Thursday, April 14, 2011

Easy Shot

The slug cut a swath of pulverized flesh through her right flank and she went down by her front legs. The thirty caliber bullet carried, even at the range of three hundred yards, enough energy to collapse her front legs within a half second and lay her on her side in one. The entry wound was dead center to her torso, but inhumanly, not to any vital organs. So she shrieked to the sky and thrashed her legs in the dust and snorted and wheezed for a while too long. She was dead within a minute.

I stood at the barbed wire fence, almost afraid to speak. The rancher was in a fit. I’d heard men curse before, but his were different. My father cursed in an offhand manner; he dropped something…he cursed. But this man’s curses were directed and an order of magnitude worse.

The rancher’s fists were balled tightly at his side. His eyes glared with darkness and his words were choked. He sounded as if he would cry. “God-damned hhhell!! What the God-damned hell makes people do this!!?” White flecks of spittle were on his lips. The horse was already beginning to bloat. She lay on her left side. The bulging wound, puckered to the sky, was surrounded by a vomitus of dried blood. There was a beginning of stink and of flies.

My father bought a Garand thirty-caliber rifle, known as a thirty-ought-six or
30-06. These were war surplus and available by mail for a nominal amount. I don’t know why, but he got the idea into his head to go hunting…for something. I wonder if there might be a blood lust lying within people waiting to be sated; in some way it must take some shape, find some form.  The thirty-ought-six is a man-killer. The weapon was used at a time when the thought was to kill thine enemy, not just wound him, but to lay the fucker in the dust permanently. Military strategists later came to realize, a wounded soldier was more of a burden to the enemy than one stone dead, and so they devised bullets that have a high probability if wounding.

I mustered up the courage to ask, “What happened?”

He shouted, “What happened? …I’ll tell you what happened!! Some cowardly son-of-a-bitch shot this poor innocent horse for the fun of it; that’s what happened!” He continued for a while, alternating between curses and lamentations, and I stood, frightened and respectfully still, trying to find words appropriated enough to sooth, or placate, or to excuse my taking leave.

I watched as my father, disassembled the rifle, cleaned the parts, laid out his plan and executed it in a very methodical manner as he did with all his electro-mechanical projects. The barrel was to be cut short, eliminating the front sight. The stock was also cut short and “floated”, that is to say there was to be a gap between the stock and the barrel so as to eliminate any distorting load the firer’s grip might cause the barrel to bend ever so slightly and cause the bullet to deflect. The receiver was to be drilled and tapped and a scope fitted. And last but not least a shock absorbing pad would be attached to the butt for user comfort. My father was a genius of sorts. If he wanted a radio he built his own, if he wanted a cement mixer he built his own, if he wanted a sail boat he built his own, and if he wanted to kill something…

I excused myself from the scene and only returned after a month to witness the carcass shriveled. At the time the ranchers were poisoning the coyotes and havelina that would have cleaned up the rank mess within a week or two. As a result only the rats and insects were left to slowly disassemble and scatter the bones. It took months. Finally, after a year or two, the bones were gnawed to nothingness by all the creatures in need of their calcium.

It took many, many months, for the last traces of the horse to be worked into the soil or blown to the sky. But it took me many decades to fit the various bits of facts and hints about this incident together into a truth. People speak the truth in an obtuse manner. They tend to say the opposite of what they are trying to conceal but in such a singular way so as to accentuate what they really mean. The spoken words stick, but don’t register until enough little pieces pile up; they coalesce over the years until they finally push through into a truth. My father’s declaration, "he wouldn't harm a fly”, stood in stark contrast to the nature I knew. But I also knew the distance of three hundred yards from our back yard to the horse in the draw…would have been a very tempting and easy shot.

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