Crime Comes Home

Crime rates out here in the country are so much lower than in the cities, we barely even worry about being victimized. Unlike some, we do lock our doors at night or when we’re going to be gone for a bit. We’ve generally done so more out of habit than out of fear.

That changed this weekend.

I’m not sure how I slept through it, but at about 4am on Sunday morning, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer was awakened by the sound of a helicopter circling the area. It was shining a spotlight, and it hovered for a pretty long time. When she told me about it after I got up, she said it sounded like a military helicopter. My first thought was that the National Guard must be doing some kind of nightime exercises.

A few minutes later, I was browsing Facebook, and noticed that several people had posted to our little town’s News page overnight. Everyone was wondering what the helicopter and commotion were about. Turns out, it was the police; they were chasing a fugitive. A couple of people who lived right near the incident posted that they’d seen it happen, and had spoken with the cops.

Piecing together their stories, and news accounts, I got a rough idea as to the situation. Early Sunday morning, a man with a long criminal record was caught after stealing something from a Sam’s Club lot in Jackson (about 20-25 minutes from us). He got into an altercation with the arresting officers, injured one of them, and fled the scene. Officers from many surrounding jurisdictions, including the Michigan State Police, joined the chase northbound. The surface street he chose is a good long one — but it terminates in a T at the road we live on, just a quarter mile from us.

Instead of turning onto our road, he kept right on going into the cornfield. He ditched the car, and disappeared into the tall corn. In addition to the helicopter, the police also combed the area with K9 units (maybe even the one that nearly outran our tandem earlier this summer). As of the time I was reading these reports, the police had left — but the suspect had not been caught.

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Doesn’t look like he even slowed down when he came to the cornfield at the end of the road.

My first thought was: could this guy have taken shelter in our barn? I hadn’t noticed anything when I’d gone out at 6:30am to do my chores, but maybe I’d overlooked something. Or maybe he even arrived at the barn after I finished feeding the sheep. My daughter was about to go milk the goats, and I knew one thing: I wasn’t taking any chances.

I have a Concealed Pistol License (CPL), and carry a handgun with me at virtually all times. It’s now such a regular part of getting dressed in the morning, I don’t feel “complete” without feeling its weight in the IWB holster against my hip. Sometimes I’ve questioned whether it’s really necessary to carry as I go about my routine on the farm. As of yesterday morning, I will never ask that question again. I shudder at the thought of what could’ve happened if the fugitive had been hiding in our barn — and I’d left my carry piece in the house.

Before allowing my daughter to milk the goats, I returned to the barn with my full-size Springfield XD Tactical .45 pistol — this time, unholstered and drawn. I carefully inspected every nook and cranny of the building. Once I was satisfied it was clear, I gave my daughter the green light to milk.

As an aside: Yes, I do use that huge pistol as my everyday carry (EDC) piece. I originally bought it, many years ago, for home defense and to dispatch predators; it has an accessory rail, to which a tactical light can be easily mounted. The long barrel and heavy weight made it a really nice shooter, and I liked the high-capacity magazines. We were in Illinois at the time, and concealed carry wasn’t even an option; it was the only state that didn’t issue permits at all. Once we moved to Michigan, and I got a CPL, I tried a series of small pistols for EDC. I didn’t like the way any of them shot. I hated practicing with them. Then I got a crazy idea: why not try carrying the XD? I discovered Crossbreed Holsters had some excellent IWB kydex options, so I ordered one. Their “Supertuck” model was so comfortable, and carried the big XD so nicely, I quickly forgot I was even wearing it. It now goes with me everywhere it’s legal to carry.

Back to our story. With the fugitive still on the loose, we were nervous about leaving home for church (and then visiting family for the afternoon). We locked one dog in my office, and left the other outside with the run of our fenced yard. We closed and locked all the windows, and put a car in a prominent place in the driveway. Should the criminal come by our place, I hoped this would convince him to keep moving.

