Saturday, November 08, 2008

Ranch Roundup

This past week I went hunting for the first time ever. Bubba’s folks (owners of the previously mentioned T-Diamond Ranch) live on 2000 acres, so we were able to go hunting right on their property a couple of times.

The Rancher had an “elk tag,” giving him the right to bag one elk this season. We went drove up the mountain on their property on Thursday right before sunset to see if there were any elk about. We sniffed around for about an hour without seeing anything before (literally) heading back to the ranch.

Yesterday the Rancher wanted to take me out again to give me a couple of shots at a deer. In this particular part of Central Montana, and on cattle ranches in general, deer are considered pests. So we weren’t necessarily looking for a trophy buck, but were really out doing a bit of pest control. It also became clear that the Rancher wanted to see if I could handle a gun and if could bring myself to pull the trigger on Bambi or Bambi’s mom or older brother.

A little background on me and guns is probably appropriate here. As a guy who grew up with pretty strict parents, the one area where my parents were pretty laissez faire was weapons. From the time I was about 11 years old, I owned and carried a variety of knives. When I lived in Saudi Arabia my friends and I would go out to the Souks and buy ourselves cheap stilettos and switchblades or knock off Swiss Army Knives. The big rule was don’t take your knife to school, so long as you didn’t do that everything was cool.

When we moved back to the States, I was amazed to find that my parents “What me Worry?” attitude about knives also applied to projectile weapons like wrist rockets, bb guns, and actual firearms. So for the two years (7th and 8th grade) I lived at Ft. Benning I did a lot of shooting. In addition to shooting a hell of lot of cans with my bb guns, I also belonged to the Jr. Rifle Club (JRC) on post where I learned how to shoot a .22 small bore. There were also a few “field trips” for me and some of the other advanced shooters from the JRC where we got to go to the real range and bust off shots with 9s, M-16s, and M-60s. During one of those trips our instructors gave us the Army’s Expert Marksman test, which I passed at the age of 13. So the long and the short of it is that; despite the fact that in the intervening 25 years I have become effete, latte sipping, SUV driving, condo owning, organic food eating, city living, East Coast liberal; I know how to handle a gun.

Now I haven’t shot a gun of any kind in at least eight years, so I asked the Rancher to give me a quick rundown on the weapon and ammo we were using we went out hunting the first time. We were shooting a .375 with cartridges that were designed for, “Extra Large, Dangerous African Game.” Overkill for an elk and pretty much guaranteed to drop any deer that you hit. In addition to using cartridges that were designed to take down wildebeests and rhinos and shit, there was also a scope on the gun.

We spot some deer and I jump out, flick the safety off the gun, lean over the hood of the truck, line up my shot, squeeze the trigger, and “Click.” I forgot to chamber a cartridge, rookie mistake. Bubba and his Dad erupt in peals of laughter. Not two minutes later I get another shot but this time I make sure the gun is ready to fire and my aim is true, the deer goes down like a ton of bricks. I ask the Rancher what’s next and he says we’ll leave that one for the coyotes.

We continue up the mountain and we see a pretty decent sized 4 or 5 point buck that heads down a coulee where I can get a good shot. At this point I’m still buzzing with adrenaline from the first kill and instead of lining up on the larger buck, I take aim at the small buck that’s with him without realizing it. I breathe out, squeeze, and drop the smaller deer. Now the big buck takes off and we figure out that I lined up on the wrong deer. I blame my spotter. Two shots, two kills; not bad for someone who hadn’t touched a gun in almost a decade.

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