A timeless old Southern folk song has a verse I’ve always liked because it applies to all of us who shoot.
The song is Oh, Monah, and it’s one of those toe-tappers that must have 1,000 verses. My favorite goes:
An old colored preacher was sittin’ on a log.
Had his finger on the trigger and his eye on a hog.
Well, the gun went boom! and the hog went zip!
And the preacher grabbed him with all his grip.
While none of my great misses have necessitated rasslin’ with a hog, some dandies have occurred to me.
One that was particularly humiliating goes back to the early ’50s. That was a rather Puritanical time when they blacked out the lower part of the TV screen while Elvis did his numbers, and when in the “dry” Texas county where I was a deputy sheriff, partaking of malt or spirituous beverages (by anyone but yourself, of course) was looked upon as so base an act as to hint of tar and feathers.
It was against the law to possess or transport alcohol for purposes of sale, and it was illegal to sell it. The nearest legal source of the sauce was Amarillo, 50 miles away, making for a thriving bootlegging traffic and a rather miserable job for me.
It seemed there was at least one bootlegger for every three or four residents of my county. All my waking (and most of my sleeping) hours were devoted to catching them with their cars loaded with hooch, serving search warrants, ripping up shanty floors, and dreaming up all kinds of Machiavellian traps to stop the noxious flow. This would cause all of the ladies to demand that their husbands vote for my boss, thus ensuring my job for a while longer.
One of the less euphoric facets of the job was to be present at a big Saturday night dance each week. Somehow, in spite of my vigilance, bootleggers would saturate the affairs, which were attended regu-larly by at least 500 happy (and getting happier) migrant laborers from up to 150 miles away. The festivities usually continued until about daylight, when most of the guests were passed out, rolled, stabbed, shot, or resting peacefully in the county jail or hospital.
Merriment and gaiety prevailed.
One Sunday sunrise found me leaving the hospital emergency room, bloody from holding down a drunk while the doctor sewed up a knife wound in his arm, the left side of my head throbbing from contact with a rock, my left knuckles swollen, and my new boots scuffed. I wasn’t in my usual jovial mood as I drove down a beer-can-strewn lane near the site of the celebration.
There, at the side of the road leaning against a fencepost, sat a man, pretty near sober, minding his own business. As I passed, he lifted a brown, quart bottle of beer to his lips and drank deeply. I slammed on the brakes and questioned him, thinking he might be a wetback.
He foiled me there, showing me a permit and telling me in soft Spanish that he was a bracero, a legally entered citizen of Mexico, contracted for a short time to work in the fields of Texas. I asked where he had obtained the beer. He named one of my craftiest bootleggers.
I’m afraid I committed a little police brutality at that point. I yanked the nearly full quart from his hand, and by the neck, threw the big bottle almost straight up. I was shooting a lot then and thought I was good.
The weight of the liquid in the bottle made it turn right side up, just as it reached its apex. I yanked my Smith .357 and fired. I was amazed when I missed my first, single-action shot and let a couple go double action as the quart came down. Clean misses.
The Mexican hadn’t moved from his sitting position and remained perfectly relaxed as the bottle thudded to the ground, right side up, within reach of his right hand.
Not a drop of beer had spilled.
Knowing how important it is not to lose face in these situations, I jammed my magnum back into its holster and scowled at my hapless victim. In stern Spanish I ordered, “Let that be a lesson to you!”
As I drove away, I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw the bracero shrug his shoulders as he reached for another drink. “Ay, these crazy gringos!”
There’s a great deal of good advice passed along these days in NRA literature, hunters’ safety courses, and the like, about how you should never shoot at a bird on a power or communications line. It’s excellent advice and should be adhered to strictly, but I’d never heard of it when I was about 10, and it never occurred to me that a .22 bullet could cut one of those vital threads.
So, I was laying under a railroad trestle one afternoon some 40 years ago, along with a cousin who was armed with a single-barreled .410. My gun was a trusted .22 Remington pump, loaded with .22 Shorts. A bird landed on one of the railroad telegraph wires that parallel our cubbyhole, and I took the shot, hitting just a hair low.
The wire separated, with each segment whipping toward its pole. Cousin and I hurriedly departed the premises, stored our guns, and played softball for a week, waiting for the railroad detectives to come and beat the truth out of us. In that week, there occurred no head-on train collisions between Hereford, Texas, and Clovis, New Mexico, no “bulls” knocked on our doors, and neither of us has since fired at a target on a communications or power line.
Every grown man has to have a hideout, a place to escape momentarily from his woes, to sit and whittle with his peers–men who speak his language. This is the reason for the existence of private clubs, pool halls, and masculine off-limit “studies” in the abodes of the affluent.
At one pleasant period of my life, my hole-in-the-wall was a slaughter plant operated by V.C. Hopson. We have been understanding of one another since age six. I was employed as a cop, as usual, and on slow evenings, I would check out on my radio, leaving V.C.’s business phone number with the police dispatcher.
It was conveniently located far enough from town that we could shoot at will, and money changed hands in many impromptu pistol matches. The Hopson Meat Co. was one of those pleasant spots where, after chores were done, you could sit in a chair on the loading dock and plink at tin cans in the evening breeze.
Far more brutal methods were used, which might surprise the antigunners, but V.C. was disposed to ease an animal through a chute, into a dead end, then dispatch him humanely and instantaneously with one shot to the brain with a Smith & Wesson K-22. On normal-sized cattle or hogs, this was accomplished in a very quick, painless way.
As I sat in the small room, one idle evening, V.C. moved a Brahma bull from outside into the chute. He was what is known as a “hamburger bull,” a large animal comprised almost entirely of tough, lean beef. This beef is mixed with beef suet and run through the grinder three times to ensure tenderness, then formed into mechanically shaped patties that are the basis of the TV-touted sandwiches that sell by the millions to Americans.
After completely reducing the oak chute to splinters, he charged me. I dodged. Circling the room rapidly, he looked for a way out. Circling the room rapidly, I looked for a way out, but the bull stayed between me and the only door, and the dirty, narrow window was nailed down.
The bull’s big hindquarters slapped me against the wall, knocking me off balance. He turned to face me.
A little wobbly legged and figuring I was about to be turned into a hamburger patty myself, I drug out my Smith .44 Special and snapped a shot at the bull’s head. I was a little off, hitting near the base of the right horn. The big slug addled him a little–enough to make him turn slightly and notice the light coming through the window.
He stuck his big nose through the glass, sort of shook his head, and jumped from the building to the ground several feet below, taking the whole window frame with him. It wasn’t until I looked outside that I realized V.C. had been “helping” me by standing outside the window, waving his hat and hollering, trying to keep the bull inside with me. V.C. was sort of resting on his back, and three or four hoof marks ran up his torso and continued on into a field. We finally had to drop the unfriendly behemoth with V.C.’s Mauser .30-06.