All day long, I monitored the local news sites. Every updated report said the fugitive was still at large. Ugh.

When we arrived home, everything seemed fine. No doors or windows had been tampered with. However, not wanting to take any chances, I again unholstered the XD and did a thorough sweep of the barn. Satisfied it was clear, we did our chores and got the goats milked again.

Later that evening, we finally got a report that the fugitive had indeed been apprehended. Turns out, he was out on parole; that would explain why he went to such lengths to avoid capture this weekend for what was a relatively minor offense.

I slept well last night, knowing we didn’t have a fugitive at large in the woods behind our property.

One of the best parts about living in the country is we are seldom threatened by crime. (Note, when Mrs Yeoman Farmer mentioned the helicopter to me, “fugitive manhunt” didn’t even cross my mind.) However, the problem is, when we are indeed threatened by crime … the police are generally a long ways away. I guess I’ve always had a theoretical understanding that we’re “on our own” to protect ourselves out here. That theoretical understanding is now a much more practical reality. We really are on our own here, and threats really can come from anywhere.

As for me … I’ve renewed my resolve to always be ready, and to never leave my EDC piece behind.

Temporary Truce

For years, I’ve considered our family to be in a more or less perpetual state of war with the local raccoon population. They’ve found ways to kill so many of our chickens, ducks, and turkeys … if I see a raccoon on the property, I tend to shoot first and ask questions never.

Until this past Sunday.

The weather here in Michigan has been unseasonably warm for mid-February, so my eldest daughter and I were able to get out for a wonderful 45-mile bike ride. We returned around 5pm or so, with about an hour of daylight to spare.

Before putting our bikes away, we gazed out over the property. Several of our ducks were still out in the pasture, splashing around in a flooded drainage ditch, having the time of their lives.

Then both of us spotted something just beyond the ditch: a smallish, dark-colored animal moving around. At first, I thought it might be one of our barn cats; she frequently goes out to the pasture to hunt field mice. “It’s not walking like a cat,” my daughter observed. I agreed. It was too far away to tell for sure, but it also seemed a bit too big to be a cat.

I decided this was worth checking on — especially since the animal could be stalking the ducks. They were so happily splashing in the drainage ditch, they seemed oblivious to all else. We hastily put our bikes away, I exchanged my cycling cleats for Muck boots, and then I grabbed the shotgun and a few shells of 00-Buck. Still wearing a cycling jersey and Lycra shorts, I then trotted out to the pasture. Our 14-year-old son, realizing something involving guns and wild animals was afoot, immediately stopped shooting baskets and trotted after me.

The noise we made with the gate evidently alerted the ducks that something was up, and they immediately abandoned the drainage ditch. As the flock waddled back toward the barn, I was relieved that at least none would fall victim to predators today. But I still needed to see if this intruder was in fact a predator — and take appropriate action if so.

As my son and I drew closer, it became clear that the animal was not a cat. It was too big, not carrying itself like a cat, and didn’t have a coat like any of our cats’ coats. Surprisingly, it was so intent on digging in the mud, it didn’t even notice us approaching. We drew to within 25 feet or so, and I chambered a round in the shotgun. At last, the animal looked up and I could see its face. Even more surprisingly, it just stared at us and did not run away.

I still couldn’t tell exactly what it was. It looked sort of like a raccoon, but not completely. The coat, and its coloring, didn’t seem quite right. The eye rings were evident, but not well defined. Its tail was tucked under it, so I couldn’t check it for rings.

Maybe I could convince myself it was a raccoon, but I wasn’t really sure. It didn’t look as clearly coon-like as the others we’d encountered (or even seen as road kill). If it’d stood and begun walking, I could’ve gotten a good look at its feet — and at its gait. That would’ve given me a much better signal. But the thing wasn’t moving. It just sat there, staring at us. Being in the middle of the pasture, I didn’t even have the option to pick up a rock to throw at it.

