The Great Skunk Safari

We had a good ol’ boy as a neighbor on our first base after returning from Japan. Hamilton AFB was a beautiful base on the ocean shore near San Francisco. It had mission style buildings with terra cotta tile roofs. The housing area was actually off the base proper nestled among the hills that go along the northern California coast forming Napa Valley. A pass was not needed to get into the housing. It was just like a regular civilian community with a small grocery store and a bar that didn‘t care to know the drinker‘s rank.

Marin County is very affluent especially the San Francisco bedroom community of San Rafael. It’s high school was the biggest and best looking of the four I attended. The student parking lot was huge. Only us kids from the base rode in a bus. The base is now closed.

By chance, our next door neighbor had been in the Korean War with dad. He had no children. At night he would work on cars to make extra money. His carport was next to ours so it was easy to see him when he was out there. Just being back from Japan, I did not know a Chevy from a Ford and this was just about all the guys talked about at school. A ¾ race cam was as familiar to me as an osoba wagon would have been to them.

Watching and talking to him was my introduction to the world of auto mania. More so, he would tell me stuff about the Korean War dad never talked about and spun many a yarn or long winded joke. Jokes that dad would not have told me. He had no children so this was an experience he also grew fond of and we developed a friendship that lasted long after his retirement from the military. He was better than the television shows we had not seen for the past three years while in Japan. Those warm California evenings with the Pacific breezes were great times.

His wife was an avid gardener. The skunks would come over to eat her plants. One night he came over with his 410 shot gun and a box of shells. He knew I hiked the local hills a lot and knew guns so handed me his and a box of shells.

“Get me that skunk!”

Today this is something that would probably not happen even though he knew I had grown up with guns, qualified for the NRA sharp shooting certificate at age 11, knew gun safety and had actually learned to field strip the .30 cal M1 carbine. Still remember the manual and its mussel velocity of 2,200 feet per second. A sergeant at one of the ranges gave the manual to me and let me take a carbine home to practice with.

All my shooting had been at targets mostly on the thousand inch range on military bases. Shooting competition is not surprisingly a popular sport in the military. At the range, I was around these people and their customized Colt .45’s carried in special wooden boxes the size of today’s laptops. Overseas, we had unlimited supplies of ammo. This entertainment was cheaper than our movies.

I was an avid outdoors person, as they say, but not a hunter. My father was not a hunter which probably explains why I wasn’t. He and I would go fishing. While my rifle would often be taken along on my hikes and over nighters, most of my shooting in the wild was with a camera. A shot gun does tend to bring out the primal instincts, though.

That night I settled down in a dark spot and waited for it to show. It was not long before they could be seen in the street light crossing from the hills on the other side and going directly to his yard. There was more than one skunk and the shot gun was a single shooter. Being close to housing, I did not want to try a shot too far away but they caught me creeping up on them. They all took off in different directions. The housing was in one large circle with a very large open area in the middle. One headed into that area so I figured that would be the safest one to take a shot at and chased after it.

It was very dark back there. It was where I had been hiding so knew that the open field was deserted. Out front there were street lights but the houses even blocked that in the back for a hundred feet so I had to wait a moment. In the open field, all of a sudden there was a flash of white scooting along the ground. The silence of the quite evening was broken by the blast of the shotgun that echoed back and forth between the buildings. Missed. Had no experience leading a target and it turned out that he had given me bird shot.

The gauntlet had been thrown…

The next day a directive is issued by the CO regarding the discharging of firearms in the housing area. I decided to terminate the nocturnal activities and to take the hunt to them. After a few hikes I had located their burrow so waited in the shade one morning for them to show. As it was, they had already gone out and I caught them returning…or had they caught me?

I was lined up facing the hole and not the direction of their return. I knew any move on my part would spook them like that first night. Waited till they were close to their hole and then stepped out. I immediately learned that stepping out was also a hunting no no. Maybe I watched too many cowboy movies. Roy Rogers would have stepped out.

They made a bee line for their hole. I was there by the time the last one got in, shoved the barrel of the gun right in behind and let go a full blast. I immediately knew I was victorious. Talk about the smell of napalm in the morning!

Mom did not let me in the house. Made me strip in the car port and threw a brush and bar of soap out to me. The garden hose was in the back where the challenge had begun.

The skunks never returned and the flowers bloomed again.

The neighbor retired to Vegas several years after that. When I went there on my honeymoon, he set us up in some comp rooms at the Riviera for the week. The next day he taught me about off track betting while my wife went shopping with his. It doesn’t get any better than that.

His name was Bill and I’ll never forget him.

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