Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Another Hobbs Memory

Stray dogs could be a problem out in the country.  Town folks would abandon their animals out there in the belief that they were giving their mutt a new home.  Surely that dog would wander up to a house and be adopted by a family.  Well they did wander up to the yard. These half-starved creatures had no survival skills and it was only natural for them to seek refuge from the coyotes around humans such as it was accustomed to.

We had a dog of our own though, a German Shepherd named Duchess. Duchess believed in protecting her household and was not amicable to first-time visitors whether animal or human.  At night we would hear the growl, low at first and then raising in pitch as the intruder moved closer. And finally when the desperate orphan would attempt to move in where food could be found a fight would ensue.

One dog was particularly troublesome.  We would hear the fights nightly and during the day we would see the hound circling warily from a distance, out of rock-throwing range.  He would skulk in the fields while the humans were about and move in at night for another round.  This went on for days and Dad must have mentioned it to Hobbs because the next thing you know, Hobbs offered to help out with the problem.

The image is burned into my conscious to this day. The weathered green ’57 Chevy pickup parked along the side of the road with the door open.  Hobbs taking position with one foot on the running board and one foot on the cab floor, resting the rifle on the cab.  Setting up left-handed.  I had never seen a left-handed shooter before.  Looking completely natural as if he had done this thousands of times before.  The dog meanwhile, sensing that he was an object of interest, had moved so far back that the shot looked impossible.

If you grew up on the farm the .22 rifle was likely to be the only firearm around.  We were not hunters and really had no reason to own large caliber guns; we dealt with pests and possibly hunted rabbits, not mountain lions and bears. If you have shooting experience you know that a .22 will work fine on birds that are perched 75 feet away.  But, while the round will carry better than a mile, accuracy is dependent on many factors when distance is increased.  The slug is light and affected by wind.  It travels along an arc and tumbles during flight.  Don’t be fooled though. I’m guessing that hunting rifle rounds will have a muzzle velocity greater than 2500 fps (feet per second) and a .22 probably goes one-third to one-fourth of that. Say 800 fps. At 100 yards the velocity will still be close to 700 fps.  That’s still traveling rather fast.  So while accuracy suffers due to other factors I mentioned, the bullet itself still has plenty of momentum.

At one time, using a .22 rifle, I could place a tight group in a target at 75 yards—with a scope.  I hunted rabbits without the scope but probably never shot one at a distance greater than 75 yards.  75 or 100 yards doesn’t seem like that great of a distance. But you are trying to shoot a quarter at that distance.  The naked eye can see a target but more than likely your gun sights will completely cover it. And you will notice every movement that the gun is making while you aim.  Even your breathing will cause the barrel to move.  And you realize that if you squeeze the trigger when the sight is dancing even slightly that you could miss the entire target, never mind the bull’s-eye.  So you keep both eyes open, breathe evenly, hold and slowly release your breath, squeeze the trigger.

The point I wanted to make here is that Hobbs was using a well-worn rifle with .22 short rounds.  The dog was about halfway across a field where the rows were ¼ mile long.  Allowing for the natural exaggerations caused by time’s affect on memory I would still not hesitate to put the distance at 150 yards.  I remember the crack of the rifle, a puff of dust just in front of the dog and howling.  That dog howled and ran and never stopped as long as it was visible.  It reached the end of the field, lit across another field, finally angled towards a road and never slowed.  I figure that dog decided he’d take his chances with the coyotes… he never showed up around the yard again.

I never asked so I don’t know if Hobbs hit where he was aiming.  But gathering from the casual way that he stepped down and put his rifle up I’m guessing that his shot went exactly where he wanted it to.


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