James noticed the flock of doves dip down into the field of newly harvested corn, and his heart beat a little faster as he continued his drive home. He hurried into his house and changed into his hunting clothes. He grabbed his 16-guage semi-automatic shotgun and a box of #6 shells and stepped out his back door. He whistled for his hunting companion, Rusty, a born retriever, and walked briskly out of his yard. Rusty caught up with him a short while later, and when he saw James’s gun, he barked with excitement and trotted out in front. It was a pleasant sunny afternoon in September, and there was no place James would rather be than in a field of doves with Rusty by his side. He imagined watching a dozen birds flying across the field toward where he was waiting under the cover of tall pine trees. More than likely he would empty his shotgun without disturbing a single feather and watch the birds dart here and there as they winged their way back across the field. Moments later as James crossed into a stretch of broom sage, Rusty flushed a rabbit, and James took a quick shot only to watch the rabbit’s cotton tail bobbing as he made his escape. James replaced the missing shell in his shotgun’s magazine, but he was in such a hurry to get to the dove field that he forgot to switch his gun back to the safe position.
James had covered half the distance to the dove field when he came to the only obstacle between him and his objective. It was an old rusty barbwire fence three feet high. He had stepped over the fence many times, and because the barbwire had bloodied him once or twice, he normally approached it with caution. He knew better than to hold onto a gun when getting over any fence, and he knew this fence was trickier than most. However, he threw caution to the wind in his excitement and held onto his shotgun with his right hand. He bent forward slightly while holding the barb wire down with his left hand. He lifted his left leg over the barbwire, using the weight of his gun in his right hand as balance, and planted his left foot on the ground. To get his right leg over the fence was a little trickier; he pivoted on his left foot and lifted his right foot, still using his shotgun as balance. And then things went terribly wrong” He lost his balance and came down onto the barbwire. The rotten posts, one at each end of that section of the fence, broke and James fell into a heap of tangled barbwire. And then, dumb forgetfulness
James opened his eyes, and the common sense that had recently abandoned him came back. He was certain he had not fallen asleep and that brought him to the likely conclusion that he had blacked out, due to a concussion or some other traumatic event. Whatever the cause, he figured he needed to lie still until he figured out his situation, or until somebody discovered him. He looked all about him as best he could by rolling his eyes. He did not see, hear or smell Rusty, and that gave him hope that Rusty had gone for help. He remembered that he had held his shotgun in his right hand when he went down, and that reminded him that he had forgotten to switch the gun’s safety to the on position after shooting at the rabbit. He thought out loud: “What dam fool, especially a hunter, would hold a loaded shotgun in his hand with the safety off, while attempting to get over a barbwire fence?” His stupidity reminded him of how his daddy had tried to teach him the rules of safe gun handling and to be aware of the consequences of ignoring those rules. That brought back memories of the fun he had shared as a young fellow with his daddy who loved the outdoors, and especially hunting near the small town where they lived.
Those thoughts warmed James’s heart, but, at the same time, reminded him of his situation. He was on his back stretched out to full length in a mess of tangled barbwire. His head was cocked forward at an angle which allowed him to see the full length of his body. And what he saw distressed him more than a little. He could see what appeared to be the blue-steel barrel of his shotgun extending up his stomach and chest until it went out of focus near his face. That helped explain the feeling of something hard and cold against his skin, just above the bridge of his nose. It was the muzzle of his shotgun. He could just make out the gun’s trigger guard but could not see the trigger. That was because his view was blocked barbwire, and one loose end of the wire extended into the trigger guard. He didn’t know if the gun had discharged when he fell, but he remembered what his father used to tell hm: “more people are killed by unloaded guns than by guns that are loaded.” From that moment, James knew just how precarious his situation was. He surmised that the slightest movement of any part of his body would be fatal. He would need to lie deathly still until someone discovered him or until he died for lack of water. His life likely depended on Rusty, and if he was discovered in time, the task of removing the danger while preventing the gun from discharging accidently would still be a challenge.
James thought about yelling for help but dropped that thought when he decided that yelling would cause more muscle movement than he was prepared to risk. After a few minutes the mosquitos and gnats found and began to torture James, and he didn’t know how long he could go without taking action to fend them off. After a while, James sensed that Rusty was back, but surmised that he was alone. That was more torture, because James didn’t know if Rusty had contacted someone who might help. Rusty’s presence brought one favorable result, as some of the mosquitoes and gnats switched their attention to him. But that advantage seemed less important when Rusty became rambunctious and wanted to play around with James. That could be disastrous because Rusty could end up doing what James was trying not to do, disturb any part of that mass of barbwire. James became tired and sleepy and fought off the temptation with all the strength he had left. He was a restless sleeper and that did not bode well in situation.
Rusty made contact with some of James’s friends, and they followed him as he started off at a trot. When they were in sight of James, Rusty went on ahead to be with James. This is what James’s friends found: James was lying on his back in a straight rigid position, except for his head, as if he had died at a military-type attention. His head was cocked forward because it was propped up by the low-standing stump of a tree. His eyes were sunk back in their sockets, the skin on his face and forehead were extremely wrinkled and gray and ashen in color, and his hair was wet with sweat. The autopsy revealed that he had suffered a concussion but that it did not contribute to his death. The doctor concluded that during the hour or so he had lived after falling, James had aged extremely rapidly due to stress – caused by sheer terror. His heart beat so rapidly and his blood pressure was so high that he quickly progressed to the age of a 97-year old man. His organs, including his heart, simply ran out of energy. James had died of old age at the age of 23. The reason for his death on his death certificate read” Natural Causes.”