I drew a bead on the animal, but ultimately could not bring myself to squeeze the trigger. The way it looked at me, with its completely non-threatening demeanor, I just couldn’t kill it — especially since I wasn’t absolutely sure it was a raccoon.

But if it wasn’t a raccoon, what was it? My son and I went back to the house. I changed clothes, unloaded the shotgun and put it away, and jumped on the internet to search for “Michigan wildlife.” A long list came up, with pictures, but nothing really matched my memory of the thing. I looked at pictures of raccoons. I could see a resemblance, but also differences.

I returned to the pasture, this time with a camera — and my usual concealed carry pistol, in a holster. Much to my surprise, the animal was still in the same spot. I drew even closer than before, but it still didn’t run away. I took a few pictures. This is the best one:

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Now, you might look at this and say, “Oh, that’s a raccoon!” Mrs. Yeoman Farmer did, when I showed it to her that evening. But trust me: when I was there, looking at the thing in person, under the fast-approaching twilight, it was ambiguous enough to raise questions. MYF and I decided it’s probably due to it being a yearling, emerging from its first winter with its first winter coat. Besides, I never got to see it walk around.

Standing there in the pasture, looking at how small, nonthreatening, and pathetic the thing was, along with some nagging doubts about exactly what kind of animal it was … I decided I just couldn’t shoot it. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, or because we haven’t had a coon attack in a while. Regardless, I simply couldn’t bring myself to put a bullet in this animal.

When Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I discussed it later that evening, she had an additional thought: given this little raccoon’s behavior (lethargic, just sitting there in the open for so long, not running away), it’s quite possible the thing is sick. We decided that if it were to show up again, it would be a good idea to dispatch it. I commented that if it were still out in the pasture now, in the dark, after all these hours, it definitely had something wrong. I grabbed the rail-mounted tactical light for my pistol and went out in the pasture to take a look. But by then, there was no sign of the raccoon. I shined the light all over the field, and even into the trees. No beady little eyes reflected anything back.

I wondered where the raccoon had gone, where it was now, and if it were healthy or not. Having been face to face with the little guy, and having looked into its eyes, I realized I didn’t really wish it any ill. As I walked slowly back to the farmhouse, under the stars and the moonlight, I even hoped it gets to enjoy a long and happy life — far, far away from our farm.

Goodbye, Mr. Ringtail

Longtime readers of this blog know about the many battles we’ve had with raccoons over the years. They’ve killed more poultry than I can count, and have done all kinds of damage to our chicken pens. I’m not even going to attempt to track down all of my old blog posts about raccoons and link to them here.

Raccoons are especially bad news for us in the Spring — and it’s almost Spring. Spring is when we’re putting out young chicks and turkey poults in poultry pens. Spring is also when raccoons have litters of hungry little ones to feed, and litters of hungry little ones they need to teach how to hunt and kill. A couple of years ago, our poultry pens got hit on multiple nights in a row, and from the amount of activity it was clear that we had multiple predators.  The would tear the pens open, and then chew the heads off of bird after bird. They wouldn’t even bother finishing one bird before moving on to the next.

It was war. I reinforced the pens with heavy duty wire mesh. The raccoons dug under the bottom of the pens and killed again. I laid long plywood strips on the ground, encircling the perimeter of each pen, and weighted them down with heavy rocks. And I started setting traps. That did the trick; the killings slowed, and we managed to nail the “ringleaders” over the next couple of nights. Once we took out the mother coon, that was pretty much the end of the raids. At least for that year.

The bottom line is: when we see an opportunity to take out a raccoon on our property, especially around Spring poultry season, we don’t let that opportunity pass by.

Which brings us to last night. A little after dusk, I crossed the driveway from the house to my office building. Just outside my office door is a very large pine tree. Standing under it, about to open the door, I heard an unusual noise coming from above: claws on tree bark. All the lights were off, so I couldn’t see what exactly was making the noise. We have a lot of barn cats, and they frequently climb trees, so “it’s just a cat” was my first thought.

