Phillip Thompson

Crime Fiction writer

I’ve heard lots of stories about snakes and guns today. Seems like everybody has one. I’m no different. There’s the most recent serpent I dispatched in my yard a couple of years ago. Me and that snake had what you would call a dysfunctional relationship over a period of a couple of months one summer. I knew he was there, up against the house, because every time I cut the grass, I’d see him and he’d scare the living hell out of me. I generally left him alone, which is huge progress for me. But since I now live in an area free of water moccasins (see last night’s post), I’ve moderated my zero tolerance — a little. But this snake was pissing me off. Scaring me like that. I finally had enough when I kinda forgot he was there and got too close and he scared me so bad I just went in the house and grabbed my Ruger 9mm (already loaded up with snake shot) and put one through him. It was him or me, you understand.

Then there’s the one I shot from a boat while fishing with my stepfather on the Tombigbee. Now, trying to hit a moving target in moving water from a moving boat is not exactly an easy thing to do, but since I’m the one writing this blog, I’m on the record saying hell yeah I hit him. I’m sure he crawled up on the bank and died.

There’s also the one about me and my brother-in-law fishing up in Tate County. Technically, that’s a “snake and no gun” story (thanks to the brother-in-law), but some other time.

But my best snake-and-gun story is the one that made me a legendary gunslinger, at least in the eyes of the dozen or so people who saw it. I’m not a “When I was in the Marine Corps” kind of guy, but when I was in the Marine Corps, I was often stationed in southern California, and one particular duty station made it necessary for me to carry a sidearm most of the time. Part of my duties included being armed and dangerous, and we expended a lot of ammo trying to accomplish the latter. I got pretty good with the .45. This was back in the days of Lethal Weapon and Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs shooting smiley faces into targets at the range. I was never that good, but I could put a bullet through each ear on the silhouette target about about 15 yards.

So, anyway, we were in the field at a Southern California Marine base. Because I don’t know anything about California laws and the statute of limitations, I’ll refrain from naming it. We were out there for a few days to do some infantry training, so of course, we all had rifles and about a gazillion blank rounds. And because we had all that, policy was that one person (read: an officer) had to carry live rounds for “security.” Like someone is stupid enough to walk up to a company of Marines and take their blanks. Since I was the executive officer (XO) — what Hollywood calls the “second-in-command,” I carried the live rounds. In this case, 9mm because I was carrying my own weapon (that’s another story), an HK VP70 that I still have. Sweet weapon. That’s it in the picture.

We get out to the field and set up our position and I, being the XO, walk two Marines out to the listening post for the night and set them in myself. I’m about 200 yards away, within earshot, when I hear a big commotion. Marines yelling, jumping around. “XO!! XO!!”

Now, being the optimistic, glass-half-full guy that I am, my first thought was, “Who in the hell has done something stupid this time?” The list of candidates was long. I hurry on back and one of my NCOs, Cpl. Hanse, tells me the boys have “cornered a snake.” And not just a snake — a rattlesnake. “It’s in that bush. Sir.” Hanse pointed. So, I ask, well, what now? And he reminds me, in that way that Marine NCOs have, “Sir, you got the bullets.” Oh yeah.

Then he proceeds to tell me that some of the Marines tried to kill it with blanks — which the only way you can do that is to get real damn close — but “all that did was piss it off. Then it crawled under that bush.” Great. Leave me to deal with a pissed off rattlesnake. That I can’t see. Hanse is pointing — “It’s right there.” Nods all around. I’ll be damned if I can see it. So me and Hanse argue for a minute, and I finally say, “Hell, if you can see him, you shoot him” and hand him the pistol. Now, Cpl. Hanse is a professional Marine, knows how to handles weapons, and does so very professionally. He also misses very professionally. And hands me back the pistol. We resume arguing. At this point, I’m bent over staring into this big-ass creosote bush, pistol in hand, down by my side. Then, the damn snake moves a little, and I see that big triangular head plain as day. I pulled and squeezed off one round. The head dropped. A huge chorus of “Daaaaaaaaaaaaamnn!” went up from my Marines. Dead rattlesnake.

Cpl. Hanse started pulling on that snake, and pulling and pulling. Dead BIG rattlesnake. By the time we got the thing stretched out for picture-taking, it was six feet long.  We examined it, of course. I hit it square, right where the neck and the head meet. My troops were mighty impressed, let me tell you. After that, word got around, “Don’t be [deleted] with the XO. That sumbitch can shoot.” I kept the rattle for years, but it disappeared some time ago.

Luckiest shot I ever made, and that’s the truth.

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