Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Bad Day for Mr. Snake

I found this fellow this morning. Looked like he was heading for his hole. Many large puncture wounds, and as much as I try to exculpate my snake-killing Shorthair I'm sure she is the murderer. Blaming it on a redtail just doesn't work. Knowing bullsnakes, it must have put up a good fight but I can find no wounds on Emma. 

I've tried to work on Emma about snakes, but she doesn't want to get with the program. I am by no means a snake-lover. Just the opposite. But they have their place, and bullsnakes are excellent ratters and mousers. Whether or not they hunt and kill rattlers I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I was real sad to find this fellow dead. If I had my druthers this snake would have bitten the crap out of Emma and backed her off. But a Shorthair in kill-mode is just about unstoppable. My older Shorthair was a stone-killer of woodchucks and not even a Jovian thunderbolt could have stopped her once she saw one.

I'm always finding smaller garter and grass snakes (2-3 feet) snipped neatly in half around the place. I scold her but it does no good. We live in a very unusual area for the arid, deserty, high plains west: no rattlers. (I knock on wood as I write those words!) For some quirk of nature we are free of them in the large, immediate area, although all around us they abound. I'm just afraid that when we hunt in an area that does have them, Emma will be just as fearlessly stupid with them as she is with the less deadly varieties. Maybe I should look into one of these guys that has sacless rattlers for snake-breaking bird-dogs. 

Anyway, this guy has passed to his reward a mite early. I stretched him out as well as I could considering his injuries and he went 56". I've seen them bigger here. The book says bullsnakes can reach 72". The record is supposed to be 100". Now that is a big snake.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Perfect Evening

The last few evenings here have been just about perfect. The wind dies down, the temp hovers around 75, the long shadows march across the grass, and the light turns golden as the sun starts down behind the low mountain to the west. Last night I went out on the front porch, as I like to do, and sat at my shooting table with a glass of red wine.

About 750 yards south of my house a fence runs across in an east-west direction. On the other side of that fence lies an unfenced area of about 45,000 acres. Last night I noticed some movement along that fence and went in and got the binocs. It was a lone antelope buck, not very big, carrying headgear of about eight inches or so.

He seemed bored, or like he was looking for something. He walked along the fence for a while, then turned around and walked back the other way. It was almost like he had an appointment. "Where is she? She said she'd be here."

First he was on one side of the fence, then on the other. I could watch him crawl under the lower strand. (Antelope don't jump fences, they crawl under them. Once I pushed one a little too hard on the road and she scrambled under a fence at pretty high speed. I can't imagine she didn't hurt herself. I felt like a cad. I don't push them on the road anymore. They can have all the time they need.)

I guess she didn't show up, because the first thing I knew he was gone back to the Big Beyond.

The wine was good; the evening was better.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Palin? Monte Python?

I don't have TV so I get all my news from the papers (when they arrive, since I get mail only three days a week), or satellite radio, or the 'net. This morning I sat down at the keyboard and punched up my usual internet news source. It said "McCain picks Palin."

And then I had a brain-gasm. The first Palin that popped into my mind was Michael Palin, of Monte Python fame. (You know, the guy in the cardinal's robes? "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!")

And I thought that was an absolutely fantastic choice on McCain's part.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


This one is a little unusual. Not rare, but not often seen. It's a German PPK/s in .22LR. 

It belonged to a famous gun writer and was one of his favorite walking-around pistols. I've had it for quite a while now. After I first got it I did use it as a "trail gun" and found it more than adequate for the sorts of things you use such a light little popper for. Its accuracy is only hampered by its barrel length and generally diminutive size. The trigger's not great, but isn't bad either, not fighting you yet not exactly like a glass rod either. It wears a set of early MMC adjusties— almost a necessity on a .22LR handgun. I would carry it a lot more if I weren't infected with the feeling (more feeling than belief) that you SHOOT .22s a lot, but you don't CARRY them. A totin' iron has to be a little more authoritative than 36-grains of .223 copper-washed lead. No, not very sensible, but probably spawned when I got a .357 at a very young age.

I treasure this little gem, though. Someone I respect a lot cared deeply for it and used it often. I feel a little of that good energy whenever I shoot it, or when I just take it out of the safe and run an oily rag over it.

My favorite deer rifle

Yes, it's true. Kinda taking retro to a new high, I know.

It's not original, of course. It was made for me by a maker who did his apprenticeship at Williamsburg and is now a master of his craft. It's a .50 'reproduction' of a French & Indian War period piece from one of the several, classic Pennsylvania rifle types. 

She is wonderfully slender and elegant, nicely balanced, and as accurate as you could ask for. Fifty-yard groups cluster around 1.5". I'm not a proponent of long-range game shooting with patched round balls (all I use in her) as their ballistics fall off like a dropped brick after about seventy yards or so. And keep in mind that this is a woodland gun, where ranges are seldom much more than about fifty yards and often much, much less. (The last four woodland deer I've taken were shot at 28, 7, 55, and 15 yards.)

I'm not a buckskinner and don't go to the authenticity lengths that some flintlockers do, but I do like to use authentic, period-correct gear when I am hunting with 'Nimrod.' There is a great deal of satisfaction in roaming the woods with such a rifle and knowing you are walking in the footprints of your g-g-g-g-g'father, who, in my case, actually was named Nimrod. His stomping grounds were the mountains of Virginia and Tennessee. Mine are now the high plains, where his rifle didn't fare too well.

Plainsmen needed a stouter rifle for heavier charges, a shorter barrel for use on horseback, and a more robust overall build to bear up under the different kind of stresses the rifle would be put under. My slender beauty evolved into the chunkier, less esthetic Hawkin. (No, Jeremiah, there was never a .30 Hawkin. Sorry.)

