spat forth the incarnated spirit of a billion hunters.

In my glasses I saw the red-hatted tard jump as the bullet tore off a nice size chunk of his right shoulder. Blood sprayed up instantly, and his tard-like shriek of pain pierced the sullen woods like a musical retort to Bill's staccato machine statement.

The two tards ran quickly toward the creek, hoping to lose us in the thicker flora that surround the waters. Clem failed to get one off and cursed as the tards disappeared into a dark hillside thicket.

"Godammit! Did you get 'im in the chuck, Bill?"

"Nope, in the pork shoulder, Clem. They're on the run! LET'S GO! Hyah Booner! Onward! HO!"

This was the moment where a film studio would insert the William Tell Overture or somesuch prestissimo allegro composition on strings. We bounded off the trail and started bushwhacking toward the creek, with Booner leading the way.

We trampled headlong toward the creek, and Booner immediately picked up the scent of the blood that had spilled from the red-hatted tard's exploded shoulder blade. We crossed the creek, Bill and Clem at port arms, the frosty water flooding into our boots and shaking off a good portion of our alcoholic stupor.

As we exited the creek, Booner picked up the scent within a few yards. He beckoned us on down the hill. The tards were apparently rushing, using downhill momentum in a tardly ploy to lose us. In half a minute we could hear them tearing through the brush just south of our position. Booner disappeared into the undergrowth, howling and yelping as bloodhounds are wont to do.

It was all a jostle of sun streaming through tree branches and the smeared rush of autumn leaves being trampled underfoot. My heart was racing hard and bulging up into my neck. I suddenly wished - very much so - that I had a gun so I could be the first at the kill!

We battered our way down, down, through the bushes and ferns, bursting forth into a temperate meadow, where Bill caught sight of Booner chasing the bald tard into a grove of tall trees. We raced across the mushy soil as fast as our beer-fed legs could pull us, till finally we found Booner barking furiously at the base of a white pine.

We looked up, and there were the two tards, clinging for life on the thin branches of the pine, which was having a tough time keeping the two fat bastards aloft. Clem and Bill broke into demonic laughter, spitting at the ground and waving off Booner.

"Good job, boy. Now back off! Shut up, Booner! Back up! Let's take a look at these two!" said Clem, a thin drop of drool spilling from the corner of his mouth.

"Let's take 'em home, Clem," said Bill, raising his Winchester to his shoulder and aiming at the red-hatted tard. Bill's face went suddenly dark and emotionless. The tards were squealing in terror up there. No words - nothing really human about them. But my heart went out to them anyway; it was like watching two frightened rabbits in a bucket surrounded by wolves.


This time Bill didn't miss, and the red-hatted tard fell from the tree like a huge sack of blood-spurting potatoes. The shot had blown right through its head, from jaw to crown, leaving an exit wound two inches in diameter, which was now gushing blood like a fountain. Its body was wracked with spastic death throes, involuntary jerks that mimicked its normal appearance, strangely enough, like a bizarre bit of mortal self-mockery.

I stepped back a bit so as not to get any blood on me, when suddenly the bald tard *leaped* from the tree and started charging at Clem!

It was a big, mean, angry tard with vengeful fire in its eyes! He only needed a few steps to reach Clem, who, in his panic, was unable to bring his Browning up in response.

Bill instinctively responded to protect his friend, and before I could turn to flee in fear, Bill had produced his Glock and snapped off three quick shots into the tard.


The tard released a beastly cry and fell forward right onto Clem, bringing him down to the dirt. Clem wrestled violently to get free, flailing his limbs in a panic as blood veritably splashed from the tard's torso, all over Clem's huntin' duds.

Clem tore himself free, stood up quickly, pulled his .44 from its holster and blasted five shots into the wriggling form below.



Clem fell back breathlessly. The tard spasmed, heaved, then fell silent.

Clem looked crazily toward Bill and me with manic, bulging eyes. Blood was smeared and spattered all over his face. His arm looked heavy with the weight of his .44. He huffed out a few unintelligible words, then finished it all up with:


Bill clapped Clem on the shoulder, and gave him a sheepish grin.

"Good job, Clem. I thought that fucker might get away. You're a quick draw, son!"

"Fuck you, Bill! Did you see that sumnabitch? That damn thing almost *killed* me, Bill! What the fuck? I mean, I just didn't have a chance there...that mutherfucker was all over me! Did you see him move! It was like lightnin'!"

"Yeah, he was a quick one, Clem. But we got 'im, right? OK. We got 'em both. Now let's saddle up and see if we can git the truck up close to here. OK? Ya see that clearin' over there? That's the end of Winter Falls trail. We can pull right up over there and load these suckers up into the bed of the Ford. Alright?'

"Alright, Bill. Les' go".

I could do little more than gape in amazement at these two blistering, god-like sportsman. They had looked down into the abyss, flinched just a bit, then veritably torn victory from the gaping maw of Death! These two men had done on a Saturday afternoon far more than any of their peers could ever dream, yet their only concern was where to park the pick-up!

That, my friends, is the measure of a man. The ability to perform a superhuman feat, then inquire dully about whether or not there's any hot coffee to be had. That's the stuff that fuels the American spirit; that is the kind of can-do attitude that tamed the West and obliterated Nagasaki. That's the kind of humble heroism that makes this country the envy of the world!

We eventually loaded up the tards into the pick-up and drove them to Bill's house. Once there, the men proceeded to dress the bodies, a process that involved several wickedly sharp and long gutting knives, a few quick references to a book on anatomy, and two industrial-strength painting masks soaked in Old Spice to kill the godawful stench that erupted from the tardian colons.

Once the bodies were vivisected, they were pierced by meat hooks and chained up via a tree branch in the front yard. Some flies had somehow braved the autumn evening air and started landing on the huge gashes that the boys had made in the chest cavity and torso.

Bill's 4-year-old son, Jethro, looked up at the bodies, then started smacking their legs with a stick. Bill responded by dipping his hand into the garbage can of entrails and finger-painting two swaths of blood on the boy's rosy cheeks.

"That's mah boy!" beamed the proud father.

A few neighbors slowed down and made comments from their pick-ups - friendly, neighborly words with the requisite touch of envy:

"Lookin' good Bill. You catch them yerself or did you take my cousin Sid with ya? Hyuk!"

"Hey Bill! Just two? We thought you kin do better'n that!"

"I guess its Nature's way. Them musta been two slow-ass tards there, Bill! Hee-hee!"

Bill smiled at them all and waved. He gestured lightly to his wife, who was looking at him through the front window, giving the old "I guess we'll be eatin' tard for two months now!" look, one that I'm sure both Bill and Clem are just now getting used to.

But, heck, ain't that what it's all about?


There's the thrill of the hunt, and there's the joy and laughter of home. I envy a man who can have both, and I pity a man who has neither.

- TR

- AT's resident adventure travel journalist.

credit given to original author if known

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