Home, Home On The Range — Sorta

“So,” I inquired, trying to sound all casual and breezy, “What’s the quirk?”

“’Scuse me?” replied the gun club secretary, “Quirk? Whattaya mean?”

I’ve shot on a lot of strange ranges in some very peculiar places, and found that virtually all of ‘em have some kinda “quirk.” The quirk is that one little thing that outsiders don’t know about, and it’s been around so long the regulars don’t even think about it anymore—but they know to avoid it. Range quirks are gonna be a fat chapter in the book I pretend to be writing. I’ve suffered enough learning them, so they ought to pay off some day, right?

At one, everybody religiously rolls up their car windows—tight—because of the bad-tempered range mascot dog who likes to jump into your truck, shred and eat the seats, chew the door lock stems down to ragged nubbins, then puke into the ripped-open center console. They do it ’cause they know they have to. I didn’t.

At another, there’s a 12th-generation nest of hornets in the overhead at position 12 on the rifle benchrest line. The nest hangs just about 1″ lower than the end of a cleaning rod pulled out of a propped-up Remington 700. Others knew. I learned.

In the men’s head of another, there’s one toilet nobody uses—nobody but strangers anyway—because it flushes up. I don’t mean it “runs over.” I mean, it erupts like Mount Vesuvius. It ain’t marked. Of course not! “Everybody knows about it.” Yeah, sure. One has vicious mutant rats the size of dachshunds living in the target locker on the right, so everybody except the outsider knows to only open the locker on the left. Now, an “outsider” knows. I thought they were skinny badgers—or fat weasels.

At yet another club, there’s a range tech who wears an aluminum-foil hat to repel mind-control rays from “The Mother Ship.” When he’s not mining spent shot or running the reloader, he wanders around holding angry, profane, highly animated conversations with inanimate objects. I could deal with that, but all the regulars knew you can’t say the words “space,” “cheese,” or “mother” around him, or he bursts into tears, runs screaming out toward the 100-yard line, and shooting has to be shut down until he’s found, medicated, wrapped in a blanket, and carried back. I learned about that quirk, too. He’s heavy.

Never, Ever Disturb Pepe

Just below The Cotton Curtain, the “rangehouse” in this one place looked like a travel-trailer had broken loose from a truck and crashed into the end of a chicken house in about 1952. Somebody then decided to semi-permanently join ’em in unholy wedlock with duct tape, tin sheets and baling wire. At some later point, the result was deemed to be a range office and living quarters for the groundskeeper. It was the kind of thing you want to ask questions about, but get the feeling it could be a sensitive subject.

Over an obviously-occupied critter-burrow under one side there was a cardboard sign reading, “Do NOT Disterb Pepe!” scrawled in felt marker. I didn’t ask, and I sure didn’t want to disturb Pepe, whoever or whatever the heck he/she/it might be. Over the years I’ve learned that warnings written freehand in felt marker, blood, or lipstick carry far more weight than professionally-printed signs.

We were takin’ a break in the shade of the “range-coop” when we heard snickering, rattling, a sharp intake of breath, and then our collective olfactory senses were assaulted and overrun by airborne essence of super-skunk. Note: some skunks stink. This odor went somewhere beyond horrific. We’re talkin’ psychosomatic blindness, involuntary voiding, and short-term memory loss. My nasal hairs were tryin’ to retract into my brain.
Instantly, the “regulars” jammed foam earplugs up their nostrils, frenziedly scooped up their gear and, well, they didn’t “flee the area” so much as they radiated out from the blast-point like high-velocity shrapnel. I was left standing there, realizing that, (a) I didn’t have any foam ear plugs, (b) my range muffs could not fit up my nose, and (c) the idiot standing over by that burrow holding one of those telescoping brass-retrieving rods, was the culprit who committed the ultimate sin. He had disturbed Pepe.

For about two seconds, I felt sorry for the idiot. Having absorbed the point-blank blast of Pepe’s wrath, he looked like he had turned to stone, and the stone was disintegrating. Then the trailer door exploded open, and out shot the groundskeeper, an enraged, elderly apparition in long gray underwear, squeezing his nose with one hand and wavin’ an old Springfield ’03 stock in the other.

Dangleblaggit! he screamed, “Who ‘sturbed PEPE?”

The Stone Man, electrified by terror, bolted away—with Pappy in hot pursuit. I survived—and chalked up another quirk.

I briefly explained “quirks” to the gentleman on the phone, and he just chuckled.

“Oh, there’s nothin’ like that!” he laughed—then he got quiet. “Well-l-l,” he drawled, “There is that patch of quicksand on the path down to the trap house. It gets blowed over with leaves sometimes so’s you kinda can’t see it, but ever’body knows it’s there and skirts around it, ’cept for that fella who came visitin’ last spring, and… Umm… I see what you mean.”


Editor’s note: John Connor is moving and out of kindness and generosity we chose to run a “Best of Odd Angry Shot” this month. Hopefully, by next month, he’ll remember where he packed his computer.

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