But there are woods out here, too. Not everything is half a mile away as far as rifle ranges go. And when you get in close, and the chill is in the air, and the sun begins to come up, I'll take ol' Nimrod every time.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Slacking Off

And caught at it!

I'm sure every blogger has times when they get focused on something else and let the blog sit fallow for a while. I'm sure this is going to happen to me from time to time, despite a current back-log of items for inclusion. I won't say that "I'll try to do better," 'cuz it may not happen.

But one nice thing is that a reader called me on it and write to see if I was all right. Now that is very flattering indeed.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Back from Capistrano?

So soon? No, I don't think so. They've never left. (See the posts titled "Hello?" and "Today was the day," below.)

I had thought that the little guys had completely abandoned their nest, but apparently they have been coming back at the same time every evening for a little reunion. They don't go into the nest, but cluster together for a few minutes on the roof over it. Then they are off again.

This is a pretty bad picture justified only by "newsworthy" content. It was taken through the glass of my kitchen window. When I pushed the shutter button there were five of the hyperactive little buggers. As you can see only three stuck around to be posterity-ized. They are really neat little birds and I like having them around.


It's that time of year. Sunflowers. The plains are alive with patches of them; the lesser used roads are full of them; they obscure mail boxes and fence posts; they are everywhere.

Some interesting facts about sunflowers... Though the sunflower originated in the U. S., it's Russia's national flower and they grow more of them than anybody else. They can grow 8-12 feet in six months. The Dutch grew the tallest one on record, over 25-feet. Their habit of following the sun with their "heads" is called heliotropism. The Amerindians used them for food, and the seeds are 50% fat but mostly polyunsaturated. 40% of the mature flower's weight is oil. One sunflower can have 2000 seeds. The U.S. has sixty different varieties of sunflowers. The Aztecs worshipped the sunflower. 

Plus, they are damn beautiful.

Emma's Piles

When I moved onto my place it hadn't been inhabited for quite a few years. It's ringed on three sides by a wind-break of, mostly, cottonwoods. Cottonwoods are "dirty trees," shedding lots of dead branches, bark, and other kinds of tree dreck. There were days of work gathering up the limbs, branches, and even whole fallen trees. 

I have a fireplace, so I was grateful for the wood. Since open fires are so dangerous out here I had no plans to burn the rest of it. I just made two long piles of the brush and limbs, both about fifty feet long and six or so feet high. The plan was to slowly do away with them by burning the good stuff in the fireplace and carting the rest to a nearby landfill.

But my Shorthair, Emma, discovered immediately that the brush piles were favorite hangouts for rabbits, all manner of birds, and who knows what other interesting creepy-crawlies. First thing every morning she has to go out and make the rounds of "her" piles. Then, every couple of hours, she has to repeat the ritual. She loves them so much that I no longer have any intention of getting rid of the brush piles. They will go their own way in their own time. Meanwhile, they give Emma more pleasure than a bibliophile could get out of the Library of Congress.

In the picture she is on a point on a rabbit within the pile. She never catches them, but she lives in hope!

Miss Mags

Considering the circumstances of my life style, I spend a lot of time with my dogs. By choice, I might add, and I don't consider it any kind of deprivation.

Miss Mags, my Boston Terrier, is a constant source of amusement, plus she keeps my throwing arm in good shape because she is an insatiable chase-grab-retrieve fanatic. It never fails that I have to give her the "That's enough!" signal or she would keep me at it all day. (Enough signal = hands extended, palms outward, shaken from side to side while saying "All-y, all-y!" Sometimes it works.)

She likes her kong-toy because it is hard rubber and takes some unpredictable bounces. She also has a rubber ring which, when thrown correctly, rolls along the ground and allows her to chase it and grab it while it's moving. Tennis balls are also on the Good Stuff list.

When I was a kid I heard this breed called "Boston Bull" more than its current correct name of Boston Terrier. (Boston Terrorist to some.) She is really more mini-bull than terrier, although she shares traits with both families. I usually just refer to her as my boo-dawg.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Michael Collins

Tall, handsome, utterly without fear, and a natural leader with a brilliant mind, Michael Collins died this day, eighty-six years ago, at the hands of his own countrymen in a rural ambush outside the tiny hamlet of Bealnablath ("the mouth of flowers") in County Cork, the county of his birth.

Born Mícheál Seán Ó Coileáin in 1890, he was only 31 when he was shot down on the tiny West Cork road during a brief gun-battle with I.R.A. (the old one) fighters who had been waiting for his small column to return from an inspection trip through the countryside.

It was the ruthless and brilliant tactics of Collins which had brought the occupying British to the negotiating table that created the Irish Free State, the same fateful agreement that drove a wedge between Irishmen who had fought together in 1916 but separated over the issue of compromise with England in the matter of Ireland's freedom. Collins was for taking what they could get and going on from there, while those who would become the I.R.A. were against any compromise with the hated English. It was the beginning of the Irish Civil War.

I've often thought that there are many similarities between the "JFK complex" and the many controversies about Michael Collins' life and death. Conspiracy theories abound, of every stripe, about how and why he died and who actually killed him. The truth is probably pretty prosaic: instead of driving quickly through a poorly set-up ambush of only a few men, he ordered his tiny motorized column of Free State troops to stop and engage them. 

Very soon in the fight a young man, bracing his rifle on a concrete gate-post, fired the shot that struck Collins in the head and killed him. The shooter didn't even know whom he had shot. "I dropped one man," he was later quoted as having said. Both sides grieved for the death of the man who was surely destined to be head of state of the newly born country.

