Storytime: The Gunslinger!

Yeah, it’s that time again.

This one follows up almost immediately after The Raccoon Story, in case you’re wondering.

So, High School age.

I’ve detailed before the house we lived in, which rested on a square lot in the heart of middle suburbia, all manicured lawns and welcome mats and ranch style houses.

But amidst all the perfect Leave it to Beaver subruban homes and lawns sat this wooded lot with a house in the middle. There was just the driveway disappearing into the trees.

Now, the funny thing is that the woods weren’t very thick. The overhead foliage caused tons of shade, and the trees and scrub were just thick enough to cause drivers passing by to see nothing, but if you stood at the front door or the garage and looked towards the street, you could clearly see through the woods, and watch the houses sitting in the sun out there in the real world.

My father was a police officer for the city at the time, and across the street from us was a deputy with the Sheriff’s office, and the deputy had two sons about my age, so as you might imagine, our fathers thought it would be perfect for us to hang out all the time.

Now one of the pursuits that I mentioned in the Raccoon article, was that I had a Ruger Mark 2 with a bull barrel, and I’d do some silenced target shooting in the back yard.

The thing with the Ruger Mark 2 is, the bull barrel outer diameter is the exact same size as the inner diameter of a 2 liter coke bottle neck. What you’d do is, you’d unscrew the front sight blade of the pistol, you’d slip the 2 liter coke bottle over the barrel, and put a longer machine screw in place through a hole in the neck to hold the bottle in place.

When you fire the pistol, the expanding gases fill the bottle as the bullet passes out the bottom. The only sound you get is the action of the slide jacking. A .22 is a subsonic round, so no crack of the bullet breaking the sound barrier. A 2 liter bottle would last about 8 to 10 shots before just blowing the bottom out, if you spaced the shots far enough apart to let the pressure in the bottle go down between rounds.

I eventually used a lathe to make a permanent mechanical silencer with internal leather baffles, but for the most part I liked the redneck backwoods field expedient silencer. It just kept the gun from being loud enough to bother the neighbors when we did some plinking.

So, yeah, that’s fine, but it’s still outdoors in the suburns, and while we were shooting with the woods as a backdrop, I didn’t like the safety factor of using real ammunition. My dad was a cop, and he didn’t care (and that tells you something right there), but I was afraid of ricochets from a soft lead bullet hitting hard trunks or bark, or just of some terrible accident. So I wanted to get away from doing that.

Now, at the same time as the plinkin, I was also working on a masterpiece of leatherworking. I had crafted a hand-tooled leather gunslingers’ fast draw rig, belt and tie down holster for my exact size, for my Ruger .44 Blackhawk. I’d finished it, and put a lot of fancy scrollwork on it. Now it was time to put it to use, and I was practising the fast draw in the garage against a full length mirror, and I wanted to be the fastest gun you ever saw.

Hey, I was young. I thought it was cool.

So once I got the draw down, and I’d worked through the hammer pull and smooth snap, I wanted to practise with live ammo. It’s great if you’re the first to draw, but if you can’t hit shit, well, the other guy can take his sweet time, can’t he?

What I did was, I melted some paraffin in a metal pan, the kind of pan you bake small loaves of bread in.  I melted it to about 1/4″ thick, and it was colored red. Um, paraffin is, well, it’s wax, basically.

Then as it dried, I’d go to the reloading press, and set up some brass. I’d clean it, resize and reshape it, seat a primer, and then instead of adding any powder or crimping a bullet, I’d take the primed cases and push them into the paraffin. This left me with a shell that had a primer in the base, and a 1/4″ plug of red wax. Useless for an automatic, but in a 6 shot revolver, it worked perfect. The way a centerfire cartridge case works, a firing pin strikes a primer in the base of the cartridge, the primer ignites, blasting fire and expanding gases into the cartridge casing. This expanding fire and gas is supposed to ignite the charge of gunpowder inside, which actually provides the force to drive the bullet out of the cartridge and down the barrel.

