Gettin’ Loaded

At The Turkey Track Part 2
70

Skeeter’s 7.5” flattop Blackhawk.

After doing the dishes, Dobe Grant and I retired to his spacious living room. Sinking into his large, overstuffed leather chairs, he said, “I got a new bottom pour casting furnace that’ll really speed things up while we cast a pile of Elmer’s finest .44 slugs,” describing the Lyman 429421 bullet Elmer Keith designed.

“Also got a new 4-cavity mold in that style. It’ll be like shelling peas as the bullets drop out four at a time,” the retired lawman and veteran chuckled. “Remember when we just had single cavity molds and melted our alloy over the wood stove? We’ll be much more efficient this way,” the excited Dobe spewed. He always got this way whenever talking about guns, loads, or bullets.

Relaxation

We spent the rest of the evening by the fireplace sippin’ some good sour mash. The flames danced their dance as the mesquite fire burned as Dobe and I talked the night away, catching up — telling stories, guns and loads, until the faintest of mesquite embers glowed through the pile of grey ash. It was time for bed.

Dobe pre-heated the mold on a hot plate so bullets
would drop out perfectly on the first cycle.

Filling the four-cavity mold didn’t take much longer than filling a one- or two-cavity mold.

Here’s the sprue plate swung open showing the bullet bases.

Breakfast

When I awoke, the indiscriminate smell of frying bacon wafted through the air, mixed with the heady aroma of strong, black Mexican coffee. Funny how such an invisible force is strong enough to lift a grown man out of bed, even when it is still pitch dark out! After washing my face and brushing my teeth, I dressed and met Dobe in the kitchen.

The ol’ codger was standing in front of his large, black, 12” well-seasoned cast iron skillet, flipping thick, hand-cut bacon with a fork. As it fried and sizzled in its own juices, Dobe would shift it around and flip it when appropriate until it was cooked to perfection. Suspended in its own grease, he lifted each piece of pork belly out of the pan, letting any excess grease drip back in. Once the last piece was out, he immediately cracked six eggs into the pan, keeping the yolks intact, frying the eggs over easy. When they were firm enough to flip, he did so without breaking any yolks. When they were ready, he lifted the eggs out, paused as the grease drained back into the pan, and placed three eggs each onto white China plates. “Grab your coffee and set down before these eggs get cold,” Dobe demanded.

A large plate of bacon was set next to me, along with biscuits browned to perfection. “After breakfast, we’ll start casting up some bullets. I got the pot filled with lead, and it’s heating up now. No sense wasting time!” he said. I don’t think Dobe ever wasted a second during his day. Everything he did was well thought out and deliberate. Even when he appeared to be doing nothing, his mind was always working, plotting three steps ahead of what he was going to do next so as to get it done in the most efficient way possible.

“After we cast them, you can start lube/sizing them on the Lyman 450. I have it set up for those .44 Keiths. Then we’ll load them up!” he said. “After lunch, we’ll reap the benefit of our labors and go shooting!”

The old codger had a full day planned before lunch, but that was Dobe!

As we entered Dobe’s casting shack, only the faintest smell of hot lead was noticeable. “See why we cleaned the alloy and made them ingots yesterday? Can’t hardly smell a thing with them ingots melted,” he said.

On top of a single burner hot plate was a Lyman 4-cavity mold, pre-heating it to the same temperature as the alloy.

“This will save us time,” Dobe replied. “We’ll have perfect bullets on the first cycle by pre-heating the mold.”

As the first few bullets dropped from the mold with a little persuasion from a piece of hickory stick hittin’ the mold handle hinge pin, we saw our bounty. Four perfectly cast Keith slugs, shiny and wrinkle-free, dropped out onto a piece of burlap bag to cushion their fall. Even the bases were smooth. After Dobe emptied a few pots full, we had a heaping pile of freshly born Lyman 429421 Keith bullets ready to be lube/sized. I was assigned this task as Dobe set up the .44 Mag dies and powder dispenser to dump 22 grains of Hercules 2400 with each pull of the lever. This was Elmer Keith’s favorite load. I told you the crusty coot didn’t believe in wasting any time!

By noon, we had loaded over 600 .44 Magnum hulls, ready to shoot! I won my reprieve as Esteban rang the dinner bell.

“Is it lunchtime already?” Dobe said, surprised. “Boy, that was quick!”

Having worked off the bacon and eggs hours ago, I was ready for lunch.

Shootin’

After a hearty lunch, Dobe and I headed for the back forty of the Turkey Track. It was here we had our favorite shooting spot. Overlooking the Rio Grande, the river that shows you where Mexico is, we had an eagle’s view down to the river, and then some, on the Mexican side. The steep, boulder-strewn canyon wall had a saddle cut through it, about a mile from our spot. The locals used this saddle as their passage to the States.

Those bullets piled up quickly.

Tools of the trade.

Armament

I was armed with my Ruger 7.5” Flattop with hand-carved walnut stocks. I sanded them extra thin for just the right feel. When my horny hands grabbed hold of this gun, those stocks and the balance of that 7.5” barrel filled me with confidence. I carried it in an old original Lawrence 120 shuck with a matching gun belt. The old hogleg felt at home in that rig, as it did on my hip.

Dobe had his Pre-Model 29 8 3/8” Smith and Wesson. He usually carried it holstered, lying on the front seat of his truck and would stuff it into a homemade shoulder rig Esteban made him whenever he left the confines of the truck and went out on foot or horseback.

It was no surprise the leather, sweat-stained, hand-stitched rig was comfortable and practical, making the big gun feel much smaller and lighter than it was. Mike Sconce of Deming, New Mexico, had tuned it for Dobe, free of charge, after losing with a particularly bad hand of poker with him one night.

With our backs rested against a perfectly placed and suitably large boulder, Dobe and I reclined a bit, supported by the insides of our knees in the classic “Keith” position, ‘til our eyes were level with our six-shooters when held at arm’s length. Like pool sharks calling shots, he and I would pick targets at various distances and do the same. We’d start out around 50 yards and work our way to several hundred yards.

Rocks of different sizes, clumps of grass and the odd cow pie or two were the most common targets. Busting rocks was both a relaxing way to boost long-range shooting confidence, trigger control, and follow through, along with a good sight picture. It really isn’t as hard as it looks to a non-shooter.

All you do is raise the front sight a bit above the plain of the rear sight, perch the target on top of the front sight and let one loose with a slow, steady, methodical trigger squeeze and sight picture. After a while, your brain automatically calculates how much front sight is necessary for the given range. Much in the way it compensates when throwing a ball to someone, no matter the distance.

Trespassers

After shooting for a while, I noticed Dobe looking over to his left. The lines in the corner of his eyes showed he was squinting at something. “We got trouble, amigo!” he said.

Dobe only called me amigo when something was wrong.

Looking through the binoculars, I saw it. About a dozen Mexicans were crossing the river and headed onto the Turkey Track’s farthest reaches. They weren’t day workers either. They were smugglers.

To be continued …

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