Why?

Life is filled with whys: "Why can't I get Mary Jane to pay attention to me?"

"Why can't the IRS pick on somebody its own size?"

"Why can't I make more money than I spend?"

But the big question for any bird hunter, if he happens to be me, is "Why can't I shoot better?" There are some Anglo Saxon modifiers involved in that simple question, but we won't go into that.

You'd think after 45 years of bird hunting, you'd learn something about shooting a shotgun effectively. Well, you probably would - but I haven't. I still volley dark clouds of little bitty pellets that no game bird could fly through but most do.

There are 585 pellets in an ounce load of No. 9 shot, the size I'm currently trying to exorcise my devils with. That's a hail of lead, a smoking cloud that should have the skies raining dead birds.

I might as well be shooting puffed rice at flying Percherons.

Joe America is reluctant to admit that he can't shoot goals like Michael Jordan or smack line drives like Ted Williams or shoot a shotgun like...well, like his buddies, all of whom are fine people, but not as fine as Joe. I hunt with guys who never miss a makeable shot. But I'll miss the same shots most of the time. I do it when I'm alone, so I can't even blame it on peer pressure or competition. It's just simply poor shooting.

It may be the result of a curse. The Vances came over from Ireland a couple hundred years ago. Ireland is full of leprechauns, little people who hold a grudge forever. I'm convinced that my poor shooting is the result of an Irish curse flung on the Vance Family way back in the 1500s.

The Vances, then named "Vaux," supposedly invaded Ireland at the time of the Norman Conquest and probably ticked off a whole bunch of leprechauns who had been sprawling on toadstools watching "As the World Turns" and other netherworld television favorites. There were Vauxs banging away at Irish quail, making a lot of noise and probably leaving the gates open so the leprechaun cattle (which are about the size of a cotton rat) got out.

So the leprechauns cursed the castle of Vaux, Vans, whatever the name had become or would become, with a lot of Ibernian epithets like "faith an' begorrah!" and "your mother wears gum boots" and 400 years