What I found was that the force of the primer was sufficient to throw a wad of colored wax a good distance in a flat trajectory across the garage, and splat my targets.

So I practised quick-drawing and firing at the targets on the wooden garage door, and seeing how accurate I could get. And DAMN was that fun!

If I had left it there, I probably wouldn’t even remember doing any of this. But no, I couldn’t leave it there.

My dad got involved, he had made his own gunslinger fast draw rig for his Ruger Super Blackhawk, so of course we took to having fast draw competitions… still against the targets on the door.

And my dad loved my idea with the wax… but he had to take it to the next level.

We also did a lot of black powder shooting, I had a .50 Hawkins rifle I’d made from a kit. I also had a Navy .44 black powder revolver.

Well, the Navy .44 throws a soft lead ball, it’s called a cap and ball revolver. And teh .44 soft lead ball is JUST the right size for reloading gently into the .44 magnum cases.

What he figured was, if the large pistol primer was strong enough to throw a plug of wax, maybe it would be strong enough to throw a simple solid lead ball.

So he set up some cartridges, but instead of pushing it into the wax, he seated a lead ball into the case. No powder, just primer.

If the ball wasn’t thrown hard enough, well, we were both amateur gunsmiths. That’s not a big deal to get a lead ball out of a barrel.

It did take a little playing around with crimp pressure, crimping the ball to the casing, but we found that it worked. At a range of about 10 feet, we could shoot a lead ball with just enough force to have it imbed halfway into the solid wood garage door, without deforming. We even had reloadable bullets!

We would fast draw, unload into the door, pry the bullets out, and then reload them. We could use the same bullets three or four times before the crimping and impact would deform them.

And this, also, would have been fine if we’d left it there.

But, oh, HELL no. We had to go that last little bit.

We started playing with powder charges.

See, the primer was sufficient… but it didn’t provide much of a muzzle flash. And we wanted to see if we could get the muzzle flash in there, for that ‘real’ experience.

And that worked too! We played around with some green dot powder, measuring grains and seeing how far we could push it. And we got it down to a perfect cartridge; case, primer, powder and ball just perfect. A solid shot, a strong impact on the garage door but easy to pry out, a bright flash… it was awesome.

And I’ll tell ya, nothing beats actually practising when you want to get good. We could throw some lead into a small area like you wouldn’t believe, FAST.

Again, as with the blowgun… not a marketable skill. It’s funny the things I did in my free time before computers came along.

One morning, I got up a little late for school, I had to hustle to make the bus. But first, I had a tray of 50 cartridges that I had run through the polisher to clean, and had then resized and seated some primers late the night before. I wanted to do some shooting in the garage right after school, so I hustled out to the garage, ran them through the powder stage of the press, and then ran out the door to school.

Now, I forgot I did that. when I got home from school, I couldn’t remember having done that at all. All I remembered was that I had quit late the night before after seating the primers.

So I ran all 50 cases throgh the powder stage of the reloading press. Again.

Now, here is one other thing I didn’t know. My dad came home during lunch, and he wanted to shoot that afternoon also. So he saw I had the cases ready to go, and he ran them through the powder stage of the press.

Uh huh. Triple powder load.

Normally, one charge of powder is plainly visible in the case. But with the teeny amounts we were using, the case walls shaded the bottom so you really couldn’t see it was in there, not in the poor light we had over the reloading bench.

I seated the balls, ran them through the crimper, and loaded up. When my dad got home, so did he.

I squared off on the target on the garage door first. I relaxed, let my hand just rest on my belt buckle.

My dad said “Draw!”

I pulled, I fired, and a massive explosion rocked the garage. The muzzle blast was strong enough in the confined space to simultaneously blind us and blow out the light bulb in the overhead light, plunging us into darkness.

My ears were ringing. Hard.

I stood in silence for a few minutes, doing a mental replay of what happened.

Load, check. Pull, check. Fire, check.


Why did I have an earth shattering kaboom?

