Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Black Powder, White Smoke and Grey Ghosts

I lifted my black powder shooting bag from the hook on the wall, went to the safe and picked out my favorite primitive rifle, a .40 caliber percussion Vincent built by a friend over 30 years ago. I made sure the day-hunting horn was full of black powder and there were balls, patching and caps in the bag. I have never needed a full horn of powder but for some reason I always make sure the horn is full and I have plenty of supplies. Maybe something in my genetic imprinting makes me prepare for an extended trip. All was well and I was headed to our little place in the country for a morning of roaming the woods and hoping for a shot at a rabbit, squirrel or maybe something bigger if I was really lucky.

Each mile I drove out of the city seemed to take my thoughts back farther in time. After a hour and a half drive and several cups of coffee later I pulled into the gate just as it was getting light enough to see well. Several whitetail deer stood and watched me drive down the lane as if they knew deer season was now over and they were safe from pursuit. A red tailed hawk sailed low over the Bluestem grass covered pasture searching for movement so he could snatch his meal of the day. I parked my truck, set my coffee on the tailgate and poured 40 grains of 3F black powder down the barrel of my rifle. I then wet a small piece of thick cotton sheet in my mouth and placed it on the bore of the barrel. Taking a .395 lead ball I used a short starter to push it down into the bore of the rifle, trimmed the patch with my knife then rammed the ball home with the ramrod and replaced it under the barrel. Grabbing a canteen to hang on my shoulder opposite my shooting bag and my powder horn, I locked the truck and walked away from the modern world.

As I strolled down the trail I took my capper and put a percussion cap on the nipple of the rifle and set the hammer to half cock just in case I should need to make a quick shot. It is amazing how the further I got from the truck the more I stepped back in time that morning. I thought of my German, Welsh and Comanche ancestors and what an adventure it must have been to come to this part of Texas in the early 1800s. A rifle back then was not just to take the game you needed for food but your very life could depend on it. The early Texicans did not have the quality of guns or powder that we have today but they sure made an impression on history.

I heard a rustle off the side of the trail and my mind snapped back into hunting mode as I quickly raised the rifle. I found the source, it was only an armadillo and I lowered the rifle. We see so few these days I no longer shoot them as we do not eat them. Moving to the top of a caliche hill covered in cedar with scattered live oaks I sat under an old dead live oak tree and pulled out a sausage biscuit I had wrapped earlier and put in my hunting bag for such a moment. As I watched the morning unfold several hundred yards down the hill the barking of a squirrel caught my attention, suddenly I saw movement as a grey fox floated across the open trail and moved into the thick green cedars well out of range. In an instant he disappeared like a grey ghost leaving me wondering if he was really there at all or if I had only imagined it.

I finished my biscuit, took a drink from my canteen and moved down the trail close to where I thought the fox had vanished into the cedar break. I sat with my back to a big old gnarly oak tree surrounded by twisted leaf yuccas and prickly pear that would give me some cover. Pulling my wide brimmed hat low over my eyes to shadow my shining face I cocked the hammer back and set the back trigger on the rifle as I would not be able to do so later without the loud click spooking the fox if it came to my call. I then began to suck on the inside of my middle finger making a loud squeaking sound that imitates the death shrieks of a small rodent or squirrel. Calling in this way had been taught to me by a older hunter over fifty years ago and many a predator has come to the “kiss of death” through the years. The sound will also call squirrels, deer and other wildlife or at least make them stop and look for the sound long enough for a clean shot. It is kind of like kissing your finger as loud and with as much distress in the sound as you can manage. The cup of your hand against your face helps to add volume to the squeak.

Kiss of Death demo video

The shrill squeaks bounced off the side of the chalk hill and back against the cedars as I watched the edge of the cedar break for movement. As I studied the brush line I caught movement only steps away to my right as the grey fox stepped out of the opening in the cedar brush looking for the source of the cries. Every hair of the black ridge line along the top of his back and tail was standing out in his excitement. Out of the brush line maybe thirty steps away busted another grey fox intent on finding dinner. The second fox stopped and looked back at the first which was too close to shoot and gave me the opportunity I needed to raise the rifle barrel, take sight and squeeze the hair front trigger on the Vincent. The fox immediately disappeared in a cloud of white smoke and I saw the other fox run back into the sanctuary of the cedar break. I would not have had a chance to reload anyway and one fox skin was enough for me to use for primitive crafts this season. The smoke had drifted away with the wind and there lay a beautiful prime grey fox on the ground. It was time to skin out the fox and return to present day times, yet I had spent the morning just as a long hunter in years past might have done. The little .40 caliber Vincent rifle and I had cleanly taken a predator and collected his fur in the old way. My day was fulfilled with only one shot. I rolled up the fox skin and gently placed the soft rust and silver grey fur in my shooting bag, ran a couple of lubed patches down the barrel of the Vincent and did not even bother to reload. I would clean the rifle later at home for now I was lost in my thoughts. I headed back to the truck and what we now call the real world, but that morning I had made a memory I will cherish for the rest of this lifetime. Get outside and make a memory of your own, Wild Ed.

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