But something about the tone and cadence of the scratches didn’t sound right. It just wasn’t quite “cat-like” enough. I flipped on the exterior floodlight, and took a good look up the tree. Sure enough, about 15-20 feet off the ground, a big raccoon was slowly making his way up the trunk. He froze, probably temporarily blinded by the floodlight, and I knew I had limited time before he scrambled away.

I may have had enough light, and a clear enough shot, to take him out with my concealed carry pistol. However, whenever possible, I try to avoid discharging a handgun or rifle on an upward trajectory. What goes up must come down, and a bullet can travel a long ways if it misses the target. Besides, my hands were full; I’d been carrying something that I needed to set down anyway. So, I dashed into the office and grabbed my tool of choice: a 12-gauge shotgun. It’s an ancient, Remington Model 11, recoil-operated autoloader that I keep in the office for property defense. I quickly loaded three shells of 00-Buckshot (“Double-aught buck”), and was back outside before Mr. Ringtail could climb more than a few more feet.

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About five years ago, I mounted a 500 Lumen tactical flashlight to the barrel of the shotgun (Sportsman’s Guide still caries them, for about $35). This is an extremely useful addition. It’s nothing fancy, and can be bolted even to a pre-WWII shotgun like mine that doesn’t have an accessory rail. The light sits to the side, so it doesn’t interfere with the shooter’s sight down the top of the barrel.

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It puts out a very bright light, and the lithium batteries are still going strong despite sitting with very little use since 2011. My only complaint about this particular light is that it slips from “steady” to “strobe” too easily. Sometimes the recoil shock alone is enough to make it switch modes, even without hitting the power button. If I were in the market for something new, I might choose something different. But for the little that I use this light, and for the price, I can put up with the annoyance.

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Back outside, I disengaged the safety and drew a well-illuminated bead on the raccoon. He was a little higher in the tree now, and there were some branches in the way, but the shot was still clear enough. I knew at least some of the nine pieces of buckshot would reach the target. I squeezed the trigger, and the raccoon’s reaction told me he’d definitely been hit.

From the amount of blood he was losing, I knew his wound was not survivable. If I did nothing, he’d be dead within a half hour. Still, much as I dislike raccoons, I don’t like seeing any animal suffer needlessly. I’d started this, and it was my responsibility to finish it the right way.

The problem was, he’d managed to drag himself behind some heavier pine branches. I no longer had a clear shot up the trunk. I circled around and around the tree, looking for a new angle through the branches. The 500-Lumen light definitely helped. It didn’t take long before I’d found a relatively clear way to light him up. I drew a steady bead, squeezed the trigger again, and it was over in an instant. The raccoon immediately fell from the tree. From the looks of the wound, he was dead before he even hit the ground.

Begun, the Spring coon wars have.

 

Sportsman’s Guide

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I have found a new supplier that we like a lot and have begun telling our friends about: Sportsman’s Guide. They are an online discount seller of outdoor goods, and their primary focus seems to be hunters and fishermen (note their name), but they carry an enormous variety of related products that just about anyone — especially those of us who live in the country — will find useful. And they have some of the best prices we’ve seen.

We’re big believers in buying things in bulk whenever possible. Not just to save money, but also to make sure we always have a supply on hand of things we need. There’s nothing worse than discovering you’re out of something, having to make a special trip to the store, and paying more than you need to.

In particular, I like to buy ammunition in bulk; prices for a 20 or 50 round box at Wal-Mart or the local gun shop can be pretty steep, especially compared to buying by the case. Ammo doesn’t go bad if it’s stored in a dry place, and I know I’ll eventually go through it. And given the unpredictability of supply in certain calibers, I like the peace of mind of knowing I’m immune to production disruptions. I’ve had good experiences buying bulk ammo from various online dealers, but in the last few months I’ve found Sportsman’s Guide tends to have the best prices, most consistent availability, and widest variety of calibers of pretty much anyone else out there. And their Ammo page on the website is easy to navigate.

