Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Take it HARD

Spring is a busy time of year on the ranch.

There are cows to be calved out and fences to be mended in the footsteps of ravaging winter ice, snow, and wind. Cows need food and water. Tools need gathering, cleaning, repair and/or replacement. Supplies need to be bought and carted home and staged. Grass has to be scouted and the grazing plan scrutinized and adjusted.

This spring there is an additional major chore, a continuation of a job which began back in the fall. A family member has been suffering from a significant illness, and coordinating and assisting with care takes a great deal of time and effort. I’m not complaining, you understand, just stating facts. It’s life and it’s what you do.

Just to make things interesting, I came down with strep throat a couple of weeks ago. What I thought was just a cold and sore throat landed me in the emergency room for a round of antibiotics and IV rehydration. The Doc wanted to keep me in the hospital but that wasn’t really an option, given my other responsibilities. We negotiated, and he gave in but provided stern warnings. “When you’re taking care of someone else,” he said, “you have to take care of yourself, too.”

And he’s completely correct. Fortunately, I’ve got a background in clinical and emergency medicine and I really am pretty good at taking care of myself. Well, compared to a lot of people.

At my age -- which is breathtakingly close to 60 -- things are harder than they once were and there’s not as much reserve energy in the tank. But my active lifestyle and dedication to hiking and eating reasonably well keeps me considerably more fit than many of my peers. A very real benefit of being fit and healthy is my ability to endure and bounce back from illness. So there’s that.

On Monday I got in a nice workout while scouting grass and surveying a new shooting range. It was a tough, day-long slog and I was still feeling the lingering effects of recent illness. Feeling noticeably weak and tired can suck the joy right out of physical labor and exertion, but Monday was also a gem of a gorgeous spring day, and nature provided abundant joy to make up for my personal malaise.

My grass scouting efforts turned up a lot of good news. The prairie ecosystem is indeed waking up, and the cool season grasses are coming right along. On the parcel where I’m building the shooting range I was very pleased to see how aggressively green needlegrass and western wheatgrass are encroaching into the smooth brome planted under a previous owner’s CRP contract. It’s been a joy to watch nature reclaim this grassland which, as far as I’m concerned, should never have been farmed. This is mixed shortgrass country, and warm season grasses are making even more inroads than cool season. This summer, if we don’t dry out too much, buffalo grass and blue and sideoats grama will continue to push brome grass aside. If I’m fortunate, I’ll be around long enough to see the brome disappear entirely.

Please don’t misunderstand my point here -- there’s nothing wrong with smooth brome grass. In this instance, in fact, there’s been everything right with brome grass. It grew well, anchoring and stabilizing soil. Over the years it provided (and continues to provide) abundant forage (especially in the spring) for cattle, and this particular parcel is an excellent calving ground. No, this stand of brome has been a near-perfect bandage. Now that the native prairie is well along in healing itself, the bandage is sloughing off where it’s served its purpose and is no longer needed.

As for the shooting range, I laid out and surveyed a 400-yard KD (known distance) range on Monday.
See the target?

There it is
Lots of hiking back and forth, pulling tape measures, setting out markers, selecting shooting locations and backstop berms, etc. Then I hiked around and tentatively identified six or seven other locations for shooting stages. All in all, a very good workout.

At the end of the day my cool fitness watch calculated the sum of my steps and pegged the total distance hiked at just over 10 miles. Not too bad for a creaky fellow of my vintage, particularly one recovering from illness. Guess I’ve got a bit of juice left in the tank. It was good to blow the cobs out.

I described my workout to a couple of friends who share similar age profiles. "Ooooh," they both said, "you should take it easy!"

Well, I don't agree. I ain't 20 no more but physics and physical reality haven't changed. I'll take it hard, thank you very much.


And now, from the "it's all fun and games until someone shoots themselves in the leg" department...

