BOSTON -- "I think it's important for people to be who they are." An implausible statement from the Democratic presidential nominee, but one a gun-slinging John Kerry nevertheless uttered to folks gathered at a Wisconsin gun club over Independence Day weekend this year. At a now-infamous appearance a few weeks later, Hunter Kerry manfully brandished a 12-gauge shotgun over his head that he had voted to ban, telling the crowd, "I thank you for the gift, but I can't take it to the debate with me." Ah, bask in the warm light of Democratic benevolence!
"I'm just being who I am, folks," Kerry later reiterated to reporters traveling on his bus. "I've gone deer hunting and duck hunting long before I thought of getting into politics. I support the Second Amendment." Indeed, whenever Kerry needs a political pick-me-up, he seems to like to go out and have his picture taken shooting some poor creature. It's depressing because you just know watching the whole scene that Teresa is going to refuse to clean and cook the animal, never mind let it anywhere near the Royal Heinz Dining Table. Teresa may have a potty mouth like Granny Clampett, but it is unlikely that she has the same affinity for critter soup.
Kerry, however, is always careful to dilute his brawn with poetry. (Well, outside the Midwest, anyway.) After discussing the ins and outs of hunting with a Washington Post reporter, Kerry shared the following verse he penned: "I had a talk with a deer today/we met upon the road some way … between his frequent snorts/He asked me if I sought his pelt/cause if I did he said he felt/quite out of sorts!"
So far it is not known whether Kerry has a poem commemorating the moment when he shot that Vietnamese teenager in the back. Nor has the Kerry campaign released any verse as of yet immortalizing the day Kerry beached his Swift boat at a deserted settlement off the Bo De River in 1969 and ordered his crew to open up on the pigs and chickens milling around with heavy-caliber machine guns. George Bates, a fellow Swift boat commander who witnessed the scene in horror, recounts in Unfit for Command that there were no flags or symbols to suggest that it was an enemy village. The slaughter was wholesale and without provocation. Nevertheless, as with all other major aspects of candidate Kerry's life -- Vietnam, mountain biking, windsurfing, dating -- ask Kerry about his time in the field hunting, and he'll tell you himself that he's Davy Crockett incarnate out there.
"I GO OUT WITH MY trusty 12-gauge double-barrel, crawl around on my stomach," Kerry told a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "I track and move and decoy and play games and try to outsmart them. You know, you kind of play the wind. That's hunting."
But is it? Not according to Colorado sportsman and lifelong hunter John Ortmann.
"Kerry's description of how he hunts seems highly fanciful," Ortmann said. "Belly crawling through the brush would make a racket a whitetail could hear for a thousand yards. Nobody's smart enough to 'outsmart' whitetails in heavy cover, least of all Kerry. If he could actually pull this off, he's a better woodsman than Jim Corbett and Peter Capstick combined."
In the heavy cover of the woods of the Eastern United States (where Kerry would presumably have done much of his hunting), the standard approach is not to crawl through the woods, according to Ortmann, but rather, set up on a stand where deer are likely to appear within the shotgun's limited effective range.
"Real deer hunters find these spots before opening day and are on stand well before dawn or in the late afternoon before the critters start to move," Ortmann said. "Even rifle hunters and certainly archers universally use this approach in heavy cover. I've done some moving stalking in heavier cover, but on my hind legs where I could be up to see what's going on, using a fast-handling Winchester 94 with iron sights for snap shots."
But come on, Ortmann. We're not talking about some Ordinary Joe out there. We're talking John Effing Kerry. The man who never falls! War hero! In the woods! With his "trusty 12 gauge double-barrel"!
"Kerry's 'trusty double-barrel' would have no sights!" Ortmann replied. "Bird guns only have a small brass bead on the front, because wing shooting isn't really a matter of aiming once you learn how. A slug-firing deer shotgun has a full set of front and back sights like a rifle, necessary to place the shot in a lethal spot."
THERE IS NO WORD on what kind of firepower Kerry plans to pick up now that the assault weapons ban has lapsed. It is likely that to some degree it depends on how Kerry's poll numbers hold up. If we get too close to November 2 without a bounce for the challenger, it is entirely possible he might show up hunting rats in the backstreets of Harlem with an M-16 or coyotes in Arizona with an Uzi submachine gun or skunk in the alleys of Concord, New Hampshire, with a pistol-grip shotgun.
It is, as all the political pundits incessantly remind us, too soon to tell how the campaign will wind up. But if you're a hunter living in Massachusetts, and there's a rustling in the brush near your stand, here's some free advice: Duck!