Much ink, both real and digital, has been spilled by automotive writers on the topic of cars, freedom, and youth. Specifically, the first car as a means to embrace and enjoy freedom with just a touch of responsibility. My first car was an Isuzu Trooper born roughly the same year as me. I grew up the son of a mechanic, so there was a steady flow of cheap, reliable cars by way of customers who couldn’t afford to fix what ailed their ride. When labor is free, the world of inexpensive, reliable transportation opens up quite a bit.
That particular Isuzu was plagued by a first generation issue with aluminum. Specifically, Isuzu didn’t do the best job casting cylinders and heads. One of the two would frequently crack, and the cost to repair it would surpass the vehicle’s worth. Such a tragic circumstance befell a low mileage, five speed version that became my first car.
Beggars can’t be choosers, but if I had the choice again, I’d pick that Trooper in a heartbeat. Reason being, it had the three things a 17-year-old Texan needs. First, it could carry anywhere from four to eight people depending on everyone’s willingness to be uncomfortable. Second, it had the coldest air conditioning of any vehicle I’ve ever owned thanks to the wonders of ozone-depleting R12 that circulated through the compressor. Last, and perhaps most importantly, it was four wheel drive.
At any given time, that car was equal parts transportation, hunting blind, and bed. And never have I been more thankful for transportation than when one of the local tow truck drivers dropped by the shop one day to ask if I’d like to go hunting out at his place, some sixty miles or so from my house. He had a unique problem in that he’d just purchased a large ranch that he wanted to use as a high fenced preserve for trophy whitetail. Unfortunately for him (and fortunately for me) it was overrun with pigs and Axis deer. He and his sons had hunted all they could, but hadn’t made a dent in the Axis population and needed more warm bodies to come out and kill more deer.
At the time, two independent events converged. The first was that I’d come into possession of an AK-47 and several hundred rounds of steel cased hollow point ammo. The second was the promise of being taught how to make sausage from a fifth generation German woman. Granny, now deceased, was the grandmother of my friend Chris, a stoutly built lineman and classmate. Chris had convinced Granny to teach us the ways of sausage making and this trip to a ranch way outside of town was a great way for us to collect the raw materials required for successful Texas German dried sausage.
We loaded up the Trooper with my newly acquired AK, our favorite bolt action hunting rifles, coolers, ice, and snacks enough for an overnight excursion, and pointed ourselves West. Some time later, we arrived at the tow truck driver’s ranch. Our first surprise was learning that we’d be “guided” by the tow truck driver’s son who seemed to be a bit more interested in hooking up with his girlfriend and — to our nose — smoking weed, than taking two dumb kids around the ranch.
Years later and with the accumulation of a lot more experience, this is the sort of trip I’d avoid like the plague now. An unknown ranch in July being led around by a horny teenager who was clearly under the influence while toting enough guns and ammo to start (and finish) a small war? Today’s wizened version of myself would turn tail and run. But Chris and I were hungry killers back then. If it moved, it deserved to die, and by God, we had sausage to make.
The hunting of Axis was nothing worth writing about. We drove around in a Jeep until we found two that needed killing, and then we put them down. Gutted, and cleaned, they went up in the freezer on site, and we sat in my car eating sandwiches while the sun went down, and our intrepid guide released a bit of the pressure that had surely built up, and further medicated himself. Lucky for us (and him), his father arrived around sundown, apologized for not being there for the start of our hunt, thanked us for killing Axis, and then took over as our guide.
Since he knew the ranch a bit better, he drove while the two of use stood in the back with a spotlight looking for pigs. As our sausage required a half and half blend of pork and Axis, and our wallets could not sustain the purchase of commercial pork, wild pigs were the order of the day. And shoot at them we did! Unfortunately for us, they either successfully dodged our bullets, or took them on to die in the brush at a later time and date. What I mean to say of course is that we were coming up empty handed, and it was apparent that our guide was growing weary.
