The Hunters


When my sister Janalee and I built our cabin, we decided it would be a hunter’s cabin. We found a big rock up on a hill and leaned some branches up against it and covered the two openings with old gunnysacks. We could go in and sit real quiet, and no one would ever know we were there.

We built our cabin because we wanted to catch a cougar. We knew there were cougars in the mountains because our neighbor, Brother Poole, caught one. He keeps its pelt on the floor in his house and says it’s a rug, but he doesn’t ever let anybody walk on it.

Ever since seeing that old cougar skin, though, I wanted to catch my own cougar, and Janalee said she would help. Dad made me the neatest flipper—that’s what most people I know call a slingshot—and I have my own BB gun. I can shoot that BB gun better than anyone. Well, almost anyone. Janalee is probably just a little better, but she keeps quiet about it.

My sister can shoot straighter, play ball better, and run faster than me or any of my friends. Since I don’t have a brother to do things with, it sure is nice to have a sister like Janalee.

Well, one morning Janalee and I took my BB gun and flipper and headed up to our cabin to hunt cougars.

“Do you really think we’ll catch a cougar, Jonathan?” Janalee asked as we puffed up the mountain.

“Brother Poole did,” I said. “If he can, we sure can.”

“It’ll be nice to have a pet cougar to take care of.”

“A pet?” I grunted. “He isn’t going to be any pet. We’re going to make him into a rug like Brother Poole’s.”

“A rug? What good’s an old rug that nobody can walk on? A pet would be lots better.”

“Whoever heard of a pet cougar?” I said, rolling my eyes. “But before we catch any cougars, we need to practice hunting smaller things.”

We crawled into our little cabin and rested for a minute and ate some oatmeal cookies Mom had given to us.

“What are we going to hunt first?” Janalee asked as she picked the raisins out of her oatmeal cookie and dropped them on the ground. She doesn’t like raisins.

“There are some magpies in those maple trees behind us,” I said. “Maybe we should try shooting them.”

Just then my friend Joe poked his head in and grinned. “What’re you doing?”

“We’re going to go hunting,” Janalee told him. “Want to come?”

“Sure. I even have my flipper.”

I handed the BB gun to Janalee, saying, “You take this.”

Joe and I filled our pockets with rocks. We could hear those old magpies talking a mile a minute. We started sneaking through the bushes and trees so that we could take those noisy old birds by surprise.

“There’s one,” Janalee whispered. “Isn’t he pretty? He has such a beautiful long tail and such shiny black feathers.”

“OK, Jonathan,” Joe said, “let’s kill it.”

“Kill it!” Janalee cried out, jumping up and scaring the magpie away. “Why do you want to kill it? It hasn’t done anything to anybody.”

“Now look what you’ve done,” Joe growled.

“What’d you think we were going to do with it?” I asked. “That’s what hunters do—kill birds and cougars and things.”

“Well, that’s dumb,” Janalee said, putting her hands on her hips. “What good’s a dead magpie?”

“What good’s a live magpie?” Joe asked. “My dad says they’re no good at all.”

“Well, I think they’re pretty. That’s a good enough reason not to kill them. Besides, the prophet has asked us not to shoot the little birds.”

“Oh, brother!” Joe muttered. “Why’d you bring her along? Girls don’t know anything about hunting, Jonathan. Maybe she ought to go back to the cabin so she won’t get hurt.”

I looked at Janalee and then at Joe and then down at the ground. “Maybe Janalee’s right,” I said. “We don’t have to kill the magpies. There are other things.”

“You too?” Joe groaned. “I’m not hunting with a girl. Girls can’t shoot.”

There was an old tin can lying on the ground. I picked it up and set it on a fallen tree trunk. “Back up a few steps,” I called to Joe and Janalee. They moved backward. “Now, let’s see which one of you can knock the can off the tree trunk.”

Joe snickered. “She’ll miss it a mile.” He put a rock into his flipper, pulled back hard, chewed on his tongue a little, aimed, and let the rock fly. It came close, but it didn’t hit the can. “Let’s see you come that close,” Joe challenged Janalee.

Janalee didn’t say anything. She got my flipper, looked around until she found a round, smooth rock, then went back to where Joe was standing. She tucked the rock inside the flipper’s leather pouch, pulled back, aimed, and let the rock fly. It hit the can and knocked it off the tree trunk.