His death and its circumstances fit neatly into the natural rhythms of Irish myth and legend. "O, Michael, why have ye gone from us so soon?"

And what a fateful, impetuous decision it was, for himself as well as his country, in the waning evening light of that day in August when the first shots rang out from the brush and he said to his driver, "Stop! We'll fight them!"

Monday, August 18, 2008

Harry S. Truman

I received this in an email from a friend today. I'm sure it's making the rounds, so it may be nothing new to folks. But I thought it was worth posting.

Harry Truman

When President Truman retired from office in 1952, his income was substantially a U. S. Army pension, $13,507.72 a year. Congress, noting that he was paying for his stamps and personally licking them, granted him an allowance and, later, a retroactive pension of $25,000 per year.

When offered corporate positions at large salaries, he declined, stating,

"You don't want me. You want the office of the president, and that doesn't belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it's not for sale."

On May 6, 1971, when Congress was preparing to award him the Congressional Medal of Honor on his 87th birthday, he refused to accept it, writing, "I don't consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise."

Today, many in Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, have found a way to become quite wealthy while enjoying the fruits of their offices. Political offices are now 
clearly for sale.

Was good old Harry Truman correct when he observed,

" My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference anymore. I, for one, believe the piano player to be much more honorable than many current politicians."

Too bad we can't come up with someone like this today.

Why, indeed? But I have to ask... Considering the state of our media today, the "Gotcha!" attitude that pervades our political and public life, would a good, simple man like Truman even bother to consider pursuing a public life. Personally, I think he would have taken that whore house job. The other whore house, I mean.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The amazing, wonderful .38 Special

I do love the .38 Smith & Wesson Special cartridge. Everyone agrees that it is one of the most accurate cartridges ever developed, sharing those honors with the .44 Smith & Wesson Special. I have several .38 Special revolvers, but next to my S&W K-38 this one is my favorite. It's an early Model 67, Combat Masterpiece. Those familiar with this model may notice that it wears black rear sights. I changed out the all-stainless originals because of visibility issues. Purists shouldn't worry: they are safely put away for restoration if that is ever needed.

Never having been afflicted with magnumitis I have always found the .38 Special a useful and admirable cartridge. Even my .357s digest far more .38 loadings than magnums. Where handguns have any usefulness at all in "varmint control"— and they certainly do— the .38 will accomplish just about anything that needs to be done. The trick is knowing what it's good at. As a self-defense cartridge it has been much derided, but with modern +P loadings it can more than hold its own. There's also much to be said for a pistol that can be emptied into a playing card at seven yards in less than two seconds by a reasonably adept practitioner. There's spray-and-pray and there's control. With enough practice, the .38 definitely lends itself to precision and control.

My favorite .38s are the Smith K-frames. They are just...beautiful. No other word does them complete justice. Elegant, pristinely designed, and with a great feel in the hand, nothing beats them in my opinion in this caliber. This particular M-67 wears a pair of factory Magna-style grips with a Tyler T-grip insert. Believe me when I say I have tried just about every grip design ever created for a Smith and this is the best combination I have found. The Magna grip without the T-grip is terrible, in my opinion, but with that Tyler in place it is perfection. That's just me. It might not work so well for someone else, of course. This revolver also has had an action job and the double-action on it is butter smooth. I almost never shoot it single action.

I will no doubt never need to buy another .38 Special case, since I have literally thousands of the little beauties waiting to be run through a press. And that's a very good thing if you love the .38 as much as I do.

Bull snakes

We have several on the place. I don't bother them and encourage Emma to leave them alone. They say that bull snakes will keep rattlers away. I don't know if that's really true, but since the bull snakes definitely help with the rodent population I kind of like having them around.

Here's something I wrote about a bull snake incident two years ago...

A little prairie drama this morning. I was in the office with the dogs when there was a lot of bird scolding going on outside. I looked out the window and saw a baby robin bouncing around in the dog pen. 

In one corner of the dogs' pen is a lovely spreading cedar tree that gives them deep shade all day long. Unfortunately a robin built her nest in that tree and the nest has been a center-of-interest for Emma, my bird dog, for weeks. Fortunately the dogs were inside when the baby decided to go walk-about.

I went out to move the baby to a safer spot but couldn't find it. Just as I was leaving the pen I saw the big bull snake, about 4-feet long, just outside the pen. He slithered in through the wire for a bit and then out again. The mother robin was a few feet away and keeping an angry eye on him. When he turned around and headed in the opposite direction, she really let him have it: scolding, flying at him, beating at him with her wings. As I rounded the corner of the house I saw why: the baby was there, right out in the open, and the snake was heading right for it.

I scooped up the chick. The mother, three feet away, completely ignored me as she was busy beating up on the snake, which outweighed her by about forty times. I took the baby to the other side of the house into my little patch of woods and put it in near a pile of dead limbs. When I went back to see how the fight was going, Mom had forced the snake into a clump of brush near my well and was standing guard in one of the branches.

Later I went back to the brush pile to check, but the baby was gone. I hope the mom found it, but at least I had done my part in interfering with the natural cycle of nature's way.

But they are aggressive critters. The other day one was near my shooting backstop and I touched his tail with a cardboard target backer. He turned on me, reared up like a cobra, and prepared to attack me. I backed off, having no desire to be bitten by any kind of snake, even a non-poisonous one. Besides, he was minding his own business and I had interfered with him.

