April 6th…“HAVE YOU EVER GONE HUNTING WITH A MEMBER OF YOUR FAMILY?”
Handsome, Hero, Hot Rodder….and in this case Hunter….those attributes, all rolled into one, made up my big brother, Lowell!! Being 11 years older than myself, big brother was actually more like a young father to me in my growing up days on our farm in southern Minnesota. Lowell invested time in my young life and made me to feel special whenever I had any opportunity to be with him. One of those adventures would be hunting pigeons.
On a sunny Summer afternoon at our farm near Kiester, Minnesota, Lowell came home from shopping at “Gambles Hardware Store” there in our town. The year was 1964 and I was a mere 10 years of age at the time. Brother found me upstairs in sister Rosemary’s bedroom. With one arm behind him, he approached me. Beneath that dark, wavy hair of his were two eyes that set to twinkling and and below them was a sly smile emerging from his face. There was something “up his sleeve” and I couldn’t WAIT to find out what it was. With a swing of his arm, he brought something to the front that he was hiding behind his back. It was a sparkling, brand new “DAISY” BB air rifle!!!!! My eyes popped open as wide as saucers and the “Oooooo’s and Ahhhhh’s” started spilling forth from my little boy lips!!
At that moment, for me to muse upon the notion that he thought I was mature enough to now experience the wonder of learning respect for and firing a BB rifle, …….well, the thrill of it was almost more than this little farm boy could stand!!! 😉 Next came a teaching time with brother so he could inculcate within me the safety aspects of properly handling a firearm. When Lowell felt I had gleaned enough firearm knowledge, he shared a thrilling idea with me. We two could have some guy-type fun and actually do a service for our area farmers in getting rid of pigeons from their haymows (which is an attic storage above the barn that holds alfalfa to feed the animals and also yellow straw for bedding the animals.)
Brother Lowell enlightened me to the fact that the pigeon population was prolific in our part of the State and that those gazillion pigeons would usually find ways to get into the haymows of the local barns to roost (make a nest to live). With their large bodies, the birds would see “daylight” via the glass windows and then fly INTO those barn windows and break them in their vain attempt to get out of the barn. Not only were those windows costly (and dangerously high) for the farmers to replace, but without windows in place, rainstorms would easily blow its water inside the haymow. The resulting wet hay would then begin to rot from the moisture. That rotting process created an internal heat inside the bales and could result in a fire called, spontaneous combustion. If the farmer wasn’t aware of all this, his barn could burn down and all his animals would be destroyed in the fire.
Once having taken up residence in a barn, those pesky pigeons would then proceed to “make deposits” of bird goo on the hay bales that were used to feed the livestock. You can surmise that any cow, in her right mind, does NOT want to eat anything with pigeon pucky all over it. As brother theorized, he felt the local farmers would be thrilled to be rid of those pesky pigeon poopers.
Like any military engagement, my “Brigadier Brother” had a battle plan as to how we’d carry out the hunt of our pooping prey. Each evening, during that Summer, we’d finish up the chores and milking of our dairy herd. Now, the rest of the night was ours to go hunting those bottom blasting birds. A magnetic flashlight was clicked onto the barrel of our “Daisy” BB rifle as we climbed into Lowell’s sleek 1957 Ford Fairlane. As we rolled along those gravel roads to the next farm, Lowell shared how the magnetic flashlight would allow us to see our prey in the darkness of the barn’s haymow AND how the beam of light would temporarily blind the bird so that it held to it’s perch while we drew a bead on it as a target.
Big brother and I plinked away night after night, farm after farm. For a couple of country boys, it was a kick in the shorts (slang for “good time”) and also served as some golden bonding moments between brothers, as well. Each evening, after we two “Heap Big Great White Norwegian Hunters” cleared out a barn of pigeons, we’d gather the “kill” and toss the bodies onto the nearest manure piles which were common on most farms.
But then, one night, we encountered an “Alfred Hitchcock” moment. Around dusk, that evening, Lowell’s handsome ’57 Ford was cruising past a dark, vacant, abandoned farm place. The current owner of the property lived just up the gravel road a mile or so, so brother drove us over to the owner’s place to ask permission to shoot the pigeons in that old barn. The new owner was glad for us to rid the barn of those birds, so we returned to that desolate farm yard as the last rays of sun were fading behind the treed windbreak. Climbing out of Lowell’s car, we could sense that, in the waning light of dusk, that there was something very eeery about this particular barn and the whole farmyard in general. It was a palpable “dead” feeling without the presence of lights in the barn or any sign of life in that ghostly farmhouse, either; like we’d been used to seeing at other family farms around us. Even the windbreak of cottonwood trees that surrounded the farmyard seemed to give out a whispering warning as the labored wind filtered through their lonely branches.
Our father’s battery-operated railroad lantern was to be used for basic light in the upper reaches of this spooky structure that once was home to a thriving family of animals. With the last vestiges of daylight disappearing, we began the ascent of the wooden ladder into the blackened haymow, but we didn’t bother turning the lantern ON till we had reached the level of the haymow itself. The lantern was cylindrical in nature and had a wire guardrail around the bare bulbs that jutted out from the lantern housing. With the grasping of each rung of the haymow ladder, we could hear that THIS particular barn attic was “alive” with sounds that denoted something was hidden in that ominous darkness. We perceived sounds that were unnatural to what we had been used to in other barns of our area.
Within seconds of igniting that lantern light, we now knew full well what those strange sounds were……….we were immediately assaulted by dozens of Starlings and other birds that went completely berserk at the intrusive light that had invaded their dark domain. Birds were all over that light and all over us as they landed on our shoulders and heads; pecking at us and the lights we were using. Valiantly, we attempted to ignore them and take rifle aim on the pigeons in the upper rafter level, but the anguishing harassment of this bird population was too over-powering. With disgust, Lowell hollered, “Let’s get the HECK OUTTA HERE!!!” Down the ladder we went, in all haste, as the throng of attackers followed our descent. They were like tiny machine gunners with the “rat a tat a tat” pecking. When we finally made it outside of the barn and back to Lowell’s car, only then, did the fearless, feathered mini-falcons claim victory and returned to their castle which was that dead haymow, in that dead barn, on that dead farm!!
Other than that haunting occasion, that Summer, all together, this brotherly dynamic duo bagged over 150 pigeons. And, in the process, made many a local farmer happy to have those pesky pooper pigeons out of his barn so that his cows could once again have clean alfalfa hay to eat and enjoy. Mange Takk (many thanks) to my dear brother, Lowell, for being a grand adventurer with this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.