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On Gnoming
BY REGINALD BAKELEY
EXCERPTED FROM JACARÉ NO.2

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It's springtime again and you know what that means — time for gnoming! Crafty and fast, gnomes are one of the season's most challenging catches.

Although the gnomish population has dropped slightly in recent years, seasoned hunters should take this as an incentive to bag the gnome rather than a deterrent. Gnomes are more of a nuisance than a help to the modern farmer. They befriend woodland creatures and invite them into the field and garden to eat freely of the farmer's bounty. Their burrows undermine the forest, creating nasty traps for the foot of the horse or the heavy brother-in-law. If anyone needs a further reason why we should take up arms against these diminutive devils, consider the wonderfully dark, earthy taste of gnomish meat. A dish combining mushrooms, beef gravy, and gnome is surely one of the greatest pleasures of spring.

The intelligent gnomer should outfit himself with the proper equipment. Stealth is key when tracking gnomes, so first priority is to get yourself a pair of quiet shoes. Gnomes gravitate toward temperate climates and wooded habitats, shunning swamps, so you needed bother with those hip waders. Wear drab-colored clothing which reflects the terrain on which you will be hunting. Dull browns and greens usually do the trick.

Choose your weapon carefully. Because your prey stands no higher than one cubit at its tallest, it's easy to overestimate your firepower. This can be a grave mistake, leaving you with a weapon that would blast this tasty fairy into so much pixie dust. Look for a powerful slingshot (for the sly hunter), a potent club (for the quick brute), or a precise crossbow (for the patient woodsman). Rifles are categorically out of the question — at least for beginners — but as I will explain later, a good marksman can bag a gnome with a rifle and not even pierce the malignant creature's skin. Another useful piece of equipment is the elephant gun, for reasons that are to be discussed shortly.

Gnoming parties are best limited to two, or to one hunter and a good hound. Station yourself near the gnome's house, which you will recognize by its location entwined in the roots of a large oak tree. Look for miniscule woodworks (the gnome's trade) littering the front lawn. Dawn and dusk are the best hours for gnoming, as it is just before sunrise that the gnome leaves his house to go to the woodshop and nightfall when he returns.

Gnomes have an olfactory sense almost as sharp as their joining skills, so the successful gnomer will take care to smear his skin and clothing with generous amounts of les scents de la foret, as the French would have it. Mix elderberries, trufflemud, and elk droppings to make a thick paste and rub it on yourself and any weapons you have brought. This will optimize your chance of evading the gnome's keen nostrils.

When day and night are at their inbetweenest, that is when you, the wisest gnomer of the wood, smeared in elderberry paste and sling at the ready, will observe the telltale sign of the gnome as he saunters down his forest path. That sign is none other than the gnome's red hat. Each gnome wears his conical red cap in all periods of wakefulness and sleep. It is that selfsame cap that will prove to be our antagonist's undoing, as it shines a bright red beacon down onto his head.

A well-placed stone or crossbow bolt will knock the life out of any healthy gnome. Take your shot carefully. You will want to aim for the creature's head. Hit hard, though, because the gnome's cranium is thick, hence the popular usage of “gnomeskull” to indicate a person of low wits.

The rifle-wielding sharpshooter must follow a different technique, because any bullet that hits a gnome will take more gnome than not. No use spending all your time smearing elk spoor if all you've got to show for your trouble is a mangled pulp of a fairy that might as well be a woodchuck! No, the sharpshooter's technique is subtle, efficient, and more useful than any well-placed hit. This technique is known as the “concussion shot,” and is the preferred method of this author.

A concussion shot may be taken at a treed gnome. Although treeing a gnome may seem like a lot of work, the trouble is definitely rewarding, as a gnome bagged live via concussion is certainly more valuable than a dead one. Gnomes are excellent climbers. Forced to choose between the hound's jaw and the oak's branches, every gnome will pick the latter. Because gnomish bellies are fat and gnomish arms short, a treed gnome will lie flat and still against the trunk, gripping the bark tightly with its fat little fingers. Take your opportunity here. Fire just to one side of the gnome's head, hitting the tree. Even a strong gnome will fall immediately and can be collected and bagged after it hits the ground. This technique can be used against squirrels and other small creatures and will kill them. The gnome's fortitude is more stable, however, and our prey is merely knocked out by the bullet's reverberating impact in the tree and then its skull. The fall shouldn't break any of the gnome's sturdy bones. Death does a double-take and leaves the gnome to its own aching, unconscious head.

Of course, the results of a botched concussion shot can be disastrous. If your aim has been tainted by a few early morning scotches and you actually score a bullet to the gnome's skull, then no gnome. Too far to either side of the gnome's head and your shot will miss the tree, possibly connecting with another member of your gnoming party. Depending on how your season is going, it's conceivably better to hit your partner, as any partaker of gnomish meat will attest.

Once bagged, gnomes need to be stored if they are not to be served for that night's dinner. Dead gnomes can be kept in a salted barrel (for temporary storage) or deep freeze (for thawing later in the year). Keeping live gnomes is trickier. Hurry home with your catch before it comes to from the concussion shot. Many a gnomer has shaken his head in dismay after his perfect catch woke up and slipped out of the bag using evil magic. Gnomes are keen riddlers and may use their trickery to bargain the unwitting sharpshooter into letting the gnome go.

Don't be fooled. Get your gnome home and shackle it in the cellar before the creature opens its deceitful eyes. Small iron bands and chains will keep the gnome from using any magic, let alone digging its way out of its prison of stone. If you have been fortunate enough to catch a flock of gnomes, or are slowly amassing a collection, a damp barrel with a removable lid may be a more convenient storage method. Feed the gnomes radishes and beer and they will remain docile, no matter how many of them you cram into the barrel.

THE TROUBLE OF TROLLS
No gnomer should go afield without the knowledge that Modern Man is not the only enemy of the gnome. As the gnomish population has decreased, the danger posed to man from our villain's natural predator has increased. A single troll is more of a nuisance than twenty gnomes, but seeing as how a single troll is also stronger than twenty men and offers not one scrap of tasty meat, “trolling” is just not much fun compared to gnoming. However, the problem remains and deal with it the modern gnomer must.

Trolls are extremely sensitive to sunlight, a single ray turning them to stone. Most retire hours before sunrise. Therefore, the easiest way to avoid trolls is to opt for the dawn method of gnoming rather than the dusk. Eventually, though, most gnomers will find themselves gnoming at night and a little knowledge of trolls can never hurt.

Fortunately, trolls can be smelt before they are seen. The odor of a mature troll is strong enough to pierce the thickest coat of elderberry paste. No need to go into specifics here — when the hunter smells his first troll, he recognizes it instantly.

This stench, paired with the troll’s utter lack of coordination or silent movement skills in the forest, make it impossible for this engine of destruction to sneak up on a human. Unfortunately, without an elephant gun, most slow-witted humans are doomed once they smell the troll. This is why the intelligent gnomer always has his cannon at the ready. The troll is a quick runner but slow to react when an elephant gun is pulled on him. As with gnomes, aim for the head. Hit anywhere else and you'll be eating your own leg as a late-night snack.

Trolls are also easily dispatched with a “difficult” riddle. This is one I used when I’d forgotten my elephant gun: If one train leaves Kensington Station at 3am and another leaves Yarborough Station at 4am, and both trains cross paths at 5am, at what time did the trains cross paths? Something along these lines will cause the troll to stop whatever he is doing and sit to ponder the riddle until the weight of thought causes his head to explode. Stand clear, mate.

More about Jacaré
Order a copy of “On Gnoming”
See photographs from a gnome hunt


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