The photograph is not very good, but shows one I almost stepped on today while on the way to my pistol range. He was between three and three-and-a-half feet long. (That 10-yard marker is about 14" long.) I think this is the same fellow I saw at the target butt the other day. I would like to have gotten a better picture but by the time I went in to get the camera he had decided to high-tail it for some high grass. Can't say I blame him, what with a snake-killing Shorthair on the prowl.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Goin' north

Took some garden fare up to neighbors who don't have a garden this year. Their ranch is north of me about 20 miles. I like to go up north but don't get up there too often because when I go out for supplies and such I usually head south. The road north is a nice one-laner. While I was out I went the extra 18 miles to "their" town and got myself a burger and fries! It's good to get off the place once in a while and have a gourmet meal.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Deadly weaponry

I just read on another bog about the guy in Scotland who was arrested for carrying an 'offensive weapon': a large gob-stopper in a sock. Personally, I have always found gob-stoppers to be offensive, but I have never thought of them as weapons before. In today's U.K. any item at all can be considered a potential offensive weapon if the toter cannot prove that it is not. This is an excellent system for statists and budding tyrants everywhere. George Orwell was right on the money, even if a few years off.

This story could have made me laugh, if it were not so sadly indicative of the death of a once great society. It did, however, make me think about the  fundamental differences between modern Brit society and ours in the U.S. According to modern U.K. jurisprudence the mere possession of a permit to carry a concealed weapon marks you as a menace to (their) society. Don't even think about also actually possessing the weapon that goes with it! Not that they have such things as CCWs, of course. They are much too advanced a society for such barbaric carryings-on. Just look at their crime stats.

The one thing worse in Jolly Old Blighty these days than having an 'offensive weapon' (like a gob-stopper in a sock or maybe a stale baguette) would be actually using it to defend yourself. Big no-no. They have managed to finally abrogate the ancient and universal law of self-defense in favor of...what? I think of the farmer who was sent to prison for defending his home against the frequent attacks of yobs. He was declared "a danger to burglars." 

I know there are plenty of Euro-suckups out there who would like us to be more like our Brit former brothers. Myself, I'm just an Old Model Human Being and can't quite wrap my primitive, hunter-gatherer brain around the concepts that excite these New Model Human Beings. I just hope there are plenty of OMHBs coming up through the system to give them a run for their money. Or, maybe the NMHBs will all just move to Britain where they could find ultimate fulfillment. But I would advise them against trying to smuggle any big candy into the country.

Yet another .45

Single-action revolvers have been staples for American outdoorsmen ever since Samuel Colt began marketing them. There were other makers, of course, but it was the Colt versions that most dramatically captured the country's imagination— and loyalty.

This is one of the "New Vaqueros" by Ruger. This one is in .45 Colt. It is a slight downsizing of the old model Vaquero, in answer to the request of users for a revolver that more closely matched the feel of the original Colt Model P— something the original Vaquero simply did not do. Even with the down-sizing, the Vaquero is still slightly larger and heavier than the Colt. An empty Colt, with 4-3/4" barrel, weighs 35.6 ounces. The Vaquero weights 39.8 ounces. Some of this is in sheer "beef"— the Colt's cylinder diameter is 1.65" while the Ruger's is 1.68".

Nostalgia aside, from a mechanical standpoint the Ruger is a superior revolver to the Colt. It's better engineered, better built, and simply stronger all around. Which is really saying something since the Colt has been an American stand-by since it was introduced over 135 years ago.

An outdoorsman, hunter, rancher, backpacker, whoever who felt the need for a powerful, big-bore revolver could do much worse than one of the new model Vaqueros. They're available in the original standard Colt barrel lengths: 4-3/4" ('Civilian'), 5-1/2" ('Artillery'), and 7-1/2" ('Cavalry').

By the way, the picture is a little misleading. Unike the Colt, the Ruger has a safety mechanism that allows it to be a genuine six-shooter. No need to carry an empty chamber under the hammer.(Darn, now where am I supposed to keep my ten-bucks buryin' money?) I also prefer to use true Keith-style bullets in mine, rather than the original style round-noses as shown. 


Wind-walkers I call them. Like rickety phantom mesas they move across the prairie dumping their loads of rain as they stride before the wind. Sometimes the wind will shift slightly and you get the sudden, rich aroma of cold rain on hot, dry grass. They are a great symbol of the changeability of high plains weather. 

Monday, August 11, 2008

Today was the day

There was a lot of activity early this morning around the swallow nest in the eaves of the old bunk house. I went out to see what was going on. There, on the ledge of the mud nest, was a single baby. It looked at me for a few moments, not very concerned, and then launched off and flew away. The last of the babies, apparently. The nest is now empty.

Morning fog

Our hot spell seems to have broken for the time being. Mornings, late afternoons, and nights are cool and refreshing and this means we get some thick morning fogs. Gone by 8 a.m. or even before, they are nevertheless a harbinger of completely non-political Change— which is refreshing. It's the same kind of advance warning we get every year at about this time in August. We've still got plenty of hot weather to go in August and September, but we always seem to get these false autumns about this time of year.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Quick skillet chicken

Living alone as I do, far from any café, and liking food as much as I do, I am completely responsible for my own vittles. I don't mind. I like to cook and I do enjoy good, simple eats. "Quick" is also nice. Here's a favorite that I enjoy from time to time.

Take one half of a skinned, boneless chicken breast and slice it into long strips. Pre-heat a cast iron skillet with a thin layer of olive oil or cooking spray. My favorite for this is a small oval skillet that I have used for for years. Sprinkle the chicken strips with adobo or your favorite seasoning. When the skillet is hot, plop 'em on. If they sizzle a bit then the skillet was just right.

