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The Tragic Loss of BB Gun Safaris

The Tragic Loss of BB Gun Safaris

Posted 2024-07-02  by  Will Brantley

Many kids learned to hunt with a pellet gun in hand and no adult supervision. That’s probably a thing of the past

We’d leave before daybreak on Saturday morning, groups of two or three boys, none of us old enough to drive. We walked into the woods, with no adult supervision to be found, during a time when cell phones didn’t exist. Sometimes we ended up miles from home, crossing some hayfield of a farmer we didn’t know, or sitting on the banks of a creek we couldn’t name. We rarely carried water, but we’d usually stash a lukewarm Sam’s Choice cola in a backpack.

Image: kid_pellet_gun

A pellet rifle and unsupervised woods time built a generation of hunters. Are those days over for good?

The expeditions were planned around our supplies of ammunition. We had cartons of Copperhead BBs and plastic boxes of .177 pellets, the pointed kind, if we were lucky enough to find them. We were armed with pump-up pellet rifles and CO2 pistols. A package of five CO2 cartridges could get you through a full weekend of hunting if you conserved your shots, but no kid who ever saved for a semi-automatic pellet pistol did so with the intent of conserving ammo. The gas went quickly, and so sometimes we’d pool money for a full case of 25 gas cartridges. The CO2 had a smell, and the first few shots from a cartridge were always louder, more pungent, and more satisfying than the latter shots, and they hit harder too. If you came across a squirrel or a rabbit or a dove, you wanted to be loaded with a fresh cartridge and good, pointed pellets.

We shot at rabbits and squirrels and doves, but also at frogs and snakes and a few things we weren’t supposed to be shooting at. Dads and mothers were told that we shot blackbirds and nothing else. I can’t condone everything those 12-year-old boys did 30 years ago — but I also know that we matured quickly and naturally adopted a fundamental code of right and wrong.


With a pellet gun in hand and a world to explore, I learned hunting skills that have served me to this day. I also created some of my best memories of childhood. I’ve since enjoyed a career that’s allowed me to share camps with hundreds of other hunters, in this country and others, and the most skillful ones almost all spent their formative years exactly the same way, hunting on foot for birds and whatever else, with a pellet gun.

Such a BB gun safari is all but impossible for kids of today, of course. That’s a shame when we consider all of the other things that seem to be conspiring to keep kids indoors. I’m tempted to blame a parenting culture that’s hyper protective and adverse to risk; the stereotypical helicopter parents who shield their kids from anything uncomfortable.

Yet, as the father of a 10-year-old boy — one who loves to hunt and has a pellet gun— it does seem like there are more threats out there today than when I was a kid. I’m not afraid of my son shooting his eye out with a BB; he’s safer with a gun than many adults. Nor am I afraid of him being bitten by a snake or eaten by a bear. But I am suspicious of other people. Out in the woods myself, I’ve run into characters that I wouldn’t want alone around my son. I’m betting if you’ve spent enough time around gravel roads and trailheads, you have too. Maybe it’s because there are more drugs out there today. More desperation. I can’t say for sure, but my instincts tell me to be careful and protect my kid.

And even in the safest of areas, attitudes about property lines have changed. I remember getting “caught” by farmers when I was a kid out kicking fencerows for rabbits or looking for pigeons around the barn. I don’t remember ever being scolded or sent home. But today, there are food plots and big buck core areas we don’t want disturbed, and the farmer is afraid that Little Billy’s folks will sue him, if Billy breaks his ankle down at the creek (even if in reality, it’d be a stretch for a farmer to ever be liable for such a thing).


And of course there are the simple optics of it. A passerby seeing a group of kids carrying guns is likelier to call the law in 2024 than in 1994. Unfortunately, multiple tragedies since 1994 have gotten us to that point. Maybe we’re all too suspicious. But these days, if you’re not a little suspicious, you’re likely naïve.

I understand all of these things, and I suppose I sound like an old man remembering the glory days. But none of that changes my opinion: The BB gun safaris of my youth were a fine time. It’s a shame today’s little hunters don’t get to enjoy them.

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