.308 Winchester

By Don Mitchell


The summer after my father lost his business in the great tsunami of 1960 we were cash-poor. I was just 17 and managed to get a job with the Hawai’i State Department of Fish & Game, which oversaw much of Mauna Kea, a large mountain with a lot of wildlife on it, out of a ramshackle camp at Pohakuloa.

My cabin mate was Eugene Chinen, a full-time employee about twenty. Eugene taught me bow hunting. Eugene also taught me to make Japanese-style rice, and to eat it with kimchee and eggs. I taught him some things he didn’t know about 4 cylinder Jeep engines, both flathead and overhead valve. We both had decent rifles and were good with them. Mine was a .308 Winchester carbine.

The Wildlife Biologist, our boss, told us that we could use our rifles in the archery-only areas if we needed meat. He knew about the tsunami problems, and he knew it was easy to knock over a sheep in the archery areas on the way to or from doing some job. There was no need to pretend it was sport. It’s an exaggeration to say I fed our family with what I shot, but I did keep us supplied with meat. And to a 17 year old, that felt good.

If we were going to shoot sheep or pigs with our rifles, the boss said, we needed to shoot them in the head, leave the heads on the mountain, and then shoot an arrow into the carcass before hanging it in the public meat safe. He didn’t want us – or him – to get into trouble with the Fish & Game higher-ups. In the picture I’m posing with my bow and arrows and a pig I did drop with an arrow, but the headless ewe hanging behind me fell to the .308. I drove a broadhead into it after it was dead.

The Wildlife Biologist taught me what a “jack ram” was. There was a Mouflon sheep breeding program at Pohakuloa, and it helped to know when the ewes were fertile. That was the jack ram’s job. He was vasectomized and thus sterile, but his ewe-sniffing and mounting skills were intact. One of my jobs was to turn the jack ram in among the ewes to see which one he’d mount, and then get that one in the pen with the Mouflon stud.

One time a girl I knew came over from Honolulu to visit me at Pohakuloa, and was so excited by my jack ram demo she suggested we drive the Fish & Game flathead Willys Jeep up behind a large cinder cone, in order to fool around and do a little jacking, not to say ramming. It would be thirty years before the urologist turned me into a jack ram, so we had to be careful.

One day the Biologist assigned Eugene and me to do a bird census. I decided to pack the .308 Winchester in case we ran into something worth shooting. That’s Eugene posing with it in the second picture. I also decided to wear a nylon Air Force jumpsuit that my father had gotten somewhere. I thought it was cool, although in those days Hilo kids didn’t say cool. We said “rugged.” Hey, rugged car, man. So I wanted to wear the rugged nylon Air Force jumpsuit, and I did.

It wasn’t long before I was sorry I had. It was too big for me. It was hot, and the only way to stay cool was to unzip it down the chest. But that made the top part gape, and the jumpsuit kept sliding off my shoulders, taking the .308 with it. I had to sling it cross-body to keep it on.

So there I was, ranging across Mauna Kea’s flanks, doing my bird census from Hale Pohaku down to Pohakuloa in my falling-off rugged nylon jumpsuit, Eugene half a mile up from me. We were the only two people on the mountain. I was thinking hard about the best way to cross the Waikahalulu Gulch without deviating too much from my assigned census track. The Waikahalulu Gulch is the deepest and most rugged gulch on the mountain. It’s the only place on the whole mountain where a person might actually fall and die. So I was worried, since I had barely escaped being killed by the tsunami a month before. I didn’t want to depend on luck twice.

While thinking about falling and dying, I surprised a flock of feral sheep, who stood for a moment and then took off. Getting the Winchester unslung dragged the jumpsuit down and I couldn’t lift my arms. The sling ended up around my waist, so all I could do was point the rifle and squeeze off shots from the hip. Yes, like a cowboy movie, but I knew exactly where Eugene was so I didn’t have to worry about hitting him or anybody else. I didn’t hit Eugene but I didn’t hit any sheep either, and the jumpsuit zipper tore out handfuls of my chest hair and the whole thing was a painful waste of time, except for the bird census, which we completed properly. I did make it across the Waikahalulu Gulch without falling and dying.

A couple of years later, Christmas of my junior year, home from college for the second time, I decided to go after pig in the Panaewa Forest. Panaewa was a favorite place to pick the fragrant maile vine, used for leis. The minimum-security prison at Kulani is up in Panewa, and I was wondering whether my friend Roger, who had murdered a woman over on Oahu, had been moved to Kulani. I thought he probably had been, since it had been a crime of passion and he wasn’t considered dangerous.

I used to think about Roger when I was young and did not understand the nature of passion, how it can grip you and sweep you away towards things you would not do by nature. I used to ask myself why, since Roger was capable of murder, he had not gotten angry at me when I accidentally discharged my 16-gauge double-barrel shotgun very near his heel, when we were bird hunting. I gunned a load of birdshot into the ground and he was startled and I apologized, and he didn’t get angry at all that I could see.

So later when he strangled that woman and I was thinking about it, I’d say to myself, How could he be a murderer? He didn’t even get angry when I almost shot his foot off.

Back in those days, the average 15 year old didn’t have a lot of insight into murderous passion. Now I realize there could have been no connection between what Roger did or didn’t do while we were bird hunting, and what was in his mind the day he strangled the woman on Oahu with a venetian blind cord.