When the strips are browned on one side, turn them over and spoon salsa onto them. Cover the pan with a piece of aluminum foil and let cook for, oh, until it feels "right." (Note the precision of this recipe.) Serve to the table on some sort of trivet thingie to protect the table from the very hot skillet. Sprinkle with oregano or whatever you like. A couple of corn tortillas from the toaster oven are good with this, too. The high sodium content of most salsas make this an occasional repast for me but that just makes it all the more welcome when the urge hits.

This is a quick meal. From sudden craving to sit-down takes about fifteen minutes.

An Orichaphilian footnote...

In my former life I used to visit the local police range quite often. It wasn't far away, I had the key, and I liked to drop over and shoot a practice session on the turning targets or just enjoy an hour or so of creative noise-making.

One day I pulled in to discover that a local department had just finished their semi-annual qualifying course. This was good news as there were often  quantities of discarded cartridge cases here and there. When someone else is paying the bills there seems no hesitation among the unafflicted to simply toss perfectly good once-fired brass into the trash cans. Shameful, but good for me.

On this particular day I went straight to the range shack and saw that there were no fresh cases in the plastic buckets provided for that purpose. That meant the 55-gallon trash barrels were next on the inspection list. Since I had the place to myself there was no shame in upending myself over these worthies and seeing what they had to offer. I picked out the crumpled B-27 targets and there, sprinkled across the bottom, beckoned a bright array of .38 and .357 cases. Pay dirt! I slithered in and began to rake 'em in.

Too late I saw the other cases. Long, aluminum, slightly crusty. CS canisters! Then the burning started in my eyes, moved quickly to my nose, then the throat. It was over an hour until I could see well enough to drive home. But I had at least recovered many of the precious cases. What price orichaphilia!

Had I learned my lesson? What do you think?


For the love of brass!

Orichaphilia is the best I can do with a word for it. Based on the Latin for "brass" plus "love." And do not doubt that it has the dimensions of a disease, or at least a powerful compulsion. I know, because I have it.

I can't pass up a cartridge case on the ground. If I visit a range it is very likely that I will run out of pockets very quickly. I have ziplocks of cases for weapons that I do not own and never will. I have ziplocks full of cases that no one can identify, no doubt left behind by visiting space aliens

I know when it started. It was back when I was a kid with a new .357 revolver and no money. Cases were like gold. I had between sixty and seventy, most of them the old double-cannelure REM-UMC .38 Special cases used for wadcutter loads. I still have a few of these, but they have been long retired from the loading bench. They have been replaced by thousands upon thousands of newer .38 cases. Gone but not forgotten!

My reloading room (with an annex out in the shop!) is full of boxes, cans, and ziplocks full of cases: .38 brass; .38 nickel, .357 ditto, 9mm Para, .45ACP, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, .45AR, .44-40, .308. .243, .223, .257 Roberts, 7mm-08, 8x57mm, .30-'06...on and on. You get the idea. Some readers may even see themselves in this tale of terrible obsession. 

It still gives me joy to stop the tumbler and pour a golden cascade of shiny, clean cases into a can for the reloading bench. It speaks of frugality, ingenuity, and industry. It feels good. Besides, they're purty. 

I don't think there is a cure for orichaphilia. Why should there be? If one is ever found I have no intention of ever availing myself of it. I am resigned to my affliction.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Another .45

This one is a little unusual. It started life as an "Old Model" Ruger Vaquero Sheriff's Model in .45 Colt, which cartridge has been around since 1873. The older model Vaqueros were tanks: big solid revolvers that could take a lot of abuse. They were popular with the cowboy action shooting crowd. The only drawback to them, as I see it, is that they were big— much bigger than the Colt single-action revolver they were more or less replacing. The grip frame was quit a bit larger than the Colt's and the Vaqueros simply didn't "feel right" to someone who was familiar with the Colt. Eventually Ruger listened and discontinued the old model in favor of a newer model that was much closer in size and feel to the original Colts. But that's another story, which I will probably eventually get to.

This particular old model Vaquero went off to a custom single-action smith and came back with a new lease on life: a Bisley grip frame, an action and trigger job, a free-spin cylinder pawl. All in all, it is a sweet six-gun. It is also in one of the best available calibers for a big, heavy, all-purpose field revolver: the .45 Colt. Even better, the sheer beef of the old model Vaquero makes for a revolver that can take some potent handloads. It will digest loads that would blow a Colt into many little pieces. I do not advocate this, nor does Ruger of course, but merely report that it is possible and often done. If I lived in big bear country, which I don't, it would probably be my choice for a tag-along defense pistol. With the right, custom-crafted handloads it would be excellent protection when a rifle wasn't available or just too much of a nuisance to tote.

I don't carry this revolver very much. I like it, but it is just too heavy to make for a comfortable all-day pistol, even in a good belt rig like a Mernickle. (Just for the sake of accurate data: a Colt S. A. A. in .45 weighs 37 ounces empty. This Vaquero, empty, weighs 42, the same as a fully loaded Gold Cup. Loaded with six rounds, it weighs just a hair under 48 ounces. That's three pounds, folks.)

But if you want a heavy-caliber field-service revolver that will outlast you by many years you can't do much better than one of the old model Vaqueros.

The Gold Cup

This is a Colt Gold Cup .45 ACP. It's a Series 80.

I've already mentioned that I have a real fondness for the .45 ACP cartridge, and this is the pistol that introduced me to a few of its finer points. Like accuracy. It's also the pistol with which I shot one of the best offhand groups of my life. This was a single-handed group of just slightly under 2-7/8" at 25 yards, with hardball. I wish I could do it all the time, but alas... And of course, if you shoot enough you are bound to have a few "world beaters." What do they say? "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometime!" Anyway, the target is stuck to my safe door and there it stays.

