mill run: dangerous game?

I wonder how many sportsmen there would be if they had a 50-50 chance with the hunted, or even to be more reasonable, say a 90 percent chance of coming back alive. I’ll wager the woods would be deserted and quietly peaceful as in a day in 1491….”


by moritz thomsen



About a month ago I wrote a column about sportsmen which I must admit in all modesty was just about the greatest little piece of prose to come out of this century. Mr. Earl Murphy, the publisher of the Los Molinos Sun, read it with a growing pallor, looked at me with his great sad Irish eyes, and shook his head. “Good jumped-up heavens, young man,” he moaned. “We can’t run this. You can’t say this about sportsmen.”

I began to pout. “It’s just a personal opinion,” I ventured.

Mr. Murphy shuddered and tore the typewritten sheets into little squares. We watched them as they drifted to the floor. “Better rewrite it, my boy. Better leave out those somewhat derogatory remarks.”

“O.K., dad,” I said. “I’ll rewrite it without saying what I really think. I will merely illustrate it.”


In the field of sports the one fact more than any other which makes any particular game exciting is the degree to which the opponents are evenly matched. The spectator, for instance, to a football game enjoys that game in proportion to the degree of uncertainty as to its outcome. Unless, of course, he is afflicted with certain sadistic tendencies.

If I may be permitted a digressive personal opinion, Mr. Murphy, watching a football game is about as exciting as watching two old women shell peas, and in fact the only game I ever really enjoyed ended up 286—0. I did more than just watch this one; I was a participant on the losing side, but it was a game of epic grandeur, a sort of morality play with the heavenly hosts completely vanquishing the forces of evil—or vice versa.

But in the normal spectator at the ideal game the excitement steadily mounts to the last second when, even after the gun has sounded, good old number 67, Poltowski, crashes through the line and changes the score. Hooray!

How does the hunter, the sportsman, come out when judged by these elemental standards? Is there any element of equality in his outdoor expedition, a sharing of risk, any chance at all, for instance, that the deer will shatter his legs with a lead slug or leave him in some undiscovered thicket slowly to bleed his life away? There have been cases, of course, where the deer did shoot the hunter, but usually the aim is careless, and the sportsman unfortunately recovers. I doubt if these exceptions show up on the statistical graphs.

Or birds. The only thing they can aim at a hunter is aimed in panic and even if they score a bullseye it is seldom if ever fatal. Just messy.

I wonder how many sportsmen there would be if they had a 50-50 chance with the hunted, or even to be more reasonable, say a 90 percent chance of coming back alive. I’ll wager the woods would be deserted and quietly peaceful as in a day in 1491. I can speak with some authority on this, remembering the sheer horror that reigned in our bomber group overseas during the war when we were flying over Germany. The statistics told us that on each mission 3 percent of us would be blown out of the sky. My, but the chaplains and psychiatrists were busy in those days.

The Sacramento Bee ran a story about a hunter who jumped off a log onto the back of a sleeping three-point buck. In the first moments of confusion the hunter dropped his gun and had to face an enraged animal with only his hunting knife. They fought together for 30 minutes or so, the deer charging and goring with his antlers and the hunter slashing away with his knife. The words “hunter” and “hunted” suddenly became meaningless. It was a good fair game played for the maximum stakes.

I think it was his friends who hauled the man off to the hospital and dressed out the buck for him, and I hope while he was there they fed him great juicy chunks of venison. He earned them.

Now there’s my idea of a real he-man sportsman, but I can’t help wondering if he’s going out again next year.

(Editor’s note: Thomsen wasn’t just blowing smoke in his introduction—he really did write a column on sportsmen that was rejected by the Los Molinos Sun, which ran his weekly “Mill Run” column in 1959 and 1960. A notebook in the possession of Thomsen’s niece, Rashani Rea, contains the handwritten version of the column that wound up torn into confetti on his publisher’s floor. Thomsen’s original column on his views of “sportsmen” follows.)

That terrible time of the year is coming up now when the farmer is under daily pressure to turn his land over to the sportsman for dalliance. An endless stream of cars will soon be pouring through the ranch gates loaded to the springs with heavy-lidded, pig-eyed brothers from the city, little gangster types with 5 o’clock shadows, dirty plaid shirts, and moving about in the center of an aura of whiskey fumes. They have one thing in common, one unifying lust—to kill something.

It is dangerous and foolish to generalize, but disregarding a few exceptions, I feel safe in offering a personal opinion: Sportsmen are the scum of the earth.

Within the recent past and in this area:
1. A wild sow near Manton was shot and her litter left to die, and
2. A doe on the river bottom was shot and her fawn found later starved to death.

One of my sportsman neighbors told me how he had caught a washtub full of frogs one night out of Champlain Slough. “We got everything,” he said, his idiot face glowing with sportsman ecstasy. “There wasn’t a frog left when we got through.”

One thing he forgot to do before he cut their legs off was to kill them. It took some of them a week to die.

I asked young Frank Anonymous how he’d done the opening day of dove season. “Cool, daddy-o,” he told me. “I used 4 boxes of shells and got 2 doves, 1 woodpecker, 5 prune trees, and an old washing machine.” Now my theory is that anyone over 10 years old who can look into the beady little eyes of a woodpecker and then blast him into death is lacking some component of humanity.

“And what’s your theory?” I asked my friend, Lloyd, yesterday, tirelessly gathering facts and opinions for my readers.

“The sportsman,” Lloyd told me, standing up straight and reading from notes he had prepared in anticipation of the question. “The sportsman is insecure. He sees a look in his wife’s face, he is nagged by secret doubts; he has been brought to a point where he has to prove to himself and perhaps to others that he is a man. Disregard the obvious Freudian symbolism which is too obscene to discuss in the columns of a family newspaper and think of the sportsman as a man driven by his own inadequacies to perform the rite of the hunter, the provider, or think of him as—”

“O.K., Lloyd,” I interrupted. “You can sit down now. The column for this week is already too long.”

So he did.


Originally published:
Issue Twenty-Two
October 2002


After his discharge from the Eighth Air Force after World War II and before joining the Peace Corps in 1964, Moritz Thomsen spent 20 years as a farmer in Los Molinos, California, a small agricultural town near Chico and Red Bluff, in Tehama County. His first book, “Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle” was not published until 1969, but in 1959 and 1960 he wrote a column for his local weekly, the Los Molinos Sun. The paper was short-lived, but Thomsen saved clippings of his “Mill Run” column, as well as the notebook he used to write out his columns each week in longhand. The clippings and notebook, now in the possession of his niece, Rashani Rea, provide a fascinating glimpse into the life and thoughts of Moritz Thomsen, eleven years after his death in Ecuador in 1991.  Smokebox has been granted permission by Rashani Rea to reprint selected “Mill Run” columns, seen here for the first time since they were published some 41 years ago. For more on Thomsen you can read Marc Covert’s excellent analysis of his published output in the 3 part Smokebox feature Howls From A Hungry Place.

Comments are closed.