Thereafter Lucky hunted just about daily under the guidance of a Negro farmhand, Johnnie Smith, and in the companionship of Johnnie's son, Elmo, a year older than Lucky. Lucky's father, Benjamin Franklin McDaniel, gave Johnnie very simple instructions: "You take my boy out and bring him back safe."
Johnnie was a superb shot, and his method, it seems now, was much the same as Lucky's "instinct" shooting.
"Johnnie never aimed," Lucky recalls. "He said a sight was a crutch for a shotgun."
It was a wonderful time and place and way for a boy to grow up. On hot summer days Lucky and his cousin, Bushy McDaniel, now fire chief of Thomaston, Georgia, shot frogs in Potato Creek and sold the legs to hotels and restaurants for movie money. Lucky fished, too, as did his mother ("she fished every afternoon for 35 years"), and he developed some astonishing skills, all of them having something to do with marksmanship. By the time he was 7 he could kill a fly on the wall with a slingshot. He hunted rabbits with a bow and arrows he made himself. He became expert with the lariat, developing skill on cows and horses about the farm. "I beat everyone at horseshoes," he recalls. With a bull whip he would knock a cigaret from the lips of obliging little Elmo. He made a spear gun out of an air-rifle barrel and found it useful on frogs. He won his school's marbles championship.
At age 13, ill of pneumonia, Lucky discovered the blow gun. He made one out of half-inch pipe taken from a peach-spraying rig. With homemade darts he could pin a lizard to a pine tree or knock the ashes off a cigaret (held by the magnificent Elmo) at 30 feet. Today, while his wife, Betsy, watches in admiration, Lucky will pick up his blow gun and demonstrate his skill by hitting a minuscule spot on the living-room wall.
With a gun in his hand Lucky would strike you as quite a nerveless fellow, in spite of his quick, birdlike movements and bright, impulsive chatter, but the Navy discharged him in 1941 because of "bad nerves" and, of all things, weak eyesight.
His eyes were examined recently by a shooting student of his, A. C. Hobbs Jr., M.D., of Columbus, Georgia, and found to be a normal 20/20, though Lucky had previously been under the impression, perhaps because of his Navy experience, that he was nearsighted. He believes quite firmly that his kind of shooting develops visual acuity. My own experience has half persuaded me that he is right. In busting clay pigeons with a .22 rifle I can now see the bullet hole—a tiny dot against the blue sky—in that fleeting fraction of an instant before the pigeons powder.
"Lucky's ability," Dr. Hobbs says, "is just something you don't believe. I had a theory that accurate shooting represented bisecting the lines of vision from each eye, but that collapsed when Lucky shot just as accurately from his hip. One eye is as good as two. [Lucky has taught one-eyed persons.] I think I could almost have been blindfolded and hit the target."
There is something a trifle odd about Lucky's left eye. It has two pupils, which is probably against Navy regulations. He was born with a single pupil in it, but when he was a boy a door spring struck the eye, injuring it so that a portion of the pupil's fluid drained into a corner of the iris. Lucky believes this may have given him a little extra in the way of peripheral vision, which is very useful, he points out, in knife fighting. He teaches knife fighting on the side.
After the war Lucky became a salesman for the U.S. Tobacco Company, going from store to store trying to sell Model tobacco. On his first day as a salesman he had no luck until his 19th call.