“Lucky shot,” Joe muttered, his face all red.

“Do it again, then,” I said. And they did. In fact, they did it three more times. Janalee didn’t miss once. Joe nicked the can on his second shot, but he didn’t knock it off.

“Do you want to try the BB gun?” I asked.

Joe glared at me and shook his head. “I guess she can stay,” he mumbled. “But let’s get to hunting. We’re just wasting time here.”

We started tromping through the trees, and just past a clump of cedar trees we spied a skunk. Right behind it were three baby skunks. I’d seen skunks before, but not a family of them. Joe and I reached for our flippers.

“Which one shall we shoot,” Joe whispered.

“How about the big one?” I whispered back, loading my flipper.

“The big one?” Janalee gasped, grabbing my shoulder. “That’s the mom!”

“Do you want us to kill one of the babies then?” I asked, shaking off her hand.

“I don’t want you to kill any of them.”

“Why not?”

“Oh, brother!” Joe grumped. “I bet she thinks they’re pretty.”

I looked at Janalee; she had her hands on her hips again. I looked at the skunks. A couple of them were sniffing around in some weeds. They really were kind of pretty.

“What’s the use of hunting if you can’t kill something once in a while?” Joe asked.

“We can watch them,” Janalee said. “That’s lots more fun.”

So we sat and watched the skunks for a while. I didn’t tell Janalee, but it really was kind of fun watching those babies follow their mom and play around in the weeds. And when they finally ambled off, I was glad we hadn’t hurt them.

“Let’s go back to the cabin for a while,” I said. “I still have two oatmeal cookies. We can split them and plan our next hunt.”

“If we want to have a real hunt,” Joe grumbled, “we’d better split with your sister.”

Just as we got to the cabin, we saw a squirrel scrambling out the other side. It had been eating the raisins Janalee had picked out of her cookie.

“Let’s get it.” Joe mouthed the words. He looked at Janalee and groaned, “Oh, boy.”

The squirrel scampered over to a pile of rocks, sat up on its hind legs, and watched us.

“Now you scared it away,” Janalee said, shaking her finger at Joe.

“So? You wouldn’t have let us kill it anyway,” he said.

“Of course not. Who’d want to hurt a little squirrel?”

“I could still get it from here,” Joe said to me. “It’s just sitting there.”

I looked at Janalee.

“Give me a cookie,” she said.

I handed her one, and she crumbled it onto a rock a few feet from us. Then she said, “Let’s go back in the bushes and watch.”

Joe grumbled, but he went with us. We’d hardly gotten settled before the squirrel scampered over to the rock and started eating the cookie crumbs.

Just then Zeke, Brother Arnold’s dog, bounded into sight. That squirrel saw the dog, dropped to all fours, and made a mad scramble for the rocks, with Zeke right behind it.

I just sat there staring, but Janalee didn’t. She grabbed my flipper and a rock, took aim, and let the rock fly. It made a beeline for Zeke’s behind. He let out a yelp and tore out of there.

“No old dog is going to hurt our animals!” Janalee yelled.

“Some hunters we are,” Joe moaned. “We can’t shoot at birds or skunks or squirrels, and when a good hunting dog comes around, we chase him off. I’ve never heard of hunters like that.”

“Well, we’re not ordinary hunters,” Janalee said, handing the flipper back to me.

“What kind of hunters are we?” I asked.

Janalee said, “We’ll make this an animal preserve. We’ll protect the animals, like policemen, making sure nobody or nothing hurts them. And we’ll bring food to them. That’s the kind of hunters we’ll be.”

Joe frowned. Finally he said, “If we’re policemen, who’s going to be the captain?”

“Whoever will protect the animals and birds and treat them right,” Janalee told him.

Joe picked up a rock and tossed it at a bushy cedar. “I can do that.”

“Then you can be the captain of our preserve,” Janalee told him, beaming.

“Really?” When Janalee and I nodded, he said, “All right then. You two go home and get some bread crumbs, and I’ll get some lettuce and things from Mom. Meet me back here as soon as you can. We can’t leave this place unprotected very long. Zeke might be back.”

“What about my cougar?” I wanted to know.

Janalee grinned. “Well, if he’ll behave himself, we’ll let him come too. We might even be able to find a piece of meat for him.”

As we headed down the mountain, I was glad I had a sister like Janalee. She’s as good as a brother any day.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson