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THE LAST SHOT

Where were you when the lights went out? It seems inevitable that every generation has at least one life-changing event, the impact never to be forgotten, and the circumstances under which it became known remembered forever.  For my parents, for sure, it was the attack on Pearl Harbor, heard about over the home radio in those pre-TV days. 

For Baby Boomers like me, I guess the first such event was JFK’s assassination. I was in a sixth-grade classroom when the principal announced it over the school intercom. I’ll never forget the moment but, then a pre-teen, I must admit it had little impact on my life. The next such moment in would affect me greatly…and I knew it. As my Dad knew on December 8, 1941 when he went to the nearest Navy recruiting station. 

Browning’s Scott Grange and I were on a ridge in southeastern Utah. We’d decided to split up and work down separate drainages. Seeing a glimmer of cell phone coverage, Scott dialed his wife. I took off, walking slowly and glassing ahead. I doubt I’d gone 150 yards when Scott called from behind. It was still early on September 11, 2001, and apparently a plane had just crashed into the Twin Towers. It was much later in the day, huddled around a small television in camp, that we had our first glimmer of what had happened…and was still happening. With all flights grounded there wasn’t much I could do immediately, but I wanted to report in as quickly as I could. I will never, ever forget that Avis was the only company that would rent me a vehicle one-way to Camp Pendleton! 

I didn’t need another such unforgettable event in my life. This one impacted people in different ways, many hugely (even fatally), others not much. But I can assure you that the young folks of “Generation Z,” born from the late 1990s and thus unable to remember 9-11-2001, will have indelible memories of the worldwide COVID-19 lockdown. 

Boddington’s final shot before the lockdown accounted for this feral hog, taken on Record Buck Ranch in the Texas Hill Country with a 1906 William Evans .470, a memorable event because of both timing and a very special rifle!

 Unlike a single bullet or series of explosions, the reality of the pandemic built slowly. In almost all catastrophic events, it can take years before the full impacts are known. For sure, right now we have little idea what the long-term effects of COVID-19 might be, But, for most of us, there was a time in March 2020, perhaps not a single revealing moment, but a dawning realization that our world had changed. At this writing, we don’t know how long the recovery will be. Or, if a return to pre-pandemic “normal” is possible. However, and with whatever changes, losses, and gains, the world will go on. In years to come, I think many of us will think back to that time in March when we understood and accepted the seriousness and, whether short-term or long, our lives would not be the same.

I was at Tom Hammond’s Record Buck Ranch in the Texas Hill Country, never a bad place to be. Initially I was there with my friend Adam Biondich, accompanying him and his young daughter, Lala, on an auction hunt he’d purchased for her. We were having a great time and Lala took several exceptional animals. But we were also watching the news with growing horror. Well, not all of us. Lala was wondering about her friends and school activities…and, understandably, not unduly bothered by the prospect of an extended break from the classroom. Adam and I had more practical concerns: When and how were we gonna get home? More immediate: Donna was in Turkey hunting ibex, not yet successful, and trying to decide if she should give it a couple more days. I was pretty sure I could get home (with another one-way rental if necessary). But, as things quickly turned upside down on a global basis, I was increasingly worried about Donna.   

I had intended to stay at Record Buck for a few more days to assist daughter Brittany with one of her She Hunts skills camps scheduled for the following week. As this thing unfolded before our eyes that quickly became untenable. Brittany postponed her camp, so I made a new plan to fly home to California on the same day Adam and Lala were scheduled to return to Wisconsin. 

But even while the world seemed to be falling apart, we were there on Record Buck, safe and virus-free; there seemed no reason to break off the hunt. On the way to Texas I’d attended our St. Louis chapter’s fundraiser…with an ulterior motive. I’d picked up a special rifle from a friend there, had it with me, and I was itching to try it out. It was a William Evans .470, made in late 1906 for Colonel Richard Bright of the Uganda Rifle regiment. Although a very early .470, the rifle was in great shape and regulated well with modern ammo. 

So, with Lala’s animals in the skinning shed, on our last evening at Record Buck (and our last hunt for a while!), Houston Erskine took us out to find a pig for Colonel Bright. Sunset had come and gone when we spotted a perfect meat hog feeding along a little valley. We made a circle to get ahead and Houston set up sticks. I’ll admit: I can’t do what I once could with iron sights. The light was going fast and, although fairly close, the distance was nearing my limit. Squinting a bit, I found the bead on the shoulder…and the hog dropped to the shot. (In case you were wondering, the .470 Nitro Express is very adequate for feral hogs!)             

I got home the next day, March 16, with no problems. After delayed and cancelled flights, Adam and Lala made it home as well. Donna got home the next day…on pretty much the last flight out of Istanbul. I’m looking forward to travel resuming, and in time, I’m sure I will introduce Colonel Bright to more appropriate game. But I will always remember that shot on a hog on Record Buck…my last shot before the lockdown…and our world changed.–Craig Boddington

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