Dodging Bullets and Rattlesnakes

So ... I had a "teachable moment" last week as bullets were flying past me, and I thought I'd pass along a lesson I relearned. File this under the "Never Assume" category.

I know better.

Needing to check the point of impact on my 7mm-08 rifle because I changed ammo, I went to a nearby local range. I had decided to use the Barnes Bullets loaded ammo with the 120-grain TTSX BT before heading to the backcountry for a mule deer hunt. The range is a good one with a covered shooting line and sturdy benches. There is no rangemaster. When I arrived, three men were shooting handguns at a target at the 25-yard line. I started setting up my rifle and spotting scope four benches away from them, planning to wait until they changed targets before going downrange to put up my targets. I looked up to see them heading downrange, so I grabbed my targets and scurried out to the 100-yard line. (Yeah.  You can see it coming, right?)

After I pasted up my targets, I had taken only about 10 steps back toward the bench when I hear shots and immediately see bullets hitting the ground ahead and slightly to my left. Yep, they had returned to their bench and started shooting. The two benches we were using were only about 20 yards apart -- not nearly enough for my comfort as I see their bullets impacting darn near between us. I waved my arms and hollered at them, and they immediately stopped shooting. To their credit, the shooter headed out to me to apologize. They hadn't seen me walk past them, and they didn't realize anyone was downrange.

Thinking of it later, I realized it was as much my fault as theirs. I should have spoken to them and made sure they knew I was going downrange to put up my targets. I *assumed* they saw me. It could have ended with a trip to the ER, or worse.  

This one was on me, but it's a reminder to be extremely careful at public shooting ranges -- especially those without a rangemaster. Make sure everyone is on the same page. We call the range COLD, all go downrange together, and when the range is cold, no one even touches a firearm. Say it in those words. Make sure everyone on the line knows it. You aren't being a grouch or a pain. You are helping make sure no one gets shot.

It was a week of interesting encounters, with the shooting range incident being the first. In the Idaho backcountry, hunting for mule deer, it was way too hot. I'm talking shorts and T-shirt weather in the afternoon. No, I didn't get one, but as I write this, I'm about to go back in for the last two days that my tag is good for.rattlesnake

After one morning hunt, I was walking back to camp, enjoying the view from a trail that sidehills its way around ridges, a few hundred feet above the canyon floor. In camp, we had been bothered by bees, of all things. When I heard a buzzing sound, I thought of bees. Not wanting to walk into a swarm of them, I stopped in the trail.  That's when I saw the rattler. Four feet long, coiled up right in the middle of the trail, and totally pissed off. He was looking right at me. Hmmm. I can't get around him on the left because that's a 300-foot dropoff. I can't get around him on the right, because there is a rock wall (probably where he came from when the sun heated the rocks). I really didn't want to fire my rifle in the area where I hunt, so I decided to just get him to leave by tossing a few rocks at him.

Holy cow, he wasn't having any of that. Never in my life have I seen a rattlesnake strike at a rock as it approached him. This happened several times. And he held his position on the foot-wide trail. I went to magnum ammo, getting BIG rocks. He moved just to the side, but not really away from the trail, and eventually a big rock landed on him, pinning his back half. He kept striking the rock over and over. 

I managed to get around him, went to camp, and told some hunters there about him.  One of them went back and killed the snake.  It was four feet long and had 11 rattles. 

Next time, I'm just going to shoot it. 

The good news? It's snowing now. Shouldn't have any meetings with Mr. No Shoulders. ~ Tom

Tom Gresham
Author, outdoorsman, gun rights activist, and firearms enthusiast for more than five decades, Tom Gresham hosts Tom Gresham's Gun Talk, the first nationally-syndicated radio show about guns and the shooting sports, and is also the producer and co-host of the Guns & Gear, GunVenture and First Person Defender television series.

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