Larry’s Blog: The Copper Sky

“Not unlike the shine and hue of a newly minted penny!” came the voice from beneath a worn and worn well brown felt hat. “Spect there’s a harsh wind blowing across the western plains. Likely will be getting here about near dark about the time Venus makes her appearance,” said he pointing to the west. “We’d best be headed to camp. My bones are telling me the wind will be bringing much chillier temperatures than what we’ve had today.”

I grabbed my pack and rifle and hoped we would be back at camp feeling the warmth of the mesquite coals before the December sky turned gray. “Ever see such a sky?” asked I.

“Saw such back in ‘47.  Had just returned from Germany, still limped from the bullet that passed through the shinbone in my left leg. Surely glad they were shooting solids rather than the Hornady expandable bullets we’ve got loaded in our rifles.  Otherwise, I might still be on crutches and a long way from this old West Texas ranch. I was riding the pastures checking cattle on ol’ Jubel. Started the predawn with drizzling rain.  A chilling breeze was blowing outa’ the north. My slicker kept me dry and tolerably warm.”

“It was the last days of November. The week earlier, Granddad had invited his kids and grandkids for a big Thanksgiving dinner.  It had been my job to shoot five wild turkeys before they arrived.  He wanted turkey, but of course there was also going to be beef. Never knew Granddad to not have a meal past breakfast that there wasn’t cow meat involved!”

“Took me a couple of days to shoot those five turkeys.  Didn’t own a shotgun.  All I had was this here old .30 Govt. Model 95 Winchester. And I can tell you back before the days ol’ Joyce Hornady started making bullets, this old rifle didn’t shoot as accurately as it does now with some of his creations.”

He continued, “Got lucky, found a couple of roosts down in the Middle Concho bottom.  Shot two gobblers out of one roost and three out of the other the second day.  Ol’ Jubel wasn’t none too happy about me hanging those turkeys off the saddle horn.  He crow-hopped for might near ten minutes, but then finally settled down.

“Got me side-tracked there a bit. Copper sky, yeah that was what you were asking about. Thanksgiving over and all the kinfolks heading back to their ranches and workings, I set aside a couple of days to go deer hunting.  Back then we didn’t have many deer, long before they learned how to control screwworms.  Our deer population was a bit meager to say the least. Even seeing a track was something talked about for days. But chasing mavericks I found a couple of freshly shed deer horns.  They were in what some might call an alcove, you know something that sorta looks like part of a cloverleaf, just off Mad Cow Bellering Creek. Found them laying side by side.  Both had 5 points with a couple of extras at the base.  They were as big around as my wrists and beams nearly long as my arm.  Figured he must have been “the cock of the walk” before he dropped those horns. Had to have been quite some sight to see when he was still wearing them things!”

“It had been a while since I had been hunting and shooting at anything besides “krauts”. Finding those sheds, I thought it would be fun to match wits with that old “muy grande del brasada”. Figured it would be a challenge, but if I could take him, I’d have some tasty, though possibly tough deer meat and quite a prize in his horns.”

My older friend kept talking. I occasionally glanced at the darkening copper sky behind us. Thankfully we were getting closer to camp and should be there within a half hour.

“I’d waited until I figured ol’ Heavyhorn had done whatever breeding he might get to do, before going after him.”

We dropped into the remaining coulee.  The copper sky had earlier looked like a newly minted penny. Now it looked like a penny which had long laid in the sun, dark and tarnished.

“I rode ol’ Jubel to the edge on that alcove where I found the sheds, tied him to a lotebush, grabbed my old 95, which I had heard tell from one of uncles who had charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt himself, that it was one of TR’s favorite hunting rifles.  I read somewhere he preferred the .405 Winchester, which he often referred to as his “Go to Rifle”.  Uncle Will told he his former commanding officer took his .405 Winchester Model 95 to Africa and while there shot himself a rhino with it, along with some other critters!”

“With rifle in one hand and that set of sheds I’d found the year before in the other, I headed down into that alcove approaching downwind. Didn’t want that “Viejo Macho” smelling me.  Figured if he’d lived long enough to grow horns like he had last year, escaping coyotes and that old cougar that frequented the ranch, he was likely plenty smart and wary.”

He continued talking as we walked briskly, but now feeling the icy copper haze coming our way at a rush. “Found me a place to sit and rattle where I could see in three directions.  Laid that old .30 Govt. over a nearby mesquite limb so I’d have ready access when ol’ Heavyhorns appeared, suckered in by my rattling.”

“I’d hardly brought the horns together when a buck charged in! Durn near ran over me!  It took merely a glance, he wasn’t the big one, but he surely was pretty; ten points, wide with a 3-inch drop-tine on his right side.  I will tell you, I was sorely tempted.  But then figured maybe the old buck let the young’un run in, while he hung back to make sure it was safe.”

“Studying that young, big buck I spotted movement back behind a wall of bull mesquites. Then it stopped.  I picked up the rattling horns and was about to start grinding them rattling horns together. That’s when I saw an antler, one that looked a whole lot like the one I held in my right hand, only bigger!  I knew it had to be him. Decision time! Do I keep rattling or put down the horns and get ready to shoot.”

“I decided to hit them horns together once more, then, set ‘em down and shoot. Clack, clack, clickety-clack. Then there he was, coming in. Should I make my move and shoot him, or would my movement spook him…What to do?”

“About that time, out of the corner of my right eye, I again saw movement low to the ground and kinda yellowish-tan. The old buck looked that way too.  Moving my head ever so slightly I could see a long tail, darkly tipped, weaving back and forth, not unlike my Mom’s old gray housecat did just before it pounced on a mouse.  I nearly dropped the horns! I could hardly believe what I was seeing!  But, there was no doubt!  It indeed was a cougar and a darn big one.  What to do?  Shoot the cougar or the biggest whitetail buck I had ever seen, or was likely to see?”

The last fifty yards we ran into camp and dove through the cabin’s open door just as the copper sky’s bottom dropped, filling our world with rain drops that looked as big as my fist.

The cabin was filled with the alluring aroma of freshly brewed cowboy coffee complimented by robust venison stew.

After a couple of sips of coffee warming my hands over the cast iron stove, “So, what did you do?” I asked anxious to hear.

“Charlie, we got any of store-bought liquor, you know that 90-proof stuff?” my old friend asked the cook.  Although I wanted to hear the rest of the story, I had to admit the idea of a wee dram either neat or in coffee to warm the body and soul was mighty tempting.  Well, maybe more than a wee dram.

Drink in hand, my old friend got up and walked to a bookshelf mostly older issue of Outdoor Life magazine. He sifted through the stack, found the one he was looking for, paged through it until he found an old black and white photo.  He laid the tattered photo on the table.  There he was, a massive antlered whitetail buck on his left side and a long-tailed cougar on his right. “Back when I was in Germany, I learned to shoot quickly and accurately. Shot the buck, then wheeled and dropped the cougar before it had taken less than three steps.”

I reached over to shake his hand.  “Wish I could have been there to see do that!”

“When that copper sky showed this afternoon, I fully expected us to either take a buck or a lion.  Since we didn’t, we’ll just have to keep trying!  Cheers!”



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