Few would call the Gold Cup a carry gun, but I have used it that way on many occasions. The only modification for this purpose was that I had the razor-sharp edges on the Eliason rear sight smoothly radiused. (You can just about make that out in the photo.) That stopped its annoying habit of digging bloody trenches in my  right forearm when holstered. 

One of the reasons cited for the Gold Cup being a poor choice for carry is that it is a very tight gun and isn't the most reliable feeder, especially with loads other than hardball. That has not been my experience with this pistol. It has been a most reliable feeder, with everything even including 'flying ashtrays', and easily rivals my true carry '45s on that score. YMMV.

Another comment often heard about the Series 80 version of the Gold Cup regards the trigger mechanism, which has a few extra safety widgets tacked on. Supposedly this makes for a poor release. Again I have to say Not Guilty. And no one else who has ever handled or shot it has anything at all bad to say about the trigger on this particular pistol.

The one indictment that might get a true bill is that it sometimes bites the web of the shooting hand. Ouch! In fact, I am getting very close to sending her off to Ed Brown to have one of his high-ride beavertails put on it. I think that would be money well spent.

If you like 1911s and you get a chance at a Gold Cup at a reasonable price, grab it up. They are excellent pistols. I sure do like mine, which isn't for sale.


There's an old bunk house right behind my house. In the overhanging eaves facing me barn swallows have built a nest. From my bed I can look straight through my bathroom, through the window, and directly at the nest. So I get to keep track of Mom and Dad as they bring the daily menu of tasty prairie bugs 'n' stuff to their brood. I often see their little yellow beaks wide open as they ask for more, more, more! Today I went out and tried to do their portrait. But instead of opening wide, they just looked at me suspiciously over the edge of the mud nest. You're not my Mom!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

More bones?

Guilty. I confess I am a sucker for bones, antlers, sheds, arrow-heads, rusty horse-shoes— almost any remnants of the past.

Y'day on my ranch visit my neighbor gave me a rack that his uncle had shot in 1959. "I can't keep everything!" was his excuse. Feeble. Hell, I keep everything! What's his problem?

Anyway, it lives with me now.

And my little Boston Terrorist says, "Get RID of it! I hates it lots!"

But what does she know?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A very special revolver

There is a good bit of nostalgia connected with this revolver.

My father gave it to me when I was sixteen. It is a Ruger Blackhawk .357, one of the first 5000 made and is today known to collectors and Ruger fans as a "Flattop." 

I had had a .22 rimfire revolver for quite a while, but he knew I lusted after a big boy. I don't think I have ever seen anything quite as beautiful as this pistol seemed to me when I opened the yellow and black box for the first time. Believe me, it was love at first sight.

I had a rudimentary reloading set-up at that time and I quickly added a set of .38/.357 dies. I was working for a local farmer on weekends and summers and money was tight. I bought primers by the hundred and scrounged for cases. I only had a small handful of .357s and about fifty .38s. I molded my bullets from wheel-weights, a few at time. But in that first summer my new Ruger became the scourge of the local marmot community.

Parts are no longer available for this revolver and I am very careful with it. I don't carry it as much as I would like to, being afraid that something will happen to it. To be able to retire her honorably I bought one of the Ruger 50-year commemorative flattops, which turned out to be a great disappointment. Not at all like the original. It sits in my safe awaiting an enthusiasm which may never come.

As you can see, she bears some scars from her active life. Every one a story. She has also never been converted to Ruger's "safe-to-carry-six" New Model action. She is therefore still a classic five-shooter.

My grandson is developing a cautious interest in guns. He is only four. I have twelve years to wait 'til he is sixteen.


I like this photograph. I was on my way along one of our alleged roads to a neighbor's and came across this fellow. He was obviously uneasy with my stopping, rolling down the window, and pointing a thingie at him. He moved very deliberately so that he was behind the big weed. Hiding! No doubt about it.

Buffs have never struck me as being particularly bright critters.

Making a visit

Today I drove over to a neighboring ranch to spend the day helping them clean out some of their outbuildings. The accumulation dated back a long way, and they said they were convinced it was time to make some headway against it. We had a good day, with good fellowship, lots of jokes (and some nostalgia) about what we were finding, and even shared that Good Tired feeling once the cattle trailer was loaded and ready for the dump tomorrow.

I like to visit these neighbors. Not only are they good people and good friends, the drive over to them is always an enjoyable adventure. They live ten miles away across the plains. The road over to them is actually more of a cow-path than a real official county road, which technically it is. There are plenty of places where it is better to simply veer off onto the prairie than stay on the road and quite a few other places where it simply disappears. 

On the way over and back I can see deer (mule and whitetail), antelope, buffalo, coyotes, and any number of other critters. Once, on my way back after dark following a great dinner, I was almost t-boned by a herd of antelope. But no harm done, to them or me.

Good neighbors and a good trip to see 'em. It doesn't get much better than that.

Ruger Speed-Six

Here's another favorite. This is a Ruger Speed-Six in .357 Magnum. This gun is no longer made, more's the pity. 

If someone forced me to choose between autoloaders and revolvers, I would have to go with revolvers. I cut my teeth on them and it was quite a while before I acquired my first auto. (An original Colt 1911 from 1917, by the way. I still have it and may stick it on here at some point.) Fortunately, unless the next prez gets weirdly hinky I don't think anyone is going to place such a stupid restriction on me. Bets anyone?

Anyway, this Speed Six, as you can see, is DA only. Don't think that this is a disadvantage: a good hand with a smooth double-action revolver will drop them into tiny little groups at amazing ranges with great frequency, not to mention rapidity. PPC revolvers are almost always fired DA only and can put them all in the x-ring at 50 yards if the shooter does his part. I actually prefer DA shooting with revolvers over single-action. I just shoot better that way.