Today I got in a bit more work on the shooting range. I was able to locally source some half-inch mild steel pistol targets, so I fabbed up a frame and went out to let freedom ping. From seven yards the .40 S&W made a delightful sound and made the heavy steel plate dance. The impact of the 180 grain jacketed hollow point left a few streaks of lead and copper on the steel, but no damage whatsoever. That stuff should work a treat for pistol work.

Rifles are a different story. You need hardened plate steel for rifle targets, something like AR500.

Still, I thought, the mild steel held up better than I expected to close range pistol fire. I wonder how it'll do against the M-4?

I tried two different ammo types. M855 is a 62 grain FMJ boat-tail with a steel tip penetrator. MK318 is a 62 grain OTM boat-tail with a steel base penetrator.

I'm a big fan of the MK318, and not just because it's a Navy/Marine round. It's optimized for the M-4 short barrel and uses flash-suppressed powder. It shoots 2 MOA all day long, which is much better than 4 MOA I've come to expect from the M855.

So I rolled back to 100 yards and from the prone position with a sandbag rest I fired one of each type into the plate. Which then looked like this.

Here's a close up of the M855 impact. See the green paint?

And here's the MK318.

And the lineup.

Butt, however, I had one little problem with the MK318. I fired, heard the ping and saw the plate jump, then heard the whiz of a ricochet. Then Whap! The damme thing hit me in the side of the left leg just below the knee! What the firetruck?

Oh, shit, I thought. That was a solid hit. About that time, for some reason I can't imagine, I remembered that my blowout kit (gunshot first aid kit) was at home on my desk, having just had some expired stuff replaced. I NEVER go shooting without my blowout kit. Well, almost never...

Fortunately, the ricochet was nearly spent and only left a bruise and a scrape. I'd have looked a right dickhead if I'd bled out from a transected popliteal artery with my high-dollar blowout kit sitting at home.

There's risk involved in everything. The trick is to manage risk. I firetrucked up and didn't have my blowout kit, but I understood the energies involved, and the ballistics, and I was far enough back to avoid serious injury. I also had fun, even though I shot myself in the leg.


  1. Rancher friend posted that ranch families hunt for Easter eggs and Easter calves. Hope you find all of yours.

  2. Always appreciate your stories of spring on the prairie, looking forward to more. If you have the time for it, we know you have responsibilities but I think your readers are a patient lot. (Pun not intended...)

    1. Thanks Sarge. My patients were never a patient lot...


  3. Welcome back! Glad that your family has someone like you to take care of them, and as the other doc says, take care of yourself too.
    It is always interesting to learn more about what it takes to run a ranch operation, and it reminds us that steaks don't grow in the freezer case at Whole Foods, but are critters raised by exceptionally hard-working and under-paid folks. Best to everyone there, two or four legged.

    Watch that ricochet stuff. It might be worth investigating a way to hang your metal targets so that they are angled slightly forward at the top so that ricochets will be deflected downward rather than straight back. (Sorta like the way a metal backstop at a range is oriented, but not nearly as extreme an angle, maybe only 80 degrees instead of 45, but enough to get away from 90 degrees.)
    John Blackshoe

    1. Thanks John. Yep, you're really supposed to angle the rifle targets, plus you're not supposed to use mild steel. In mild steel the rifle bullets dig in and ricochet because they put so much more energy on a smaller point. 1,239 ft/lb for the rifle vs 445 ft/lb for the pistol. The pistol rounds just smash and break up. You live and you learn, or you die and somebody else (hopefully) learns.

  4. Happy to read that your reminder lesson was not too expensive. Happy, also, to read that things go mostly well with you and yours'. Had breakfast with another cattle rancher this morning. I'm sure that he can identify with your situations, as his are much the same. Post when you have the time, your loyal readers will be here when you do.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Thanks Paul. Yep, mostly well and I've no room to complain. Hope you guys are doing well and enjoying spring.

    2. Yes, we are well and spring here is not as cold and snowy as it is your way. It is wet however.


  5. I hope the Range Master looked disapprovingly at you, over his glasses!