Finger on the Kill Button

Dad and I took to the hills this weekend - his 60th birthday is coming up, and I lined up a half-day grouse
hunt in the mountains of western NC to help celebrate. We had to leave poor Dean at home due to some logistical hurdles, but with Kim at the NCAFP conference at the Grove Park, Dad and I took off to Weaverville NC to meet up with our guide from Curtis Wright Outfitters.

Grouse hunting reminds me a lot of combat – it is exhausting, you rarely see what you are shooting at, you often come home empty-handed, and it is a helluva good time. (NB: Words of wisdom from my former commander: “Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling." General James N. Mattis, USMC).

From handling a weapon, you get an innate familiarity with its functioning. Under stress and through intense training, it becomes a literal extension of your very self. The Marine Corps also has a way of distilling various things down to their core attribute - for example, the safety selector switch on the M16A2 service rifle. Safe. Semi. Burst. Simple enough to just call it the "Selector Switch" or something like that, but the drill intructors in the Marine Corps insist on calling it the "Kill Button." It makes sense, when you think about it, and it subtly reinforces the idea that is what a weapon is for, and nothing less, in case less attentive recruits begin to forget where it is pointed.

There were times I recall from Iraq that I went from “finger straight and off the trigger, weapon on safe” to 4.5 pounds of pressure on a five pound trigger, sights on the target, with the weapon on "Kill." It wasn’t something I had to think about, it just happened. I wasn't ever even aware of the shift from safe to fire - rather, as the immediate stress subsided I caught myself sighting down the barrel of a rifle with set to “fire.” Before long, and well before we deployed, I had put enough rounds out in training that I would just walk around with my thumb perched on the selector switch, so as not to have to look for it when the time came.

Walking the hills outside Weaverville NC with Dad brought this thought flooding back. For the first two or three flushes, we never even saw the bird - just had the dog lock up and heard him fly, maybe we even imagined a slight glimpse of brown on brown hurtling through the hardwoods. After a late trailing shot on the second bird (mostly to save face) I relocated my second finger to that little round button on the right side of the trigger guard on the Remington 870 LW 20 ga. Kept the first finger straight, ready to acquire the trigger, and the second finger poised on the kill button. Nothing less would work, these hills were so steep and the birds were so fast.

We never got a bird, although we had a few more flushes. It would have been nice to have Dean - the guide's dog kept taking off down the mountain after deer or some other such animal. But hell - a nice December day on the mountain with Dad, you hardly need to actually get a bird.

Happy Birthday Dad. Thanks for hunting with me all these years.


No Country For Old Men

The grouse hunt this past weekend was some steep country - the mountains around Weaverville NC make you work for each shot. You can see Bud's blaze orange in the far upper left corner of the picture, as he gazes woefully into the abyss after we missed a bird that flushed out from under us while the dob was off in a briar patch. We didn't even get a shot off, and even the dog couldn't find the one that took off down this hill.

Stand by - more to follow.


Range time

There are worse places to beat at 4 o clock on a friday afternoon van out at the guilford county sheriff's department pistol range shooting with a bunch of old Marines. Rah.


Whaler Project: Almost Done

Tonight we went from this:

To this:

Console installed. Seats installed. Battery installed, charged, electrical system op-checked. Cleaned out and ready for a shakedown cruise. Only the bow hatch and anchor left to go, and then home to Holden's for a tune-up.



In between my day job and the rest of my life, I've managed to post some pics of the Memorial Day Adult Retreat Extravaganza that was held in beautiful Highlands NC. Bud and Nana were gracious enough to entertain the rugrats for a weekend, and we fled to the hills (alone) for the first time since Jack was born. For those of you who are keeping track, that was 2 years 3 months and 26 days ago, give or take.

I won't say it was the highlight of the trip, we we took an adventure along the Horsepasture River, starting at the trailhead in the new Gorges State Park in Sapphire NC. The last time I was on the Horsepasture was probably 1992 or so (I think I remember the Lakers and the Celtics were in the NBA finals that summer) so needless to say I was dusting off some old cobwebs. We hiked down to the river, then up the watercourse past Rainbow Falls, several nice pools, Drift Falls, to fantastic little spot called Turtleback Falls (35.09249, -82.96633).

Turtleback is a point in the river where the water rolls over a gently sloping, very smooth expanse of stone and then drops 15 feet into a deep pool, turns sharply and then meanders downriver. There are a few old ropes on the side of the rock face, and locals have been sliding and jumping and surfing off the falls into the pool for ages. The way the river turns out of the eddy means it is very hard if not impossible to get swept downriver, and the pool is deep enough to absorb the most fearless leaps.

Kim narrates my demonstration attempt:

My camerawork is not nearly as good, but my Parkinson's subsides just enough to prove that is Kim taking the plunge:

And one last jump before the now-infamous hike out on a route based entirely on Matilda's 5th-grade memories of Camp Buc:

So that's it. Next time I am allowed to navigate in the woods the kids will be carrying my urn.


Whaler Project: Installation

Over the last few nights, I've gotten the helm kitted back together and things are starting to look a bit more ship-shape. Next step is to finish the hard-install of the seats, console, and hatch to the hull proper, reconnect the battery cables, and see if I can get this baby cranked up. There is definitely a lot more finger-crossing and breath-holding at this stage. But she sure is gettin' pretty!


Whaler Project: "Progress" Is My Middle Name

Despite near-insurmountable obstacles, and no real updates since the last blog post on this topic in February of 2010, I am pleased to report that the Whaler renovation is moving crisply along in anticipation of our trip to Pawley's in July.

Over the last few weeks, blessed with clear skies and daylight persisting until well after 8:30pm, and unshackled from the drudgery of NYU's Taxation of Property Transactions, I have gotten the original console removed, including disassembly of the Teleflex kit which had me totally stumped for about 2 weeks. I've removed the rear bench, the front hatch cover, and prepped the gas tanks and battery for their new stowage amidships. This weekend, I cleaned out the ant nest in the rear storage compartment, cleaned out the hull, removed the anchor (got a new anchor!).  I also managed to get the new console cut for install (whoever invented the Dremel tool, thank you!) and began working on the new rear bench positioning that is about 6 inches higher that before.

Next steps:

  • complete the rear bench install with gas and battery beneath; mount Tempress seats on the bench.
  • install the new console with mahogany faceplate for steering and gauges.
  • re-mount front hatch cover and re-install anchor rode and new anchor.
  • Crank the engine up and see if this puppy still runs!