GENERAL TOPICS > Saddlebag Tales

The Proper Way to Season a Shootin' Iron


Marshal Halloway:

Read one of Pinto's tales:


Some of us were loungin' around the chuckwagon after a good day of movin' the herd. Coyote Creek Mike, Santiago, and I were playin' with the pasteboards, and usin' a hoss blanket for a table. Sittin' next to Santiago was a teenaged boy named Isaac who had just signed on with the outfit. After a while, this strawhaired young buck pushed back his floppy brimmed hat and made it clear that he had somethin' on his mind.

"Say, men. My Dad give me this '51 Navy in .36 caliber when I told him that I was gonna take a job as hoss wrangler on this here fall roundup. The gun is pretty old, but it shoots good. I practiced aimin' and shootin' for a couple of days before I joined up with y'all. But now, the dang thing has got all kinds of lead from the bullets stuck to the inside of the barrel. How do you fellers keep the barrels of your guns from gettin' full of lead? Seems to me I don't see y'all cleanin' 'em very much. I don't mean no disrespect, you unnerstand. Just wanna make for sure and for certain that I don't bust this gun that Dad give me."

It was a tradition among the Snake Mouth cowpunchers to yank the chaps of a new hand, a time or two. Just for fun, you know. And this tadpole was new! Why, one mornin' when those of us who shaved were doin' so, Skunkfoot looked over at our new wrangler and asked him was he goin' to shave.

"Or should we put some milk on your whiskers and let a calf lick 'em off?" joked the Skunk in his good natured way. The wrangler-kid took it pretty well, I thought. He just smiled a goofy smile and sauntered off.

Well, now it was campfire time, and the dogies had stopped their wanderin' and were fairly well bedded down for the night. So, whilst we were lettin' Dang Chang's beans and bacon settle in our bellies, most of us were more than ready for some hoorawin'. And Wrangler Isaac's question was just what the doctor ordered to get us goin', too!

Santiago put his poker cards down on the blanket, raised his bushy eyebrows a bit, chucked his chin toward the gangly lad, and started the ball rollin'.

"Isaac, now that is a right smart of a question. Only, you are confused about this gun cleanin' bidness. You see, a cowboy don't never want to clean the lead out of the barrel of his hogleg."

Comin' up out of his cross-legged position, Santiago adjusted his spurs behind him and knelt on one knee before the naive young cowhand. Slowly withdrawin' his six-shooter from its crossdraw holster, he held it out for Isaac and the rest of us to see. But, he was careful not to let us see it too closely. And when Isaac reached for it, he got a silent warnin' from the rest of the gang. "Don't never reach for another man's pistol unless you aim to take it away from him" was what that unspoken, but easily felt, admonition said.

Drawin' the pistol back to him and into its scabbard, Santiago continued. "Why, I been shootin' this Webley Bulldog revolver for years and I ain't never had to clean it. And I have been havin' reasonable success shootin' toothpicks out of it here lately. The hammer has just enough power to get the toothpick out of this thickly lead-seasoned barrel. Ya gotta lissen real hard though, to hear the sound of the 'pick spinnin' its way out'n the barrel. That's the trick."

Not wantin' the kid to get a chance to question Santiago's story, Coyote Creek Mike warmed to the subject. Rearin' up on his hind legs, he quick-drawed both his pistols and spun 'em a couple of times for our pleasure. Doin' a double-back twirl, he slapped 'em home in their leathers before Isaac could say nary a word.

Says the Coyote: "After each time I shoot 'em, I religiously wipe my Colts down with an oily rag and toss 'em in my war bag with my other stuff. I ain't about to ruin 'em by scrapin' the barrels' insides with no brush. If they lead-up a bit, I generally keep a check on it so's I know when to change down to the next smaller caliber. That's why ya start with somethin' big like a .45. Then ya work your way down, step by step, to say a .22. After that, it's time to get a new pistola. Start with a .45 and the gun lasts longer. That's what they mean by 'more bang for your buck'."

There was a lot of jokers in that Snake Mouth deck that night. And I figured to be one of 'em. Bendin' over to get the coffee pot and pourin' a cup, I kept the front of my body to the fire so the button of a wrangler Isaac wouldn't see my cheeks risin' up in a smile. I waded in.

"I ain't gonna steal the thunder from these other hombres, Isaac. For they are tellin' you straight, as they see the issue. Quien sabe? Mebbe there are other ways to season a barrel on a shootin' iron, but I'm with Santiago and Coyote on this one.

I've been workin' on leadin' up an ol' Greener side-by-each, 10 gauge for years. I've been shootin' the lightest powder load and the softest lead slugs I can find through it. That ol' smokepuffer is finally to the point where the barrels will only accomodate a sewin' needle."

Waitin' for the image to sink in, I sipped my java and turned around to face the kid, my back now to the fire. "My goal has been to combine the strength and durability of the Greener shotgun, with the accuracy and silent operation of an Amazonian blow gun. When the wind is strong at my back, I can crack that Greener, load two well-lubed needles, put the business ends of those barrels up to my lips, and blow 'em just as quiet and and straight as can be!

Why, just this mornin' I nailed a rosy-chested hummin'bird with one barrel, and a rogue blue bottle fly with the other! Pfffffffffft! Pffffffffft! I tell you boys, they never knew what hit 'em!"

Puttin' my tin cup down on the hoss blanket, and aimin' my twinklin' gaze at the smirkin' cowpunchers, and particularly at the confused young wrangler, I concluded my editorial. "I reckon those pistol-powered toothpicks of Santiago's are some deadly alright. And the Coyote's heavy .22s are nothin' to mess with. But for jobs requirin' stealth and accuracy, I'll take my Greener Needle Gun any day."

Before Isaac could reply, a bunch of us started makin' unrelated small talk and hunkered down around the blanket again to play some more poker. Isaac chewed his bottom lip, obviously deep in thought. At one point he acted like he was gonna say somethin', then he pulled off his floppy brimmed hat, scratched his head through his straw-colored hair, and headed over to his soogans.

Later, as the nighthawk riders were saddlin' their mounts, several of 'em looked over the tops of their saddles and spied the young wrangler layin' on his bedroll next to the wagon. He was peerin' down the barrel of his Navy .36, and still scratchin' his head.

-- Pinto --

With a big ol' cowboy "GRACIAS!" to Santiago and Coyote Creek Mike.

For more stories, get a copy of Pinto Being's book.


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