Sportsman’s Guide has a “Buyers Club” that you’ll be asked to join when you place your first order. This is definitely worth the $30 cost. You not only get discounted prices on pretty much every product, but you’ll get extra savings and free shipping on your first order. Then, as a Club member, you’ll get frequent email offers for “$10 off your next order of $99 or more” or “free shipping on your next order of $99 or more.” Within two orders, my club membership had easily paid for itself. (The free shipping offers, in particular, were a nice opportunity to stock up on bulk ammo. That stuff can get HEAVY.)

The most interesting part of club membership has been the catalogs we get in the mail. We get at least one (and sometimes more) per week. I didn’t pay much attention to these, as I usually just go on their website and order when there’s something I need. I figured they send all these catalogs because so many of their customers are rural and therefore don’t have high speed internet.

But then Mrs. Yeoman Farmer noticed one of these catalogs laying on the dining room table, and began browsing it. She was soon perusing these things every time Yeoman Farm Baby had her pinned for a feeding. And she discovered something: Sportsman’s Guide carries all kinds of cool military and outdoor surplus stuff, that we’ve never seen elsewhere, at great prices. She ordered boots for her and the kids for something like $30 per pair. She got herself a heavy wool cape at a good price. Heavy wool military coats and hats and sweaters. They sometimes don’t have exactly the right size, but kids grow quickly and we just order an extra size up.

Our biggest frustration with boots in particular, from places like Wal-Mart, is how quickly the kids destroy them. And yet we’ve hesitated to buy the kids the really nice Muck Boots, like MYF and I wear around the farm, because they are so expensive. Military surplus boots are looking like they may be a good compromise: Just $30, and built to survive a march across Austria. As I hold these things in my hands and lace them up, I seriously doubt any kid could wear them out even if he wanted to. (I will post an update if Homeschooled Farm Boy or Big Little Brother manage to succeed, however.)

Anyway, this is not to discourage you from supporting local retailers or merchants. MYF and I are big believers in localism — but sometimes local merchants don’t have what we need, or don’t have what we need at a reasonable price. We’ve been very happy with Sportsman’s Guide, and would encourage you to check them out.

The Stinker Slips Away

We’ve had our share of tangles with skunks over the years, and I must say something: I’ve never smelled anything worse than what they let loose. I’m sure there’s something even more putrid out there, but I haven’t yet encountered it. They are nasty little creatures, nothing at all like the cutsie children’s book characters. Or Pepe Le Pew (who, for the record, is high on my list of most annoying cartoon characters. Right behind Tweetie Bird. But don’t get me started.)

Our first skunk was in Illinois, just a few months after we’d moved to the country. I spotted it entering the chicken house, where I had our first batch of 25 pullet chicks in a very vulnerable area. The thing could’ve wiped out the whole brood, easy. I ran into the house for my shotgun, and kept hoping it’d come back out. Instead, it wandered into a corner where it was trapped. I shot it once, but not with a direct enough hit to kill. It filled the air with its stink bomb, which I had to approach so I could line up a second shot. I smelled so bad, Mrs Yeoman Famer made me sleep in a separate room. I think I ended up burning the clothes I’d been wearing. And the smell was in my hair for days.

Our next skunk came some time later, still in Illinois. I had a large batch of goslings I was brooding in an outbuilding. They were young and quite vulnerable. I was about to call it a night, and was taking one last look at them, when I noticed some kind of dark shape moving aggressively inside their pen. The goslings were in panic, running every which way. In the fading light, I managed to spot the white stripe down the animal’s back and tail…and again sprinted for my shotgun. (I can’t repeat often enough what an essential farm tool a good twelve gauge pump is.) This time, I took the thing out with a single shot. Unfortunately took a gosling or two out with it, and the skunk had already managed to kill a gosling or two, but the rest of the brood was safe. Covered with skunk stench, released as pieces of shot tore the animal open, but safe.

