When I turned twenty-two I finally sat my car driving license and bought my first car – a second hand bright red 1966 Morris Mini, 850cc – I had had my motorbike licence for quite a while. At about the same time I sat for and got my firearms licence. Before I move on, I should say that I had received excellent firearms training during my military service. But despite that training, youth and stupidity ruled.
That first weapon was a French Gevarme .22 calibre, semi-automatic rifle, perfect for shooting rabbits, hares, and especially possums. The Gevarme 22 semi-automatic is a gas recoil weapon with a fifteen shot magazine. Each time you pull the trigger, the gas generated by the explosive force of the round, automatically throws the firing mechanism back while expelling the spent shell casing and replacing it with a fresh round in the chamber. In other words, it fires as quickly as you can pull the trigger.
At the time I was working as a surveyor’s chainman, employed by the Lands and Survey Department’s Hamilton office. One of my fellow chainmen – Barry, shared my youthful and impossibly idealistic vision of ridding the countryside of those pesky unwanted Aussie imports – the possums. New Zealand is overrun with them. At last count their numbers exceeded sixty five million. They are slowly but surely destroying not only the young trees by chewing the new growth, but also the native bird population by eating the eggs.
Barry and I had decided on where we were going to do our bit to rid a tiny section of bush north of the west coast town of Kawhia, on the coast road to Raglan.
The mini ate up the miles with no difficulty; car, driver and passenger where in high spirits as we drew ever closer to our destination. Eventually we turned off the main gravel road and halted about a half hour from it, deep inside the coastal bush that still grew there. We knew we had to wait until dark before we began our hunt as the possum normally lies up during the hours of daylight, preferring to conduct its destructive rampage, especially regarding the nesting birds, at night when they are roosting. Armed with our rifles and a torch each, taped beneath the barrel, we began our ‘stalk’.
Barry and I between us put paid to more than twenty of the furry vermin before calling it a night, happy that it would be a while before more possums inhabited this precious piece of bush. Both of us were tired, but content as we headed back to the car for the journey home. Our lives were about to change as I unlocked the driver’s door.
Call it sheer stupidity – I did and still do to this day, but without thinking I dropped the rifle across the back seat of the Mini as I leaned over to open the passenger’s door for Barry. I heard him yelp in pain. The Gevarme was still loaded and the simple act of dropping it had caused it to fire off a round that went straight through the side panel of the Mini and into Barry’s knee.
I got him into the passenger’s seat and wrapped a towel around his thigh to act as a tourniquet. The drive back home was a one handed affair as I used my left hand to alternatively change gear and apply pressure to his knee. That little Mini positively flew as the miles between where the accident had happened and the A&E department of the Waikato Hospital slowly reduced.
When we finally arrived at the entrance to the A&E department, the last thing I remember was seeing Barry being wheeled inside. The next thing I knew, I was being offered a hot sweet cup of tea by a pretty young nurse. I had collapsed in the car park, overcome by the whole ordeal. Because of my stupidity, my friend had been wounded.
A few days after the incident, I went round to Barry’s home to apologise to his parents for what had happened. That was by far the hardest thing I had to do; to publically admit my stupidity and to place myself in their hands. Barry’s father did something I was not expecting. He shook my hand and said that by coming round to their home and apologising and admitting my stupidity, both he and his wife would take it no further. Barry had told them his side of things. All parties realised it was tragic mistake on my part. Quite frankly I got off lightly in my opinion. Despite the accident Barry and I remained friends.
Needless to say, within a few days I took the hacksaw to the Gevarme, chopping it up into tiny pieces, destroying it forever. Since that time I have owned many firearms – a Pedersoli replica Kentucky 45 calibre black powder rifle and a Ruger 3030 Winchester action carbine to name but two.
Never again would I ever leave a weapon loaded, nor would I treat them as casually as I did that terrible day when I shot my friend in the knee…