In the Panaewa Forest with the carbine I ran into the same problem I had up on Mauna Kea a few years earlier – surprising my prey – but this time I was better-dressed and I didn’t have the rifle slung. I was scrambling along a big fallen tree when I spooked a pig that had been rooting under it. This time I shouldered my rifle and I nailed the pig. It was a good-sized boar. I gutted it and packed it out and went home.

Back at the house I laid my pig out on the driveway, but I didn’t skin and butcher it right away. I didn’t want to finish work on it until Susan, a woman from Schenectady, New York, arrived on the plane later in the day. We had a thing going, even though she was a couple of years older than I was, and we lived on opposite sides of the continent.

I had this compulsion to skin and butcher my pig while she watched. Atavistic? Maybe. A sociobiologist would have a field day with that – young male driven to display meat-providing prowess to nubile female – but she had already taken me into her bed, so I had nothing to prove. Neither of us was ready for marriage. And just as I knew she did not want to be impregnated by anybody, mighty hunter or no, I also knew that making her pregnant would be seriously un-rugged.

I did the skinning and butchering as I’d planned, while she watched. I was surprised at her encouraging comments and approving noises, until I remembered that her father was a mortician and she occasionally helped him out. Then, since both my parents were not home and were not expected home, I led her inside and washed my hands carefully and then I made love to her in my bedroom, with the venetian blinds closed and the cord tucked up out of our way.

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DON MITCHELL is a writer and ecological anthropologist, born and raised in Hilo, Hawai'i (where he graduated from a public high school -- in Hawai'i, that's important). He has published academic works, poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and both published and exhibited photographs. He recently published a story collection, A Red Woman Was Crying, and is working on a novel set on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, where he did fieldwork. He lives happily in Hilo with his college girlfriend, a poet and yoga teacher, whom he lost for forty years but, lucky for him, finally found.

11 responses to “.308 Winchester”

  1. Don Mitchell says:

    Late-arriving readers need to know that when TNB shifted to its current version, old comments were not transferred.

  2. trudy says:

    so Don – born in Hawaii. Does that mean you are not a citizen? 🙂

  3. Don Mitchell says:

    No, I have a birth certificate. Well, I have an ancient photostat “certificate of live birth,” which was good enough to get me a passport.

    But, if that’s a serious question, even pre-statehood we were citizens. Couldn’t vote for the president, didn’t have representation in Congress, our governor was appointed by whatever party was in power in Washington, and the Secretary of the Interior could unilaterally override any law that the Territorial Legislature passed. We had to pay taxes and be drafted.

    It sucked.

  4. […] He packs heat. […]

  5. randall sojot says:

    Mr. Mitchell,

    Eugene Chinen, Does he now lives on Oahu..? Did he work for the post office..? Do both of u have a friend there in Hilo name Ron bachman..?

    Thank U

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Wow, Randall. I didn’t see this comment until now.

      I don’t know where Eugene is, and I don’t know whether he worked for the PO or not.

      But I do know about Ron Bachman — that was our boss. So if you know a Eugene Chinen who knows Ron Bachman, he’s got to be my old friend Eugene.

      Does this mean you know where Eugene is? If you do, I’m in the Hilo phonebook and I’ve moved permanently back to Hilo.

  6. Randall Sojot says:

    Hi Mr Mitchell
    I have retired since my last post.. now, I live here in las vegas nv.
    Ron an Eugene was good friends.. Ron still lives in Hilo. an was still working the last time spoke with him. I remember the days when I used to hunting with my dad an both of them. The last time I seen Eugene he was in the hospital.. we talk I kept bringing stories that he remembered an could see the light in his eyes because he remembered. I also told him of U… that I seen an article with a picture of him that u posted… at first… he couldn’t remember… but then… he said… o yeah that haole guy.. ho… we was young that time… But sorry to say Mr Mitchell , the next time I went to visit… I was told he had pass away on the weekend. That was about 2 or 3 years ago. Good friends in our heart an mind lives forever… I thank U Mr Mitchell for posting ur story… hopefully someday.. Eugene grand children’s will find it on the net. And like me, was happy to read a story of U an He… ThankU.. rand.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Randall —

      I’m so sorry to hear about that, and I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment until today. I used to get email notifications when anybody comments, but that’s not working anymore.

      Yeah, “we was young that time.” We sure were. Long time ago, but I’ve never forgotten Eugene and I never will.

      The next time I’m up where I took that picture of him, I’ll spend some time remembering and reflecting on our time together. It was important to me. He helped me grow up.

  7. Randall Sojot says:

    Mr Mitchell,
    Wow, the years jus went flying by. I moved to Vegas and, seems I been busy busy busy.
    I was jus looking at things on the net.. an came up to ur name by way of my name.
    I’m hoping ur doing well an not in the way of any lava.
    If you have time Mr Mitchell please Email me back.

  8. Randall Sojot says:

    Hi Mr Mitchell,
    Once again, I’m reminded of you from sitting an just cruzing passing my day looking, at the snow cap mountains here in Nevada near where I live.
    Have you been taking pictures of the lava flow an new plant growth around ur home?
    Hopefully I’ll comehome this year to visit.
    Aloha, randy

  9. Randall says:

    FROM THE 9th ISLAND Vegas

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