Grow up in the South Texas Brushlands and you grow up with guns. That’s not to suggest you’re a gunfighter or any of those stereotypes, but now and then a rattlesnake needs dispatching especially when it’s a couple of feet from you, angry and making the sound of a buzz bomb about to hit its target. There are other occasions too. Some years back I came across a rabid raccoon. We were in the middle of a rabies outbreak that covered all of the Texas Brushlands as well as the Texas Hill Country, and the Feds were dropping vaccine pellets from the air. But curbing the rabies problem took time and during that episode I shot the raccoon, a couple of skunks and a coyote all of them with rabies. If you’ve never seen rabies then you might have the impression that all rabid animals look like Old Yeller from the 1957 Walt Disney movie. There is a type of rabies the locals call “dumb rabies” and all four of the rabid animals I was forced to deal with exhibited the bizarre symptoms of an animal that’d had far too much to drink. The rabid raccoon even had a smile on its face and there is no other way to describe the weird expression the animal possessed. In truth I actually walked past the critter leaving it alone. But when I got to the house my wife said, “You what?” The two youngest were still little and she added, “Show me where you last saw that raccoon.” So we walked to the spot and the animal had only moved a few paces. “Shoot it right now! What were you thinking?” she said.
A few months back I gave a talk at a nature club about 80 miles from here. The talk was on ethnobotany as it related to primitive technologies of the region and, as always, I included anecdotes about living in the woods as well as my attempts to save the Texas Brushlands. I mentioned that I’d recently lost one of my blue heelers to a rattlesnake and that we’d had some nasty confrontations with big snakes around the house. In fact, the day before I’d walked back to the house and found a six-foot rattler on my front steps. When I mentioned in the meeting that I’d shot those snakes one man in the group said, “You should’ve caught them and transferred them somewhere else…”—or something to that effect. Now I’ve encountered this sort of extreme naiveté in the past and it’s always from well-intentioned folks who love nature, as do I, but have no true understanding about what it’s like to confront a monster snake on or around your casita. That guy just had no concept about what life in the woods is about. Don’t get me wrong, I usually leave rattlesnakes alone and I deplore Chamber of Commerce stunts like “Rattlesnake Roundups” and assorted stupidities but when a big snake is about to strike or crawl under your house you’re faced with an immediate dilemma. You shoot or suffer the consequences.
Now I was a rifleman for most of my life but in my “senior years” I’ve taken to simply carrying either one of two old 9-shot .22 long rifle revolvers I inherited from relatives who were once woods roamers in their own right. Both revolvers were made by the now defunct company High Standard. One was sold through Sears (back when Sears sold guns) using the Sears brand name J.C. Higgins and the other was sold at local hardware stores. Neither revolver is what you’d call a top of the line model. The J.C. Higgins model was purchased by one of my uncles around 1957 and the model sold directly from High Standard they called the Hombre was purchased by another uncle around 1970. The earlier model is decidedly a better made revolver with vastly superior trigger pull and overall smoother action. The Hombre has a double-action akin to pulling a biscuit back out of your dog’s mouth. But the J.C. Higgins model 88 is very smooth. Actually, I seldom shoot either gun double-action but prefer instead to go single-action only.
With 9-shots you can load several snake-shot loads and a few standard rounds. I usually carry five snake-shot cartridges and four lead bullets. The number however can vary. The JC Higgins model 88 has a much more comfortable pistol grip than the Hombre. The model 88 has a longer grip that fits my hand more comfortably. The grip is made from a material called Tenite that’s a cellulose product that was popular between the 1930s and 1950s. The model 88 above has a 6-inch barrel. Back in the early 1960s my dad owned a ranch in Mexico and his foreman carried a Stevens single-shot 12-gauge shotgun with a Tenite forend and buttstock. Now and then I’d borrow that lightweight shotgun to shoot ravens. I was in junior high and that shotgun would rattle me every time I shot it.
Both revolvers have aluminum alloy frames and steel barrels and cylinders. The Hombre above has a 4-inch barrel. Lightweight and scuffed up I keep them cleaned but don’t fuss too much with cosmetics. I make my own leather holsters and usually dangle them from my shoulder via a cord. Simple and effective, these old revolvers have been taking care of business for a long time. When the model 88 was purchased I was in the third grade. It’s neat owning old guns. Of course, old-timers like the Woods Roamer don’t make the gun manufacturers very happy. But, in fact, they really don’t make them like they used to. And those are honest words from a guy who’s walked a bunch of miles in the woods and shot thousands of rounds over the years.