Monday 30 October 2017
In May last year I had the privilege of spending a week with Todd doing some long-range shooting on a ranch near Canadian in Texas. See: A long shot in Texas. Since then Todd and his wife Shannon, along with her father, visited Queenstown in New Zealand and I had the opportunity to take Todd up to a friend’s station near Mount Cook. There we went up on the hill at about 1500m and saw a few thar but nothing worth shooting. We had a good look at the scenery, which Todd enjoyed so much he took Shannon and her father back up there the next day for a helicopter flight around Mount Cook. During that trip Todd invited me back to Texas.
Arriving in Amarillo late Sunday night, I spent the night in a motel near the airport. Heading north just after 5am I was bemused by these red lights spread far and wide that flashed on for a few seconds and then went off. As the dawn light appeared it turned out that these were on the top of hundreds and hundreds of windmills that become very prominent across the panhandle plains.
Arriving at Sleepy Hollow, the training house where I will be staying for the next ten days, I was met by Joe and Aaron who are US Marshals. They are here as sponsors for the international police snipers who are attending the training this week.
Soon the rest of the group turns up and Todd gets the training underway.
I really enjoy this training as there is so much to learn in long range shooting, a lot of which I covered in last year’s story.
Each morning is spent on theory and the afternoon out shooting. Monday afternoon we zero our .308/7.62 rifles at 100m then true the zero at around 700m making adjustments in our Kestrel ballistic calculators/programme to adjust the algorithm to match the flight path of the bullet. We then get to shoot the wind course where we walk around the top of a hill engaging 12 inch discs out to 600m and 16” targets out to over 800m at various wind angles. The wind is gusting over 20mph in places making the targets hard to hit.
As the week goes on we engage targets effectively out to just over 1000m. At 1200m the standard military ammunition we are using reaches the end of its capability. We also had a couple of Marathon robotic targets running round on a flat area 600m away which were effectively engaged.
On Wednesday night we head down to Pampa, 40 or so miles down the road, for a BBQ rib meal at a restaurant. All 23 of us were tucking into some rather tasty food when a big local Texan strolls up to our long table and says “are you guys military?” Then, before anyone could answer, “I am going to buy your supper!” He then strolled of to the reception and paid the bill for all of us.
As the week went buy we shot at various places, one being the golf course, where we drove along a road stopping to shoot the 18 targets at various places and various ranges and wind angles.
Canadian is a dry town in a dry county but there are two restaurants in town where one can have a drink with a meal by, I think, joining a club by producing ID. The Stumbling Goat we had eaten at a couple of times during the week. Just down the road the other is the Cattle Exchange which I visited with Des and his team on Friday night before they left town.
Saturday morning I was alone at Sleepy Hollow and headed out to shoot the wind course again. While doing so I looked up the valley to see in the distance both ends of a long train which must have been well over a mile long. Over a hundred of these roll through this valley every day.
While looking at the map over lunch I realised that Dodge City in Kansas wasn’t too far away. Made famous by Wyatt Earp and a few others back in the late 1800’s, I thought it deserved a look. The 150-mile drive was interesting as this is big bold country where one can see for miles. Even a driveway to someone’s ranch can look like it goes into infinity. The drive took me through a strip of Oklahoma into Kansas.
￼Arriving in Dodge late afternoon I was surprised to see what looked like a deserted town. There wasn’t even a bar in the Main Street. However there stood a statue of Wyatt and a mention of a few other characters from those days.
￼Just down the road from the city centre is a sort of mock up town and a train in an area called Boot Hill. It was all closed up but I presume that is where they will re enact some of Wyatt’s antics to drag in the much needed tourist dollar.
In 1871 rancher Henry J. Sitler built a sod house west of Fort Dodge to oversee his cattle operations in the region. Conveniently located near the Santa Fe Trail and Arkansas river, Sitler’s house quickly became a stopping point for travelers. Others saw the commercial potential of the region with the Santa Fe Railroad rapidly approaching from the east. In 1872, Dodge City was staked out on the 100th meridian and became the legal western boundary of Fort Dodge. The early settlers in Dodge City traded in buffalo bones and hides and provided a civilian community for Fort Dodge. However, with the arrival of the railroad, Dodge City soon became involved in the cattle trade. The town flourished attracting bars, brothels and a fair bit of mischief which required a good lawman to keep it in some sort of order.
The longhorn cattle being driven up from Texas carried a tick that spread splenic fever. As more agricultural settlers moved into western Kansas, pressure increased on the Kansas State legislature to do something about splenic fever. Consequently, in 1885 the quarantine line was extended across the state and the Western Trail was all but shut down. By 1886, the cowboys, saloon keepers, gamblers, and brothel owners moved west to greener pastures, and Dodge City became a sleepy little town much like other communities in western Kansas. Thanks Wikipedia
The main industries here now are the meat works, farm machinery and cropping. In the late 1800’s after the cattle boom, a variety of German wheat was planted in large areas around here followed by a drought that turned the area into a dust bowl as high winds blew away the top soil. 5 miles down the road I came to Fort Dodge, now run down with the housing area a home for wounded veterans.
As I headed back to Canadian the sun was setting lighting up the sky’s in stunning colours. Apparently great sunsets are just the norm here.
￼Sunday morning Todd and Shannon picked me up and we drove to Pampa for brunch with their son Will, where we shared some great Mexican food. After lunch Todd and I headed to the Canadian airport, where Todd and his friend Eddy have a few aeroplanes. We dragged a Cessna 180 out of the hanger, fuelled up and, with Todd at the controls, were soon airborne. We headed south east to the Palo Duro Canyon, this 60 mile long canyon with 800ft cliffs is second only to the Grand Canyon.
￼We flew the length of the canyon, at times well below the cliff tops on each side. The flight there and back was also interesting giving a great view of the different types of farming taking place in the panhandle of Texas. Cotton and other crops are being harvested on the large plains. The white crop of cotton, now mostly in round yellow bales makes for quite a contrast.
￼The number of windmills in this part of the world is staggering. Normally in lots of a hundred, they are in patches right across the landscape. I reckon there are so many that if they have a serious wind here they will speed up the rotation of the earth. Trucks and trains carry in blades for these beasts.
That evening at Sleepy Hollow two new US Marshals arrived. Mike and Mike, like the two previous Marshals, were great guys. As coincidence would have it, one of the Mikes had worked with some friends of mine in another part of this bloody small world.
On Monday another group of snipers turned up from Europe to undergo Todd’s training. All of a sudden it was Tuesday evening and my last night. Todd, Eddy (the ranch owner), the two Mikes and I, headed into the Stumbling Goat for a meal, after which we headed back to Sleepy Hollow for a drink and a yarn. Texas is big and time goes fast as all of a sudden it was the early hours of Wednesday. When we rose a few hours later at 7 it had snowed making the autumn colours stand out even more.
After the morning lesson and lunch with Todd it was time for me to hit the road. I had once again had a great time in Texas with a great bunch of people. I can’t wait for Todd and Shannon to come back to NZ so as to return their generous hospitality.
While waiting to board the flight at Amarillo a tall guy strolled over and said I looked like a Kiwi. We had a bit of a yarn and caught up again in the boarding lounge in Houston. It turned out Jonathan, from Wanaka, and I knew a few of the same people from down south. We ended up chatting in the business class galley, joined by Lisa from Auckland, for several hours of the flight home until both the business and premium galleys ran out of beer. Meeting great people is one of the many things I enjoy about travel.