V

 

I do not think a history of ranch life would be complete or very interesting, without some account of game hunting. My brother Matt and myself were the only two members of our family who took naturally to that sort of sport. Matt was a born hunter. And though he is now well past sixty years of age, he is anxious to go out every year when the deer season opens, and try his luck, as he ever was.

There is no other sport that appeals to me as much as hunting. I mean hunting with a rifle. I never could get much enthusiasm hunting with a shotgun. When I was a small boy – too small to be allowed to carry a gun, I used to follow Matt around when he was hunting, and carry the game he killed. That is, when he was hunting small game. Many a time, I have come home with a load of game that was about all I could stagger along with. And I have been so tired, from following him over the hills and about the creeks that I could hardly get home. But it was always a pleasure to be allowed to go, and I enjoyed every one of those trips to the fullest.

 

When I was a real small boy the only gun Matt had, other than a shotgun, was an old army musket. When he first got it he had no bullet-mold, to cast bullets for it, but used to pour melted lead into pieces of hollow bamboo, set up in the ground. When the lead had cooled, he would split the bamboo away, and then cut he bar of lead, thus made, up into short lengths, and work them down to fit the bore of the old musket as nearly as he could, with a small hammer. I remember he killed several deer with those handmade slugs of lead. Later on he got a bullet-mold made, and then the old Enfield musket would sure shoot some. I have carried home what was left of many a jack rabbit and cottontail, that he had shot with that old fifty-caliber gun. I think it was in the summer of 1875 that Matt got his first Winchester rifle. He bought it of a man named Potter who had been a sheep man in our neighborhood but who had sold out his sheep, and was going away. I know that Matt was pretty proud of that pretty rifle, but I am sure he was no prouder in owning it than I was to be allowed to follow him around the hills and watch him bring down game with it. It was what was called a “Winchester model of 1873”, and was of forty-four caliber, and took forty grains of black powder. It would not be considered a hard hitter among the high-powered rifles of today, but at that time was considered a rifle that was hard to beat. There were a good many deer in this country in those days, and it was no uncommon occurrence for Matt to come home leading his horse, with a deer tied across his saddle.

 

Then, what joy it was to me to hear him tell of how and where he killed it! Some of those thrilling accounts are as fresh in my memory today as though it had only been last week that the event had happened.

 

I can recall several occasions of Matt’s going up on the hill in the early evening, and of our hearing several shots in quick succession. (We always knew he was after big game when he fired a number of shots in that manner.) Then he would appear in sight on the brow of the hill, and shout to us to bring up a horse to carry in a deer he had killed. Father or my brother Charley would get the horse saddled, and ride him up there, but they had to go some if they beat us smaller kids up to the spot where the deer lay. It was considered a great honor to see it first. The first thing was to look to see how many prongs he had on his horns, and then to examine him to see where Matt had hit him. After that it was, “Where was he when you first saw him, Matt?” And then Matt would give us a most interesting account of just how he came to “jump him up” and of how he ran, of just where he was when “I cut loose at him the first time,” and of how he “came down” when he got the one that dropped him. Of course deer were usually killed while on the run, and that usually took a number of shots. To kill a deer at what was called a standing shot, or in other words, while he was standing still, was a tame affair compared to getting him on the run.

 

Matt always went hunting on horseback when he was after deer. And many a time I have followed him through the hills and canyons (myself mounted on some old gentle horse or mule) and have seen him dismount and begin firing rapidly at something, before I had seen anything at all stirring. And on several occasions, when I was only a small boy I saw him kill two or three deer in about that many seconds, so it seemed to me.

 

How I did long for the time to come when I would be big enough to have a rifle of my own – and kill a deer myself! Matt had allowed me to shoot his rifle a number of times, and I had made some very good shots with it, and felt sure that if I had a gun of my own I could get a deer. Father took no interest in that sort of sport himself and thought money spent buying cartridges an awful waste. In fact, I very well knew that the only kind of a rifle I could ever get ammunition for would be a muzzle-loader. I began using a shotgun when I was ten years old as I have stated before, but how I did long for a rifle.

I think it was about the year 1880, or so when I was thirteen years old that Matt came home from a trip to San Diego and told us that he had seen a fine muzzle-loading rifle for sale in a gun store for nine dollars. Charley, Will and I talked the matter over very seriously and agreed that we ought to have a rifle on the ranch. (I have forgotten to state that Matt had been married several years, and was not living with us any more.) So, by much saving, much plotting, and much planning, we finally put together all the money we could each rake and scrape, got the deal, as we might say “financed”. To make a long story short, we managed to raise the nine dollars.