Buried deep in thought on how we’d make sausage without pork, we headed back to the freezer to collect our deer and head home. Fully engaged in a debate on the merits of jerky vs. sausage, Chris screamed out “HOLY SHIT!” and pointed ahead of us. Crossing the road ahead of us was, for lack of a more eloquent term, a big fucking rattlesnake (BFR). A Jeep Wrangler is a touch over six feet wide which means that the typical rut to rut width of the roads at that ranch were about six feet apart. Bordering the ruts was scrubby grass. I remember all of this clearly because as the BFR’s tongue flicked out on the grass at the side of the road, his rattles were just leaving the grass on the other side.
At this point, I should remind you, dear reader, that we were a solid hour’s drive from the nearest hospital in the middle of nowhere without cell phone reception on a moonless night. It is also worth mentioning that Steve Irwin was still alive at the time, and Chris had fancied himself a bit of a wildlife wrangler. Every third weekend, he worked the local exotic livestock auction, and had gained a bit of notoriety around our school for the ease with which he caught (non poisonous) snakes.
Given these facts, it should come as no surprise that he leapt from a perfectly serviceable vehicle, at night, while it was moving, in order to catch this BFR. Complicating the matter was that after crossing the road, the snake had gone into an area of high grass surrounded by a low fence where the ranch owner kept a deer feeder. The fence kept cows from eating the corn, but also let the native grass get much higher and denser than it normally would.
Undeterred, Chris swung a leg over the fence and went to work with a flashlight to locate his prize. Sensing that flight was not the best option available, the BFR coiled up and stood his ground. For anyone who has ever watched a professional catch a snake in the open, you are no doubt familiar with the process. The premise is simple. Capture and pin the head with something that isn’t your hands, grab the head behind the jaws with one hand, and grab the rest of the body with your other hand. Lacking a proper stick, Chris elected to use the next best thing, the butt stock of my newly possessed commie rifle. This is the part of most instructional manuals where someone would tell you to unload and clear the rifle. Having read this far, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that flipping the lever to safe was all the precaution that Chris took.
With the head successfully pinned, Chris got the rest of the snake captured and triumphantly held it up at chest height. Anyone who has ever spent time around BFRs will tell you that they don’t go quietly into the night. This snake was rightly pissed and did his best to squirm loose. Further complicating the issue (notice a trend?) was that we were still inside a fenced enclosure. Chris attempted to get over without the use of his hands, but got the crotch of his pants hopelessly quagmired in the top strand of barb wire.
This led to perhaps the greatest line of thinking I have ever witnessed. You see, Chris had only really thought through step one of the plan – “Catch the snake.” With that out of the way, further steps needed to be formulated. Thankfully, we had an adult with us in the form of our guide who shouted, “Throw that fucker in the road and I’ll shoot it.” He held up a Ruger MK series .22 pistol as some sort of proof and assurance of this plan’s certain success.
Chris, summoning a great deal of strength, hucked that snake in the middle of the road where it promptly coiled up, ready for whatever came. What came was a fusillade of .22 LR, none of which connected. What it did do was convince the snake to get moving in the opposite direction of where the shots had landed and directly towards two idiot teenagers stuck on the top strand of barbwire.
Luckily, one of those teenagers had an AK at the ready and he unleashed a flury of hate in the general direction of the BFR. Jerry Miculek is fast on the trigger, but he’s got nothing on a scared kid stuck to a fence with the best that the failed Soviet Union can manufacture in his hands. Before I knew it, all that remained of thirty rounds was a smoking pile of steel cases. Our ears were ringing, our guide was nowhere to be found, and all that remained of that snake was three fairly even sections. It seems that my hit ratio was somewhere south of 10%, but by God, that was a dead snake.
“Damn, I wanted to make him into a belt”, Chris said as if step two of the plan had suddenly descended upon his brain. Freed of worry and the fence, we made our way back to the Jeep where our intrepid guide took up his place in the driver’s seat. We loaded up in the back seat, and looked down as he turned backwards to say, “I think that’s enough for tonight.” We headed back to the house, loaded up our deer in coolers, and made the long drive back home in blessed air conditioned comfort. Monday evening at the dinner table, my mother turned to me and said that she’d talked to her tow truck driver. “Oh yeah?” I replied with a bit of caution in my voice.
“He said you were polite enough but that ‘big fucking friend of his’ has shit for brains.”