“Boomer” Winfrey

Varmint County Correspondent

Ah,  the real Fall is finally here in Varmint County. Vibrant Autumn colors, football, the Fall social season. Fall is when folks around here harvest the last of their gardens and take a long deep breath before Winter’s cold sets in. 

It’s also the time for harvest festivals, Bluegrass festivals, football homecomings and of course, Halloween. A couple of years back the big news around Halloween was the Varmint County High School cheerleaders’ haunted high school, which went exceptionally well considering that Clyde Filstrup Junior’s donated coffins included one that accidentally contained one of his funeral home’s recent clients.

Last year the big Halloween occasion was Elijah Haig’s corn maze, which was a big hit as well, particularly on the night that the Pennywell and Pinetar cousins decided to tip over Elijah’s vintage outdoor privy. Granny Haig was in the privy at the time, and placed a whole new meaning to the phrase “screaming like a Banshee” as she chased the hapless youths out of Haig Hollow.

Local officials were more than a little concerned when they learned that this year, the cheerleaders are again planning a haunted high school while Elijah’s maze is also making a repeat performance. I’ll let you know how that turns out…

Fall is also the time when Varmint County High administrators begin trying to find a way to avoid the unprecedented drop in attendance during the first couple of weeks of deer hunting season. Every year close to 100 percent of the male population comes down with the “chills” and has to miss school for a few days when hunting season kicks off. 

They return to their classes after they have either bagged their legal limit or run out of ammunition, leaving most teachers playing catch-up on lesson plans until the Christmas break. One year School Superintendent Will U. Reade recruited a woodcraft-savvy hermit to terrorize the boys with booby traps, hornet’s nests and ghostly apparitions. It worked for a season until the word got around that it was only Fluvia Pinetar’s nephew, a biology professor conducting a biodiversity study in the forests around McCracken’s Peak.

There has been a lot of concern around the nation this year after the tragic school shootings in Connecticut, but those security concerns have not been shared by Varmint County officials. 

“We don’t really need to worry about some nut case bringing an AK-47 and trying to terrorize any of our schools. This is the only place where the students would all be shooting back,” Will U. told the school board.

A bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but not by much. Varmint County youngsters don’t idolize automatic weapons like some “prepare for the apocalypse” militia types, nor do they pack handguns in their back pockets like inner-city gang members. Our teenagers prefer weapons that can legally be used to kill a deer - high-powered rifles with low capacity magazines, or 12-gauge shotguns for potting rabbits, ducks or wild turkeys.

But with those weapons of limited destructive potential, most Varmint County boys are very, very good. Corky Pinetar can shoot out the eye of a Jack of Spades with his old WW II vintage British Enfield rifle at a hundred yards, while Peanut Hockmeyer once dropped a flight of twelve Mallards with a .22 rifle containing only ten shots. Twice he dropped two ducks with the same shot.

So the challenge with such hunting-happy boys is how to keep them in the classroom when the legal hunting season kicks off. One year Coach B. O. Snodgrass tried making his players choose between hunting and playing football.

“If you’re too sick to attend class next week, you’re going to be too sick to play against Burrville on Friday night. Show up after missing class and you’ll sit out the game on the bench!” B. O. told his players.

When the coach was forced to play the entire first half with three starters, seven second-stringers and an equipment manager, he relented. The halftime score was Burrville 34, Varmint County 2, the Vipers’ only score thanks to a Burrville running back fumbling the ball and pouncing on it in his own end zone.

With the wayward players reinstated at halftime, the Vipers went on to trounce Burrville 44-37, the closest game in the rivalry in over two decades.

It was left to American history teacher Millie Hotchkiss to come up with a plan that actually kept the boys in class this year.

“This is the 150th anniversary of the pivotal year 1863 in the American Civil War, and also the 150th anniversary of the Battle of McCracken’s Nose,” Millie told her class. “For our history classes this month, we’re going to re-enact Varmint County’s only Civil War battle with real uniforms and black powder muzzle-loading muskets loaned from Elijah Haig’s armory.”

She went on to add that the re-enactment would be held on the first day of hunting season in the valley below the rock pinnacle known nowadays as “McCracken’s Neck.” (The nose fell off several years back during another Civil War re-enactment when somebody used too much gunpowder in a series of fake explosions).

“If some of you boys spot a stray deer and can bring it down during the battle, I have no objections. Just make sure you only use live ammunition on deer and not each other,” she added.

Needless to say, no members of her class caught the “chills” and missed the battle, while the rest of the school attended to either swell the ranks or watch the carnage.

As in the original battle, the fight ended in a draw with both sides being decimated by Varmint County locals who took offense at their backyard being used to fight someone else’s war. One student, Alvin “Pigeon” McNew, suffered minor powder burns when his muzzle loader misfired, but the only casualties were three bucks and a doe that happened to be grazing in the wrong place at the wrong time, along with one wild turkey that was impaled by a ramrod when Trenton Aslinger didn’t have time to remove it before pulling the trigger.

The 100 percent attendance figure for a first day of hunting season set a Varmint County High School record, giving other teachers ideas for ways to keep their classes well-attended. 

“We’re having a field trip next Monday,” Biology teacher Homer Perkins announced. “We’ll be studying the different types of nut-producing trees in the woods behind the school. Boys bring your shotguns and .22s. After the field trip, I’ll show you how to cook up squirrel and dumplings in the school cafeteria.”

Elsie Hagis told her art class to convene down at the Mud Lake Marina on Wednesday. “We’re going to have a competition to see who can draw or paint the best duck stamp, that little federal migratory birds stamp you buy to attach to your hunting license. If any are good enough, we’ll enter them in the national competition,” Elsie told her students, adding, “And boys, try to paint your bird like it looks when alive, not after you shoot it.”

In the end, by scheduling field trips and allowing students to bring along their firearms, Varmint County’s teachers were able to keep their students in class until the first couple of weeks of hunting season were past, along with the boys’ bottled-up itch to go out and shoot something.

“I know this approach to solving absenteeism and school safety wouldn’t work in most places, but then Varmint County isn’t most places,” principal Merriweather “Merry” Goins proudly proclaimed.