 

Matt was going to San Diego again, so we turned the money over to him with instructions to bring home that rifle. I was in a terrible state of uneasiness for fear he would come back and tell us that some other syndicate had gotten in ahead of us, and purchased the rifle before he got there. But to my great joy he came back with the goods. In other words he had that rifle on the wagon with him when he returned.

 

It was a joy to look at it, and I could hardly sleep that night for thinking of the deer I would kill. But the only trouble was there was too much of it! It was so long and so heavy I could not aim it to save my life, unless I had something to rest it over. As I remember it, the barrel was forty inches long, and at least and inch and a quarter in diameter. It was an octagon barrel, and it shot a forty-four caliber bullet. The stock, too, was much longer than the stock of a modern rifle, and when I stood it up beside me it was taller than I was. Charley and Will did not seem to be much interested in it, but I came pretty near sitting up with it the first few nights.

 

I remember their joshing me about my having to stand up on a hill and place the stock of the rifle down in a canyon so that I could load it. But I told them they needn’t worry. I would attend to the loading of it.

 

The man from whom Matt had gotten it had sent along a pound of bullets, and also a bullet mold. So I was ready for business. The next morning I loaded it up and went out and by resting it over a fence, or something of the kind managed to kill several squirrels.

 

When I talked of going deer hunting the other boys told me I would have to do my hunting only where there was a fence to rest my rifle on. And some of them suggested that I had better drive my deer into the corral, where I would be sure to have a fence for a rest. All the family except me seemed to think those remarks and suggestions funny, but I could not see anything funny about them.

 

The next day I went out and got me a nice straight stick with a fork in it. It was about as thick as a hoe handle, and dry and light. I cut it off just the right length, so that when I stood it up it was the proper height to rest my rifle over. I trimmed it up nice and smooth, and carved the fork out so that my gun would rest nicely over it, and lo, I was ready to go after big game.

 

There was one difficulty I had to prepare for. The bullets, as everyone who has used a muzzle-loading rifle knows, must be forced down enclosed in a greased “patch.” The “patch” is a small square of cotton cloth about one and a half inches square which is well greased. This is nicely wrapped around the bullet and forced down the barrel by means of a ramrod. But the bullet fitted so tightly that I could not start them with the ramrod. To overcome this difficulty I took a piece of hard tough wood, about ten inches long and an inch and a half in diameter. About an inch from one end of this, I sawed in about a third of its thickness, all the way around it. Then from where I had sawed this ring around it I shaved it down until about nine inches of it was small enough to enter the barrel of the rifle. Then, by smoothing up the head with a file I had a “starter” with which I could force the patched bullets down with the palm of my hand for a distance of about nine inches. When I had gotten the bullet in that far, I could force it on down with the ramrod. This “starter” I carried on a string slung around my neck, and hanging where I could use it readily. With the starter and my powder flask slung from my shoulders a handful of bullets and a box of caps in my pockets, the forked stick for a rest for my gun in one hand, and my heavy rifle on my shoulder, I would set out.

 

I know now, that I did not hunt in a very skillful way, for I had not yet learned the ways of the deer. I used to go into the hills where the heaviest brush grew, and sneak around very quietly, expecting to surprise a deer by coming up on him when he was not expecting any such mighty hunter to be abroad in the land. As a general thing, the brush was so much taller than I was that there was of course very little chance of my seeing a deer. There were deer tracks everywhere I went, and it was hard for me to understand why I saw so few deer. I remember putting in a number of days wandering around in the big brush, without more than hearing the thud, thud, thud of a bounding deer a few times, and not even getting to see him.

 

I was supposed to be herding a small band of milch cows, but I would take them over into some canyon where the feed was pretty good, and where I was pretty sure they would stay for a few hours and then I would strike out to see if I could get a deer.

 

One morning I came back to my cows awfully tired and awfully thirsty. I had no water with me, and the nearest place I could get any was down the canyon about a mile and a half, at what was called Los Monos Creek. I decided the only thing to do was to go there for water. It was a hot morning, and I had been putting in every minute of the time since eight o’clock tramping over the hills and through the canyons looking for deer, but had seen none. I was so tired from carrying the heavy rifle that I at first decided I would hide it in the brush until I returned from getting a drink. But then I looked around for a place to hide it, I could find no place that satisfied me. I was afraid someone might see me, and steal it while I was gone. So I finally decided to take it with me, though I felt sure there would be no probability of my seeing a deer on the trip down to the water and back.

