PAT NEAL: My funny Valentine

HELLO YOUNG LOVERS, whoever you are. I hope your troubles are few. I hope your Valentine’s Day went better than mine. Valentine’s Day is a day to express heartfelt emotions with the one you love. Unless you’re too broke or lazy or just forgot. I blame myself.

As old Bill Shakespeare said, “the course of true love never did run smooth.”

This is my story. We met online. Charlene was a younger model. Don’t judge.

Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten involved in the first place.

I know it sounds corny and I probably shouldn’t even be writing this, so if you don’t like reading mushy stuff about a guy being in love, you should probably stop right now.

All I can say is some things are meant to happen.

Despite our age difference, we had a lot in common.

We both shared a love of hunting and shooting firearms.

We clicked.

Growing up on the Olympic Peninsula in the old days, you got a gun, a chain saw, a fishing pole and some stern advice about not getting into trouble. That was the way it was. I don’t remember anyone shooting anybody except for some elk hunters out in the West End by accident and some duck hunters that got sprayed with bird shot.

Nowadays we seem to be under siege. The CDC reported 48,000 deaths from firearms in the U.S. in 2021. ABC news reported over 6,000 children killed or injured by firearms in 2022. CNN reported 39 mass shootings in the first three weeks of 2023.

The most horrific are the attacks on schools. Experts blame an increasing access to firearms, but is there more to it than just guns? Maybe it’s a symptom of the violent society we live in.

Fifty years ago, there were tons of guns in schools. The trucks in the parking lot of our high school had gun racks in the back windows that were full of rifles and shotguns. We reloaded our own ammunition, so we had cases of it.

We hunted after school for deer, elk, grouse, ducks and geese because that’s what people did back then to put meat on the table. Chances are these vehicles were unlocked, since they might not have had locks or keys so you hot-wired to get them started — which was handy if you wanted to borrow a buddy’s rig.

To illustrate how different attitudes towards firearms were back then, one day during a boring class a buddy showed me a pistol and accidentally dropped it on the floor. The teacher demanded to know what it was.

“A .38,” my friend replied.

“Do you want to sell it?” the teacher asked.

That would never happen these days. Things have changed. When I went to buy a shotgun, I had to fill out a background check for the government to make sure I wasn’t an insanely violent criminal. I have no problem with that.

It was all worthwhile when I finally met Charlene.

She had a smooth action. I remember the good times.

As our nation’s only Wilderness Gossip Columnist, I’ve been invited to the best hunting preserves in North America. I took Charlene along to mingle with the Benellis and the Brownings.

I splurged and got Charlene a bottle of Hoppes No. 9, a cleaning solvent that’s like Chanel No. 9 for shotguns. But in the end, nothing was good enough.

I can’t forget our last day together. She jammed up so tight I couldn’t get her action open.

I blamed myself. It was probably my reloaded ammunition that did it. Life goes on.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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