Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel

The reason you should challenge everything you hear!

There was once a curious small boy. On a lazy summer day, in a simpler time, this boy wondered about the origin of the phrase “like shooting fish in a barrel.” Knowing that he had a wise father, the boy asked him about the saying. His father told the boy that it meant that the task described by the phrase was easy to perform. The boy noted the explanation and left the house. Now, this boy found that he could not simply accept all things told to him as the absolute truth, regardless of the source.

Since there were no urgent demands on the boy’s time, he decided to go fishing. He took his father’s net and a bucket from the shed and walked to the creek. An hour seining proved to be worth the effort, and the boy had a bucket filled with minnows. He returned to the house with the bucket of fish and removed the top from the rain barrel. He then dumped the bucket, spilling the minnows into the rain barrel. After he did that, the boy looked down into the barrel and watched dozens of minnow swimming around their new home. Still not satisfied with what he saw. He went back again and again to the creek for more fish. Another peek into the barrel, and the boy could not see the bottom of the barrel. The fish were swimming around, and the boy was pleased.

It happened that another boy lived next door. This other boy owned a genuine Dai8sy Red Ryder repeating BB rifle. The first boy borrowed the BB gun and took it back to the rain barrel. Then he took a ladder from the shed and opened it near the rain barrel. Being aware of firearm safety, the boy climbed the ladder before he cocked the lever-action carbine. Sitting on the top of the ladder, the boy fired the gun into the barrel. A few minutes passed while the boy watched the barrel expectantly. Disappointed but undaunted, the boy cocked the BB gun and fired into the barrel again. When the water calmed, the boy looked again. He was disappointed but determined. He fired the rest of the BBs into the rain barrel. At the end of the exercise, the boy had a sore arm from cocking the BB gun and was very puzzled about the origin of the phrase, “like shooting a fish in a barrel.” There were no dead fish in the barrel.

Some years later, the boy became a teenager. His curiosity was still intense and was even expanding with the new horizons of a teenager’s world. While spending time in the library, the teenager read about a practice of the Huron men. These were a nearly extinct group of native Americans who lived in the young man’s neighborhood before it was a neighborhood. These Huron men would go to a bend in the river where the stream was slowest. Standing above the narrow enclosure, they would shoot very long arrows trailing a cord into the water and retrieve the impaled fish. This story started the young man on an entirely new line of reasoning about the phrase “like shooting fish in a barrel.” Maybe it was a corruption of the practice of the Huron men that was the basis for the saying.

During the intervening years, the origin of the phase still troubled the boy who was entering his middle years. As it happened, the man visited a small town very similar to the one in which he lived when his quest began. While walking down a tree-lined street, the man heard a commotion at the house across the street. He saw a man on the roof who seemed to be chasing something in the gutter. Risking life and limb, the man crab-walked across the pitched shingles at a remarkable speed with what appeared to be a success as the commotion in the channel moved into the drain sprout and ended with a splash in the rain barrel. The curious man stopped his walk to observe the happenings across the street. Shortly after the splash in the rain barrel, the man was off the roof and moving his ladder nearer the rain barrel. He checked that the lid was tight on the barrel and disappeared into the house. Appearing almost immediately with a shotgun, the man climbed the first three steps of the ladder and made himself comfortable with his hip firmly seated on the fifth step. The man aimed the barrel and kicked the lid off. Immediately hee fired into the barrel and was drenched with the displaced water from the barrel. The blast burst the retain tings, and the barrel stays separated like the petals of a flower in spring. The water released from the barrel made a small tidal wave onto the lawn. In the center of the round piece that was the bottom of the barrel was a rat. The rat was on his hind legs, looking puzzled. In the twinkling of an eye, the rat scurried into a cracked basement window. The man dropped the shotgun and had barely escaped falling from the ladder. The passerby continued his walk. After a fit of convulsive laughter had calmed into giggles, the curious man had a revelation. He looked back at the house he had been observing and said in a quiet voice, “you should have used an arrow.”

I became an Artist in 1976. It has taken me to many places and enriched my life.