 

Shouldering the heavy old rifle, and with the forked stick in my hand, I struck out for the water. There was a plain dusty trail that was used by anyone going through the canyon on horseback, and it followed along the bottom of the canyon. The hillsides on both sides of this canyon were quite rough and brushy.

I had gotten about half way to the water, and was trudging along as fast as I could travel, when suddenly a fine big doe bounded out of the thicket of heavy brush, and went up the steep hillside on my left. The hill up which it was running was very steep, and it ran only part way up and stopped behind a clump of bushes at a distance of about eight yards from where I was. I got my heavy rifle rested over the forked stick I carried, just in time to see the deer step out from behind the bushes and stand broadside to me. I admit I was some excited, but I aimed at the center of her shoulder and fired. At the crack of the rifle she “bleated” shrilly, and came bounding down the hill into the same clump of heavy brush from which she had run only a minute before. She apparently came right on through this heavy brush, though she was hidden from my sight while in it. I was hurrying with all of my might to get another load in my rifle, and while I was thus hard at work, the deer was standing just across a narrow creekway, from me, turning around and around and seeming very much bewildered.

 

I could see it so plainly (it was not over forty or fifty feet from me) that I kept looking to see if there was any sign of it being wounded. But though I could see first one side and then the other as it turned around there was no sign of blood to be seen. I decided I must have missed it clear, and felt very much disgusted with myself. It seemed to me I never had loaded the old rifle when the bullet was so hard to force down as this one was. Of course I couldn’t help being excited. Who wouldn’t be, with a deer dancing around within forty feet of him, and a miserable old muzzle-loading rifle to load? I finally got the bullet rammed down, and was hurrying to get a cap out and into the rifle.

 

At about the time I got the bullet rammed down the deer started off, and just as I was ready for another shot it disappeared around the end of a small hill. I hurried after it, hoping to get a shot before it got away, but never got near enough again to stand any chance of hitting, though I followed it for a mile or more.

 

By that time I was so thirsty that I gave up the chase, and hurried down to the water and drank and drank, lying on my stomach, with my lips in the running stream. I then started back up the canyon by the same trail I had been coming down when I saw the deer. I kept thinking to myself, “Oh, if I had only taken a little more careful aim.” And “there was no reason why I should not have killed that deer.” I repeated these thoughts a hundred times during the afternoon, I am sure. The next morning Matt came over to our place and I told him of shooting at the deer. When I told him how it had bleated when I shot at it he said, “If that deer bleated you killed it. A deer never bleats unless it is mortally wounded.” I said, “Well, that deer bleated all right, but it wasn’t hurt at all, for didn’t I follow it for a mile or more? And there was no sign of blood on its trail. Besides, I could see perfectly plain, while it was dancing around just across the creek from me, that there was no sign of a wound on it.” He said, “I’ll bet that it was not the same deer that you shot at, that came out and jumped around before you.” I was equally sure that it was the same deer. Matt was so sure I had killed it from my description of how it had acted that he finally said, “Let’s go over there and have a look.” I assured him that there was no use going over, but he insisted on it so we started. When we got to the hill overlooking the canyon where I had shot the deer, we could see a number of buzzards sitting on the rocks down in the canyon. Matt said, “Now, what did I tell you? There is something dead down there.” We hurried down to the spot and there lay a fine big doe right in the bottom of the creek. The shoulder that was uppermost was the one that had been towards me when I shot, and there was a bullet hole right in the center of it.

I stood there perfectly speechless. Matt dismounted from his horse and turned the deer over. There was a lump just under the skin on the opposite shoulder. He took out his knife and slit the skin and took out the bullet. “There,” said he “is your bullet. You couldn’t have made a better shot. It went right through the heart.”

 

I kept looking at the dead deer and then at the trail that followed along the creekway through the canyon. It passed within six feet of where that deer lay dead, and I had come up that very trail on my way back from Monos Creek about an hour after firing the shot that had killed it. “How could I have missed seeing it as I passed?” was what I kept saying over and over to myself.

 

I suppose I must have been looking up on the hillside to where the deer stood when I shot, and the dead deer was in the dry creek bed, with the trail right on the very brink of it. To say that I was disgusted with myself would be putting it very mildly. “Why in the world couldn’t I have looked and seen that deer lying there so near me, as I passed?”

 

Of course, it was all very clear to me now, how I had mistaken another deer for the one that I had shot at. At the crack of my rifle the deer had bleated and come bounding down the hill, almost towards me, and into the big brush that hid her from my view. Right immediately after she disappeared from my sight another deer came out of the heavy brush, just as one I had shot at should have done if it had come straight on in the way it was headed when I last saw it. I very naturally thought it was the same deer at which I had shot. And when it had turned around and around right in front of me and showed no signs of being wounded I of course concluded that I had made a bad shot.

