Column: Hunting from an airplane
Of all my escapades, there has been no mention of those glorious years when this old guy owned his own airplane and built a hangar and landing strip on the south alfalfa field on the K-farm.
My airplane was a 1940 yellow J-3 Piper Cub. It was bought from the local implement dealer as soon as I left the U.S. Navy.
One day I went with my pa to the dealership, and the boss, a pilot, took me to the local airport to show me his airplane.
In the corner of his hangar sat this brightly colored Piper Cub J-3. He asked if I would like to fly it. Without hesitation, I accepted, and off we went. Of course, now I was hooked, especially when the dealer asked if I wanted to buy it. I was determined to own this little craft, but with a wife and family, money was a little tight. Pa had an old 1951 Ford sedan, and we made the deal: $950 and the old 1951 Ford.
I was obsessed. I flew that machine every day. It was a wonder the machine didn’t just wear out from overuse. But it kept humming for 20-plus years without much trouble. I would fly by some neighbor out in the field working, and I would just set down beside him for a visit.
That is how we came to engage in aerial hunting of fox and coyote. There was bounty on them in those days, and there was an explosion of foxes. I bought an old shotgun, put someone in the back seat who was good and safe with a gun, and a 20-plus-year endeavor began.
In retrospect, it was probably very dangerous. And cold! The right side of the J-3 had a split door/window. Part would fold up and latch to the wing, and the other half folded down. The entire area was open to the wind. Now imagine the outside air temperature at around 20 below times the 60 mph wind we made, and it was instant freeze.
The first few attempts at shooting out of a machine moving through the air at 60 mph were tough, but my best pal, Jack Waltman, and my pa became astute at hitting the target. Just where they aimed remains a mystery to me because it was my job to keep the platform stable and level, and it kept my concentration on staying safely airborne. I estimate we were 20-30 feet above the ground when we were chasing a fox. There was time for only one shot before we had to turn around and make another approach.
Then we discovered snow skis for the old bird. We would glide so softly and smoothly across the open ground. It also enabled us to land most anyplace.
When we first began this endeavor, we would receive a $2 bounty for a fox pelt. Just before it became outlawed, fox pelts were bringing in excess of $25 apiece. That probably spelled the end of this endeavor.
Gerald “Jerry” Krueger is a retired educator, coach, commercial pilot and farmer. Write him at email@example.com. His column runs Mondays.