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Sparrows (I think) in China

Posted by on December 25, 2014

Several Years ago, almost twenty as I now think back, I was living in Tokyo. I had to make a trip over to China on short notice, and a scheduling error found me with free time and stumbling into a really unique airgunning experience. I wrote this up for my first airgun hunting book, the American Airgunner, and since that collection of hunting stories is long out of print, thought I’d share it here again.

This is one of those strange stories about a hunting trip that wasn’t supposed to be a hunting trip. I was living in Tokyo at the time and working all over Asia. I had been called down to Beijing China on short notice to help salvage a project going bad. My travel agent arranged the trip, my office in Tokyo arranged the meetings, and everything was set… I thought. I climbed off the plane in Beijing and made my way to a hotel a couple of miles outside of the airport and several miles outside the city. I had stayed in this hotel a few times before, and the plan was to get a nights sleep and be picked up by my companies driver in the morning. I called into the office to tell them I’d arrived, but nobody answered. I kept trying and kept getting the same results, so after a couple of hours I called back to Tokyo to find out what was going on. There were several calls back and forth and it was finally determined that there had been a mistake in the schedule and I was suppose to have arrived three days later, and to make matters worse (or better as it turned out) there was a holiday just starting and I was on my own. I decided to set up shop at the Movenpick Hotel out in the country rather than head into the city, and spend a long weekend drinking beer and laying by the pool. I did this with great success and woke up the next morning a bit off color, and decided to get some exercise instead of a replaying the events of the day before. I called down to the concierge and asked what activities were available and after running through the options decided to rent a mountain bike and go for a ride in the countryside. I had the hotel pack me a lunch and a couple bottles of water, threw some stuff in my pack and was off.

My hunting partner in China – one of those trips that sticks in your mind forever. We couldn’t speak each other language, but managed to make a good hunt!

My hunting partner in China – one of those trips that sticks in your mind forever. We couldn’t speak each other language, but managed to make a good hunt!

Just a mile or so away from the hotel, I found myself on little packed dirt roads surrounded by agricultural land, mostly rice paddies, that stretched out as far as the eye could see, I kept riding as the day started to become warmer, it was a clear blue sky with a scattering of clouds. Riding along I saw something coming towards me, but I couldn’t make out what it was, and as it grew closer I realized that an entire family was balanced on a bike. Mom, dad, baby and grandma (or grandpa, I couldn’t tell) perched on what looked like a dilapidated beach cruiser, and what contributed to the bizarre silhouette was the ample stock of household goods and farming implements they had also loaded on. I eyed them thinking this was quite a site, when I realized they were looking at me the same way. I am over 6’1’’ tall, wore somewhat longhair and a beard at the time, was wearing day glow bike shorts without a shirt. I must have been the very picture of some rice field demon rolling down the road. We all pedaled by, eyes locked on one another, going on our way with our own individual stories of the weird sight we’d seen.

I continued on for a few more miles and rode by several family farm compounds that, even though we were only twenty or so miles out of Beijing, looked like something out of the distant past. They were of a common design, a few rough stone buildings arranged in a rectangle around a courtyard, with a large hinged door to allow entry with equipment or animals. I could see families inside, going about their business. At one of these compounds, it was somewhat larger than the others, and surrounded by scattered trees I saw what looked like a teenage boy of fourteen or fifteen creeping around these little woods with an airgun. I broke out my water and a snack, and leaning my bike against a tree, sat back to watch. After a few minutes the kid saw me and looked somewhat alarmed. He started moving away, but I waved him over. Trying to look friendly and non-threatening I finally got him over to me, and using my Berlitz language book I tried to ask him about his gun and what he was hunting. I did not know then, but I do now, that the Berlitz guide has a dearth of hunting expressions. Using sign language to show him that I liked to hunt (aiming and squeezing off shots from my imaginary gun) and trying to modify the Berlitz phrases for meeting new friends at the disco, I continued my inquiries. At one point, he looked at me with what I thought was alarm and trotted off into the compound. Now I’ve done it I thought, I led him to believe that I was a western subversive set on infiltrating China with a plan to get my hands on an air rifle, and cause god knows what havoc and mayhem.

As I was climbing on my bike to take off before the family descended on me with pitchforks, the kid came running back carrying an additional rifle. He indicated through signs (he spoke as well but I got not one word of it) that I could use a rifle and shoot with him. This was too good an opportunity for an inveterate airgun hunter, and besides, I was on my own schedule and in no hurry to anything else. The rifle was an underlever cocking pneumatic air rifle, which had a military look to it. I later realized that it was probably some variation of a Model B3 rifle that is now days commonly sold via the internet. It was roughly finished and pretty banged up, but on shooting a few shots to acclimate myself, found it pretty accurate considering I was using iron sites. We were shooting .177 flat head pellets, and I had no way of knowing (or based on the diminutive size of our quarry, really caring) what velocity these guns were putting out.

We hiked down to some trees behind one of the out buildings where I had first seen him stalking. Looking up I saw a flock of perhaps forty or fifty little brown birds flitting from limb to limb. I pointed and he nodded affirmation that these were our quarry. I took aim at a bird about 20 feet up in the tree and squeezed off a shot, missing him cleanly. The kid laughed, I guess bad shooting transcends cultural differences in language and humor, and snapped off a shot…. Plap! A bird dropped to the ground. The others did not seem to take notice that one of their numbers had departed under less than favorable (for him) circumstances. I took aim once again, and this time nailed one of the little buggers with a chest shot. The bird came tumbling down, and my hunting companion didn’t look pleased. He pointed to the chest shot and indicated this was bad placement; he made me understand that these little birds, I think they were sparrows of a type, were destined for the table. I spent the entire afternoon shooting and the two of us took a large number of birds, which seemed to please him to no end. We would shoot at a stand of trees until the birds got nervous, then move to another. I think a CO2 multi shot rifle probably would have been powerful enough for this game, and the ability to follow up would have been nice.

I noticed it was getting late in the day, and nodded my thanks for the fun day of shooting. Riding away I thought it interesting that without being able to speak the same language and having nothing in common but the hunt, I had spent a really fun day somewhere in the agricultural backwaters of China shooting what at home was a pest, but here I guess I should consider game. I have long believed that there is a certain subset of any population that are hunters, and now I know they have their own language.

To wrap up my story, as I tried to find my way back it got dark. There were no lights anywhere and I was surrounded by a great deal of nothing. The compounds were all shut up, and even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t have been able to communicate. My food and water were long gone; I was hungry, thirsty, and lost. I was using my compass to try to keep going in the right direction, and it was a little disconcerting riding along under moonlight. After working my way through fields and around dead ends, I rolled out parallel to the paved road. But I wasn’t sure if I’d come out above or below the hotel, so taking a chance I picked a direction. It turned out to be the right direction and eventually I rolled into the hotel parking lot. The next morning I brought the bike back, and the guy that rented it to me was most unhappy that I had kept his bike all night. After the exertions of the day and night before, I decided that I’d spend my last free day back at the pool, drinking beer and reflecting on the hunt.

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