My dad opened a door, but I can’t remember if it was the garage or the breezeway door. I think it was the garage door. See, the garage door was heavy wood. Very heavy. It was super thick and reinforced with cross braces. It opened like a barn door, swinging wide, rather than retracting into the ceiling. that’s why we used it as our target.

Light came streaming in, beams of it that struck the heavy dust and smoke that filled the air of the garage. I looked at my dad. He looked at me. I suddenly realized I had charged the cases twice. That’s when he revealed that he had also charged the cases.

That’s when we looked for the bullet. Instead of a lead ball stuck in the garage door, we had a nice, big round hole going in one side of the door, and a blown out hole splintered out the other. And if you stood where I had been, and drew an imaginary line from me to the hole in the door, and looked through…

The bullet had passed about three inches over the hood of my dad’s take home squad car, parked in front of the garage…

Why, what do you know! Looking through the trees, there, right there, is the Sheriff’s car the deputy across the street drives, parked in his driveway!

Umm… yeah.

Oh, SHIT!!!

Storytime! A surfer’s tail

So, since work is going nuts, and today may be patch 2.4 day or not, I am going to spare you any WoW related goodness. You’re probably more interested in finding out what the Shattered Sun Offensive is going to have of interest to you, anyway. Go read some news sites, I’ll wait.

I’ll give you one quick WoW update first: We downed High King last Saturday, and wiped on Gruul himself with me as main tank. Any advice you may have for pointers on what I should do would be appreciated. Also, Cassieann now has two new swords; Blinkstrike with Mongoose, and Latro’s Shifting Sword, which frankly both look awesome together. We also had our first and only Arena match so far. A Druid and Warlock team melted our faces. It was neat!

So, on to storytime.

I was stationed for a time in Camp Pendleton, California. It is a beautiful base, with many barracks located just a mile or two off some gorgeous beachfront, isolated beachfront that is only truly accessible to Marines and their families.

At the time, I was single and had recently returned from Okinawa, where I had caught the windsurfing bug.

Well, living practically ON the southern California beach proved to be an irresistible temptation. I purchased a nice longboard, the typical “I ain’t a seal, please don’t eat me” quarter wetsuit, and dove into the surfing and vollyball life with most of my free time.

Of course, this was back in the days when my other recreations were pen and paper role playing games, reading books and doing martial arts. Good times. Good times.

Anyway, what with there only being so many hours in the day, and being a Sergeant, I had quite a few responsibilities once the day got rolling, so I would start each day by getting up super damn early, throwing on my surfing gear and grabbing my board, and jogging the two miles to the beach to get in an hour of surfing. Then I’d head back to the barracks, and get ready and clean the room and yadda yadda yadda.

Now, I did NOT have the beach to myself. I can’t really remember the beach ever being deserted. There may have been very few folks, but there was always someone. It’s not like I was lone surfer dude. On the other hand, I never cared if there was someone there, and I certainly never gave much thought to what would happen if I encountered trouble.

Muscle cramps are things that happen to other people. I never, ever gave a thought to my own body betraying me with muscle cramps or things like that, any of which can make swimming incredibly difficult when tired, things which I now know can be fairly common and potentially deadly. 

No, my only thoughts of care were reserved for potential external threats. Like sharks. I hate the deep water, because my folks oh so graciously took me to see Jaws on the big screen when it came out in theaters.

I just looked it up on The year Jaws came out was 1975. I was 6 and a quarter years old.

It had a powerful effect on me.

I was afraid to go into the swimming pool as a child after that, because I couldn’t see what might be lurking in the deep end. Yes, a land locked chlorinated swimming pool.

What do people like me do when deeply afraid of something? We overcompensate, of course. Afraid of heights cause you fell out of a tree and broke bones when you were 5? Go mountain climbing and skydiving.

Afraid of sharks as a child? Go scuba diving, spearfishing, and surfing whenever possible.