I did a complete action job on this revolver quite a few years ago and it one of the smoothest and sweetest-shooting handguns I own. I love S&W revolvers and have a bunch of them, but this Ruger gives nothing away to any Smith. I carry it a good bit and it's an all-around favorite.

Things that go 'Bang!'

I'm going to start posting some pictures and comments about firearms. I've been a shooter and collector (of sorts) for a very long time. In the last decade I've also been a certified handgun and self-defense instructor. Have even done a bit of competition shooting in the "old days." Nowadays I reload ammunition, tinker with "projects," do a little amateur pistol smithing, and make frequent and enthusiastic use of my several shooting ranges.

To start off I am posting a picture of my Kimber Pro CDP. This is a .45 ACP pistol in the Colt Commander style of slightly shortened barrel (4" instead of 5") and lightweight alloy frame with steel slide. Loaded, the pistol weighs less than an unloaded full-size 1911. It is a pistol meant to be carried, and it gets a lot of use from me.

I am very fond of the .45 ACP cartridge. It is powerful, accurate, and relatively easy to reload for. The Kimber likes it, too, as even in this lightweight carry version it is awesomely accurate as well as pleasant and easy to shoot.

Monday, August 4, 2008

More garden porn

This is the current state of my small garden. The squash is starting to produce at a great rate just as the lettuce is starting to get a little coarse. I'm still waiting on my peas, jalopeños, corn, and cabbage. There'll be some onions later, too.

I don't have any Edward Weston pretensions, but I do enjoy photographing the richness and variety of the garden's gifts.

Weston made his famous veggie portraits during a period of his career when he was very poor— as indeed he was for most of his working life. He said he would work with his "models" until they began to look a little tired, and then he would eat them. Certainly one way to be sustained by your art!

Just a bit warm

These are the Dog Days of summer to be sure. For a week or so now we have been having really warm weather. The other day it was up over 110° so you can see we are having a cold snap today. I've been in New Orleans, Houston, D.C., Baltimore, and NYC on really, really hot days and believe me it's nothing like as bad here at 110° as it can be in those places at 100 or even 95. Humidity is running between 20% and 26% here instead of 90% and that makes a big difference.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

And while we're on the subject

Speaking of the Second Amendment— I have a litmus test that I use on a candidate for office. Any office. Briefly, it is 'Where does this candidate stand on the Second Amendment?' So maybe his job will have nothing whatsoever to do with anything remotely related to the 2A. Doesn't matter. Opposition to the RKBA is an indicator of a mind-set that I don't want to have anywhere near a position of power.

Does this make me a "one issue voter"? Not really, but they do have to get through that first test before we go to the next levels.

The way I look at it, if a politician doesn't trust me with a firearm, why should I trust him or her with my country?

That Pesky Second Amendment

I found the recent Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment both heartening and frightening. Heartening because it establishes what most Americans have believed all along: the amendment affirms the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms. Frightening because it was a five to four decision. Way too close for comfort.

The language of the amendment has been parsed almost to death and it is very hard for me to understand how a legal mind could fail to grasp what the Founders were saying. I think they do understand; they just don't like it. And they want to change it. If they succeed in doing that it will be a very large nail in the coffin of the Republic.

Without the Second deep in the background, always there, none of the other Amendments of the Bill of Rights are worth the parchment they were written on. It's a mistake for any people to trust too much in their government; for a disarmed people it can be fatal. History tells us no less, and the Founders knew that solemn truth very well. They didn't even exempt themselves from the list of possible tyrants.

It can't happen here? Even now, after the decision, DC is flaunting the decision and throwing ever more impediments in the way of legal gun ownership in the nation's capitol. That's a heckuva place to be rearing up a whole crop of arrogant petty tyrants. They need a good spanking and I hope they get it.

Wanna start an argument?

Chili recipes. They'll do it almost every time. What is it about chili that brings out the hard-headedness in folks? Must be tapping into some genetic aggressiveness factor.

People tend to like my chilis. I say chilis because I never make it twice exactly alike. And that's because I don't believe in chili recipes. When people ask for the recipe I stumble around a lot and end up confessing that I don't have one. Not a real, legitimate recipe anyway. When I cook I use highly scientific terms like squinch, pinch, handful, coupla shakes, etc.

I was hungering for it yesterday and so made a batch of my quick version. It takes about fifteen minutes from start to finish and is pretty good. Here's how I do it when no fresh ingredients are available yet.

In a pan I put two cans of Kuner's No-Salt black beans— any other kind will do as well probably. Add one can of anybody's stewed tomatoes. Add one coarsely chopped small to medium Vidalia onion. Sliced fresh peppers are good if you have them. Sweet bananas are best in my opinion because they won't overpower like jalopeños can. Add a couple of handfuls of whole kernel corn. Put on low heat and add spices. A couple of large pinches of cumin; a double-squinch of chipotle pepper powder; a big three-fingered pinch of coarse oregano (I like the Mexican oregano available from Penzey's Spices, see note below); many shakes of adobo; a fat pinch or two of cocoa powder. A pinch or two of sugar or sugar substitute like Splenda. Let it come to a goodly simmer.

This is meatless and very good. It's a dark,thick, rich, smoky chili that is really satisfying. It makes enough for five or six generous servings. Today, for lunch, I still had the remains of a nice top round roast I had done on the grill. I cut a bit of it into lean half inch cubes and dropped about eight of them into a bowl of the chili. Two minutes  in the microwave and lunch was ready! A couple of corn tortillas from the toaster oven, a glass of tea (sweet Southern style!), and a fair-to-meddlin' repast is at hand. 

