By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
Ricky experiments, gingerly squeezing the trigger with the first pad of his finger. He frowns, tries again. Finally his brow clears. He's heard the clicks.
Next Brooks demonstrates how to rack a semiautomatic pistol and slap a magazine of bullets up into the grip.
Sally's finger keeps going to the trigger, as if pulled by unseen strings.
Her friend can't pull the trigger. Glycerin hand lotion is mixing with sweat, slicking her palms.
"Unload your guns," calls Brooks. They pop out the magazines, proud of themselves.
Brooks takes Ricky's gun and racks the slide, revealing a bullet.
"That's what happens with automatics," he warns. "You take the magazine out and think it's unloaded. See how easy it is to shoot somebody by accident?"
Ricky stares down at his gun.
"Gives you something to think about," he mutters.
Brooks drills them in stance and focus, then leads them to the target range.
"One at a time," he says, "and close the first door before you open the second. When you get out there, wait for me."
The doors close and echo like the old Get SmartTV show. Bullets bang and vibrate down every alley, the noise cutting straight through ear protectors.
Sally doesn't even blink.
She steps up to the firing station, moves her feet apart, extends and straightens her arms.
When she finally stops, she's breathless and her eyes are shining, and there are holes in the paper silhouette of her target.
Above her, the ceiling is pockmarked, and light streams through round bullet holes in the target's metal stand.
"That's from security guards who carry a gun for a living and don't know how to shoot," says Brooks.
Then he smiles at her.
"Want to try a machine gun?"
At the northernmost edge of the Ozarks, between the tufted green quilt of Mark Twain National Forest and the stark rise of the old Pea Ridge iron mine, lies Eden.
More than 5,000 acres of savanna, wetland, woods, prairie, briar and bramble and grassland, teeming with white-tail deer, coyote, bobcat, dove, turkey, woodcock, snipe, duck, geese, quail, grouse, fox, rabbit and squirrel.
All here for the taking.
Adam is Jim Kennedy, a former stockbroker with the baby face of a soap-opera star. Seven years ago, fed up with the vagaries of paper-money peddling, he climbed into his Alfa Romeo, drove out to the middle of nowhere and bought up the land.
He replaced the cattlemen's fescue with tall native grasses and shrubs, cleared dense hardwood thickets, moved the earth around until he'd restored natural habitats.
When the wildlife started returning, he took trees he'd harvested from the land and built a lodge; stocked it with cigars, whiskey and gourmet delicacies; hung the walls with skins and trophies. Downstairs, he set up what he jokingly calls his "David Koresh locker," lined with factory ammo, orange vests and shotguns of every size.
He'd created a hunting preserve, called Upland Wings, smack in the middle of one of the poorest counties in Missouri.
"In Washington County, the cattlemen rule the roost," he says, "and the only other people are trailer people on welfare." The upside? Permits spread easy as butter. Kennedy was able to amass and convert a lot of land, fast. Now he wants to see it encircled by minimum-3-acre lots and pricey homes.
"Be careful," warns a friend. "The new residents will vote out guns."
"Oh no," says Kennedy. "I want it acknowledged that it's a hunting community. A wildlife community."
To him, the phrases are interchangeable.
He sees hunting as a connection with nature, a claiming of wildness. People are animals who kill to eat, and he has no patience with gunshy vegetarians who pretend we've evolved into something gentler.
"If you are opposed to hunting and eating red meat," he says, "you are suffering from evolutionary guilt."
The lodge door swings open and two hunters enter, their steps loud on the plank floor. The men greet each other with macho-casual enthusiasm. The energy in the room flares and ripples like the ring of a gas broiler catching fire.
"We've been very p.c. until now," says Kennedy. "Let's go kill shit."
Silent now, businesslike, each man selects his weapon, then grabs safety glasses, earplugs and shotgun shells. Scott Mikols, Kennedy's wildlife manager, points out choke tubes that will tighten the density of the shotguns' pellet spray, keeping the pattern tight even at long distances.
They warm up at the clay range, shooting skeet until the cordite burns their nostrils and the guns feel like extensions of their arms.
"Clay's a controlled situation," says Eric Freukes, a gravedigger turned massage therapist. He runs a day spa for bridesmaids. And hunts with the rough passion of Hemingway.
"When you have a pheasant come busting up between your legs, wings beating against you -- you can't awaken that primitive hunting instinct until you experience it."
"Outdoor Dan" Young nods gravely: "Hunting's about getting close to nature."
"And then killing it," adds Kennedy.
"Ain't nothin' like a steaming gut pile," Young agrees. "But I don't talk like that on my radio show. I try to be sensitive. Women are the fastest-growing segment of the hunting industry."