I must start this tale with a disclaimer: It is not something of which I am particularly proud. Neither is it intended to condone similar behavior. It is one of those experiences in life that hopefully teach us better ways to behave and resolve conflict.
We ran several hundred sheep on our ranch. Most of the time they were pastured along the brushy creek canyons. Frequently, dogs from around the community would stray and get into the sheep herd inflicting terrible injuries and deaths. My father’s policy was simple – all stray dogs in our pasture were shot on sight.
In order to know when dogs were attacking the sheep, we put large bells on several of the ewes. My parent’s bedroom was on the corner of the house nearest the sheep pasture. They always slept with a window partly open so they could hear the bells when dogs began chasing the sheep. Several times a year it would be necessary to defend the sheep.
When I was in high school, hunting was a major part of my life. I had a 410 guage shotgun and a .22 caliber rifle with a pump action. Dad also had a .22 bolt action. We were both good shots and could drop squirrels from the pecan trees with great precision. So defending sheep was easy by comparison.
One fall night I was awakened by my folks and told that dogs were in the sheep. Within moments, Dad and I were dressed and out the back door with flashlights and rifles in hand. A few hundred yards into the pasture we could hear the bells clanging and the panicked bleating of the sheep. An occasional bark from the pursuing dogs told us there were several attackers.
Dad and I split up with me taking the rougher downstream part of the pasture. I hadn’t gone far when I heard a sheep running my way. As she came by my flashlight illuminated her side where the pursuing dog had ripped away a large chunk of wool and skin. Right behind was the dog, and with the flashlight held under the rifle barrel, the dog was an easy target. The sharp rifle report was followed by a loud yelp as the dog gave up the pursuit and crashed into the nearby brush.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, a new factor entered the nighttime scene. From a short distance across the pasture, a voice rang out. “You better not shoot my G____ D_____ dog!” said the unknown trespasser. At my present age I would know to lay low and try to calm the situation. At 16, I had no such inclination. I simply hopped up on a nearby boulder and proudly proclaimed, “I’ve already shot your G___ D____ dog!”
Then, with adrenaline flowing on all sides, it started – Bang – and a bullet ripped through the nearby cedar brush. I still remember that I couldn’t believe I was being shot at on our home ranch. There is nothing quite comparable to being shot at, especially in a dark brush pasture. The only thing I could think of was to get down and start shooting. The first few shots I simply pumped the rounds through as fast as possible as I looked for cover. By now there were more rounds from across the way and I could see the muzzle flashes. I began more measured return fire and by now I could hear Dad coming through the woods yelling and wanting to know what was going on. When he reached my position there were a few more shots exchanged and a lot of yelling back and forth. After a few moments, the trespasser yelled, “Don’t shoot any more. I’m coming out.” As it turned out, he only had a nine shot .22 revolver and had run out of ammunition. Fortunately, none of us got hit.
By now the air was tense and tempers were beyond description. My father walked up to the guy, flashlight in his face, and said, “I’m going to blow your brains out.” I really thought that was about to happen. Fortunately, it didn’t, and things calmed down some. There was a tense discussion about trespassing, sheep damage, and dead dogs. At the end, the dog’s owner was allowed to remove his other dogs and leave our property.
Over the years of running sheep, there were other encounters that involved dogs, guns, and near violent situations. None, however, compared to the gun fight on that dark night.