Sadly, I have never noticed the fear going away entirely. It’s still a conscious decision to beat back the fear every time. Pisses me off, especially when I know how irrational it is. But while I’m certainly fine in swimming pools now, there is still that twinge of fear in the deep ocean. Or balanced on top of a tall ladder or walking on the edge of the roof of a house. Damnitall.

So getting back to the fun, I would go out surfing early every morning, and I’d play volleyball on the weekends and surf some more. Lots of fun. I highly recommend it for everyone.

On one particular morning, I jogged onto the beach, slipped off my tasteful jogging shoes (what we call ‘go fasters’… don’t ask) with the worn out holes over the toes, strapped my board to my leg, and ran high stepping into the surf.

And every single surfer out there just read that line, and said to themselves, “Oh you stupid shit….”

I got about 5 steps into the surf, when I felt a sharp cut on the sole/side of my right foot. And it was accompanied by a tugging sensation. My first thought was I’d stepped on a nurse shark.

I stopped and lifted my foot out of the water and raised it to look… and there in the side of my foot was a nice deep triangular cut oozing blood.

So, definitely not a nurse shark, wrong wound pattern. More likely, I’d just stepped on a piece of broken glass hidden in the surf line.

So, pissed that I was now gonna have to miss my surfing, and have to jog back to the barracks to get the damn wound cleaned and bandaged, and thinking about how my best shot for running PT that day would be to double layer my socks to pad it, I trudged back on shore.

I walked on the sand, I bent over to grab my shoes, and that is when the venom hit.

As experienced surfers know, stingrays like to swim low to the bottom, disturb the sand, and then settle down flat and wait to sniff food. They are very non-aggressive, they are gentle and will almost never, ever hurt you. EXCEPT when dumbasses step on them.

If you simply shuffle your feet through the sand as you move into the surf, it scares any stingrays away.

So experienced surfers shuffle into the water. They don’t high step into it slamming their damn fool feet down to make good time and a big splash.

Now, I stepped on a stingray that was on the bottom. The tugging feeling was him jerking out from under my foot, and the sting was his stinger nailing my foot.

Now, taking a stinger to the foot is a long ways away from what happened to Steve Irwin. He got nailed right in the heart, and there are some who think that it wasn’t the venom at all that did him in, it was physical damage from the stinger that actually killed him. I liked Steve a lot from his TV shows, and no matter which it was, it was a terrible thing to have happen to him.

For myself, all I can tell you is, the stinger hurt very little. The temperature of the water just made the pain unnoticeable. It was an annoyance.

Ah, but that venom. That truly sucked.

I went into pain-wracked convulsions, I was shivering, I was contorted up and quite unable to walk. I just kind of huddled up on the beach.

At this point, some of the other surfers on the beach came running over, and I got them to go to the barracks and get my buddy and roommate Don Franklin, who had a pickup, to come get my ass and take me to the sickbay.

And let me tell you something, I was swearing at the pain the whole way to sickbay. It well and truly sucked. You want to be macho? Try sucking it up and being stoic when the venom is hitting your system. God, that hurt.

I got to sickbay, the corpsman took a look at my foot, grabbed a scalpel and dug around in there and pulled out pieces of stinger that had broken off in my foot. I didn’t even feel him digging around. Then he looked at me, and said something like “You’ll be fine, the venom will wear off in a few hours. Here, take some aspirin.”

You think Marines are hardcore? Navy corpsmen are the real hardcore bastards. And I salute you! Yes I do.

I wish I could say that there is a moral of the story. Maybe, “Always take a swim buddy.” Or, “shuffle your feet in the water, dumbass”. Or even, “We need a bigger boat.”

All I know is, damn that hurt. But it made a neat scar, and gave me a fun story I get to share with you!

Have a great day, folks.

A stroll down memory lane – raccoon edition

Every once in a while, I get in the mood to tell a long, long, long story. I think it comes from spending hours bored out of my mind around one too many campfires, where everyone passed the time telling stories. And today I’m just in that mood. Sorry.

Now, this here is a real no shitter. A real true story of the early life of the Big Bear Butt.

Continue reading