I bought my first gun when I was 12 by saving my summer wages swamping lug boxes of Red Malaga grapes out of my father’s and uncle’s vineyards. A few weeks before the opening of Dove Season, I sent a $109.95 money-order to Sears and Roebuck for a 20 gauge Model 12 Winchester shotgun. The box came addressed to me in the mail.
Before that, I hunted dove and quail with Stevens .410 single-shot and roamed the foothills on cow trails shooting ground squirrels with a used, J C Higgins single-shot .22 rifle that my mother’s cousin, Stanley Dickover, had given me for Christmas when I was 10. Different days and times, my parents would likely have been thrown in jail today for turning a youngster loose with a gun. But I loved it—not the killing as much as the hunting and exploring.
In those days, finding a place to hunt was not difficult. For me, there was always the ranch. But most all of my teenage friends had permission from local landowners to fish and hunt whatever was in season. Poaching happened, but was seldom an issue in this small community where everyone knew everyone else, when a young man built his reputation early in life.
In the mid-60s with the advent of affordable air conditioning, the local population began to explode, and with more people, less places to hunt. Trespass and poaching became serious problems for landowners who lost livestock, had water troughs shot full of holes and experienced a general increase in vandalism that impacted their operations. Then again, the clash of cultures after the Vietnam War when many Hmong refugees, used to living off the land, were relocated to the Central Valley.
Today, the prices of guns and ammunition, as well as license and tag fees to the California Fish and Game, continue to increase while places to hunt have decreased dramatically. It’s not surprising that poaching has become a problem, and in some instances, a business where deer, feral hogs and livestock are butchered in backyards and the meat sold locally. While budgetary restraints have wardens stretched thinly, the problem of poaching falls precariously on landowners more than ever before. Rather than to have to sort the good guys from the bad, we are inclined not give anyone permission to hunt.
Today’s poachers seem to believe that if they have a gun, they have a right to hunt anywhere they want, indignant when caught, and blame the landowner when prosecuted. Our latest incident on July 22, 2012, a slam-dunk case for the Fish and Game and D.A.’s office with indisputable photographic evidence, has to be pursued if we expect help and support from local wardens in the future.
I’ve never been an advocate of stricter gun laws, but if the common belief that the purchase of a gun increases one’s rights while diminishing the rights of others, then something has to change.