I call this Anasazi Chili because I imagine it to be pretty close to something the Indians of that name would have made from what was available to them. It's almost unthinkable that they wouldn't have made something we would have recognized as chili.

Oh, no beans in chili, eh? Them's fightin' words, pardner!

About Penzey's. Last Christmas I received an enormous gift box of their stuff, mostly geared to Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking: assortments of dried peppers, various chili powders, the works. They were my source for the wonderful coarse Mexican oregano and the ground chipotle pepper powder. They're online at Good outfit.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Cowboy Up!

Rodeo tonight down-river at the county fair. But it was 110.5° degrees at my place at 4:00 pm and I decided that no way was I driving seventy miles to sit in an uncovered south-facing grandstand, rodeo or no rodeo.

But then a thunderstorm came up with a little rain and some wind out of the west and the temp dropped thirty-four degrees by 6:00. The storm has passed now and the thermometer says it's back up to 81°.

I'm still not going.

(The image is from a rodeo I did manage to attend on the 4th of July.)

Lost & Found

About a week ago the dogs and I were taking one of our extended prairie rides in our UTV and I almost ran over this. It's a "shed" from a whitetail, and it is in beautiful shape. No rodent chewing at all, which is rare in a prairie shed as we have so many busy little chewers for whom antlers are a special treat.

Back when I lived in a more wooded region I used to hear about people who hunted sheds as a hobby. Some of them had large collections and evidently knew what they were doing. I was always a little jealous of them, as I never had much luck finding them myself.

I cast around the area for a while but didn't find the other one. I didn't really expect to. They usually don't drop them together and the other one could have held on for days. I showed it to Emma, but she didn't have much interest in helping me find such useless stuff. Birds are her thing. Or gophers. Something real. Mags was bored by the whole business and just wanted the ride to continue.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Cultivating the Wonder

A big job for most of us is trying to keep as much of that sense of wonder we had as kids alive and well. I consider it a major responsibility. Last night I went out to the garden to gather greens for my salad, as I do every day since the lettuce came in. 

I thought From those tiny seeds comes this bounty! What a wonderful gift a garden is. From so little comes so much, and all beautiful. I never take it for granted.

And now my squash is coming in, the corn is head high, my peas are starting to blossom, lots of peppers of several varieties, and there are plenty of green tomatoes getting bigger and bigger.

O, brave world that hath such wonders in it!

(With apologies to Bill for the paraphrase. I don't think he'd mind.)

Looking for Seamus

I wrote this several years ago in an attempt to encapsulate the adventure that asking for directions can be in rural Ireland. It is a conflation of several different episodes and as such represents a writer's liberties taken in pursuit of a "higher truth.".

The picture really has nothing to do with the story. It's a portrait of Sean Pheats Tom, a friend who has since passed to his reward. He never read this tale or even heard it, but he would have recognized it very well. (Sean Pheats Tom-- He was Sean, his father was Padraig, his grandfather was Thomas.)

“Excuse me, sir. Could you point me in the right direction for Killalee?”

“Killalee is it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Umm. Killalee. [pause] Killalee, indeed. [pause] And is it someone in particular you’d be seekin’in Killalee?”

“Yes, I’m looking for Seamus O Hanlon.”

“Seamus O Hanlon. Seamus is it? I know them well, the O Hanlons. [pause] Would it be old Seamus or young Seamus that you’re lookin’ for?”

“Young Seamus, I believe.”

“Ah. [pause] Seamus Og is it? That’s good, as old Seamus has been dead these many years now.”

“I see.”

“The O Hanlons aren’t from Killalee, you see. [pause] They’re Macreemor people. [pause] Have you been there? Macreemor?”

“No. I haven’t.”

“Seamus O Hanlon. [pause] All right, then. [pause] You go up here to a grove on your right. Used to be Biddie Toohey’s orchard. Good apples came from there they did. Not as good as O Reilly’s, but O Reilly’s is a good bit farther on it is. Just past the Biddie’s orchard, you make a left and go on a good bit ‘til you come to St Anthony’s church. Father Mulcahy has just retired and there’s a new priest straight from Maynooth due next week. Go past the cemetery there and take the first or second bohareen to the left. The second I think, but it could be the first. That’ll take you to the cross at the pub. Stop in there if you’ve a mind and look at the horse tack on the wall behind the bar. Grand stuff it is. The big silver-mounted hame belonged to the Malone now dead may God save his soul. Did you know him, the Malone?”

“No. I’m not from around here at all.”

“You’re not, of course. Just past the pub there’s a laneway that goes up the hill. Best to park at the pub and walk as it could be very wet. The O Hanlon place is just over the hill.A little track cuts off to the west halfway up and leads to the old O Connor cottage. But you’re not going there at all. The O Hanlon homeplace is just along a little further and in to the right at the spring.”

“Well, thank you very much. May I tell Seamus the name of the man who directed me to him?”

“You can, of course. I’m Sean Dorgan. 

“Nice to meet you, Sean. And thanks again. I’ll be going along now.”

“But you won't be finding Seamus there at that place at all.”

“No? But I thought…”

“Not at all. That’s the old O Hanlon place. Where Seamus the elder used to live when he was a boy. Not stone on stone will you be finding there now, not a bit of it you will not.”


“It’s where the O Hanlons are from. Where they should be. [pause] Not at Killalee.”

“But it’s Killalee I’m trying to get to, Mr. Dorgan. I understand that Seamus lives there now.”

“Ah, yes. Killalee then. You're standing in it, you are. And that’s Seamus Og’s house just across the road here, and himself there changing a tire on his car.”