 

I have since that killed a good many deer. But I have always thought if I had really gotten that first one, so as to have it brought home, it would have meant more to me than a half-dozen of those I killed in later years.

 

A short time after this Matt invited me to come over to the old ranch house (that is, Uncle Robert’s house) where he was living, and have a deer hunt with him. He had been over at our place with his wagon that day and I got my old rifle and outfit ready and went home with him. We got to his place quite early in the afternoon, and at about three o’clock we started out on foot for a hunt. In those days there was a good chance of seeing a deer within a mile of the house. At about that distance from the house we separated, he going out towards the Monos Canyon, and I keeping up through the sage hills, back of the “Little Encinas.”

 

I had traveled to a distance of about two miles, and then as the sun was getting low I swung around to the south and worked towards the house. Just as the sun was setting I saw a spike buck, at a distance of about a hundred yards. He had evidently just gotten up from where he had been lying during the day, and was walking directly away from me. It was plain that he had not seen or heard me as yet. I got my rifle rested on my forked stick and took a shot at him. He staggered off to the right and fell over a bunch of sagebrush. I thought I had killed him, but I started loading again as fast as I could. Before I had finished loading, he got up and started on, and disappeared around the end of a small hill. I hurried around after him as soon as I had finished loading, and soon saw him again. He was again going directly from me, and was evidently badly crippled in his right hind leg. I again set up my rest, took another shot at him, and again he fell. Loading again as fast as I could I was surprised to see him get up, the same as before, and start on. I hurried after him as soon as I had finished loading, and soon saw his head above the brush, where he was standing, looking back at me. I took a deliberate aim and shot him directly through the head. I sure felt some elated, for I had really got a deer. I hurried down to the house and told Matt’s wife that I had made a kill. She was greatly pleased at my success, and told me to saddle a horse and start back for it, which I did. Before I had gone far, I met Matt coming in. He had killed nothing and was somewhat surprised to hear that I had. We went back together and brought in the game, and you may be sure I was a proud boy that night.

 

It was not long after this that an Indian boy named Frank came over to our place. He had an old “Henry Rifle” and offered to trade it for the muzzle-loader. His rifle was slight out of order, but I readily saw that I could fix it without much trouble, so I soon made a trade with him. He had no cartridges for the “Henry Rifle” and that was the reason for wanting to trade, as he thought he would probably stand a better chance of keeping the muzzle-loader in ammunition than he would to buy cartridges for the “Henry.”

 

It did not take me long to fix the broken piece, and then I felt that I had a real rifle. I soon managed to get a box of cartridges for it. (They came fifty in a box.) And it did not take me long to try it out, to find whether it could shoot true or not. I found it to be an unusually true shooting gun. In fact, I think it was sighted as nearly correct as it would be possible to make a rifle. In later years I have used many rifles and of course a high powered rifle is much superior to the old Henry. But for accurate shooting up to a distance say of one hundred yards I don’t think the rifle was ever made that would beat it. It held fifteen cartridges in the magazine and one in the barrel – sixteen in all, and it was short and light enough so that I did not have to carry a forked stick to rest it over.

 

I carried that old rifle for ten or twelve years and killed a lot of deer and coyotes with it. I traded it for a later model Winchester Carbine but would give a good deal now to have that old rifle back in my possession just as a keepsake. The old muzzle-loading rifle that I used to carry was such a clumsy, heavy, and ungainly old thing that I would not carry it a mile now – I can not imagine why people thought it was necessary to make rifles so long and heavy as they used to in the days of the muzzle-loaders. They were not to be compared for hard shooting with the short breech loaders made in later years; nor would they shoot any more accurately.

 

About the time that I came into possession of this old “repeater” our herd of cattle had increased to such an extent that it was necessary for us boys to be out on the ranch on horseback most all the time, looking after them. So the next twenty years of my life was spent almost entirely in the saddle.

We had fifteen thousand acres under fence and that is quite a bit of country to ride over.

 

There were always a good many deer in the brushy hills on the ranch, and in riding after the cattle I always kept an eye out for deer tracks. They are much like cattle or horses on a range. They select a certain feeding ground and stay pretty close to that spot until they are killed or scared out by someone. So whenever I saw deer sign in some particular part of the range it was a pretty safe bet that the next day would see me over there with my rifle across the saddle. Especially if the tracks looked like they were made by a big buck. And I sure did kill some big fellows.