Here in Michigan, we’ve had a skunk visit our property occasionally. At 9pm or so, when coming in from my office, there have been several nights where the smell of skunk has hung heavy in the air. I imagine it released the scent when a dog or cat had startled it. Regardless, no matter how much I searched the yard and under the porch with a flashlight, I never managed to actually spot the skunk itself.

Until last night. I awakened at 2am, and couldn’t get back to sleep. There was a certain project from work that I couldn’t get off my mind, and couldn’t shake a gnawing anxiety that I may have done a particular thing wrong and allowed a particular error to get into my data. At 3:30, unable to get back to sleep, I decided I might as well go out to my office and check the data.

I got dressed, went downstairs, got my spotlight, and switched on the back porch light. The instant I stepped onto the porch, I spotted the skunk. There was absolutely no missing the white stripe and angular body. He was running up the slope toward our barn, about 50 feet from where I was standing. I shone the spotlight on him, and he looked back. And then ran faster.

I sprinted back upstairs, retrieved the shotgun, and hoped I’d get back down before he disappeared. Fortunately, he was now up against the barn and moving slowly toward the six foot drop-off that our firewood pile is currently stacked in. But I had a special challenge with him that I wouldn’t have had with a raccoon or possum: get too close, and even a perfect shot means I get covered with skunk stench. So I kept my distance, and tried to position myself for the best possible shot.

Where he was right then, a shot would’ve blown holes in the barn door. As he moved toward the woodpile, he crossed in front of a window. Didn’t want to blow the window out — killing a skunk isn’t worth all that. Then he was on the woodpile, and dropping six feet or so from it to the ground. That would’ve been a perfect time to have blasted him, except my nice huge metal pot was sitting there on the ground, from butchering chickens earlier in the day. Didn’t want to blow holes in that.

He continued moving, and was about to disappear into the high weeds along the barn, and I knew I was running out of time. The big problem now was my spotlight. I had a clear shot, but couldn’t fire a twelve gauge one-handed while holding a spotlight in my other hand. I tried putting the spotlight between my legs, but couldn’t keep the beam focused. (Note to self: You REALLY need to get an aftermarket tactical light to mount to this shotgun.) Figuring this was my only chance, I lined him up as best I could…and pulled the trigger. And waited for the smoke to clear.

And soon realized he was still moving. And definitely disappearing unhurt into the high weeds. Not wanting to get close, I swung wide around the barn and tried to see if he’d emerge, but there was no sign of him. Never saw him come back out, on either side. My light now getting dim, I decided I should count my blessings: even with the noisy report of the shotgun, the skunk didn’t let loose with a stink bomb. And hopefully I scared him enough to stay away for awhile. And he stayed outside; the barn had been closed up securely enough to protect our livestock.

Out in my office, I quickly put my mind at ease about the project; everything was fine. I headed back to the house, scanning the barnyard one last time as the last of my battery power faded, but the skunk was nowhere to be seen. I plugged the light in for a recharge, and then headed upstairs to catch a few hours of recharging for my own body.

And dreamed about someday finally actually getting to take that skunk down once and for all.

The Takedown

Late yesterday evening, I secured the barn and began walking back toward the house to call it a night. Remember that post over the summer, where I talked about what an important farm tool a pistol-grip spotlight is? I take that thing with me every time I go out at night, and am more or less constantly scanning the trees and fields as I walk. Last night, it proved itself especially useful. As I approached the house, I used the spotlight to illuminate the tall bushes near the back porch. Suddenly, a pair of eyes lit up in the middle of one of those bushes, about eight feet off the ground.

The eyes weren’t moving, and my first thought was that they belonged to a cat. After all, when you have as many barn cats running around as we do, that’s what these things usually end up being. And this animal’s fur even appeared to be the same color as one of our cats. But as I drew closer, something about it didn’t seem quite right. The head wasn’t the right shape. And it wasn’t sitting like a cat.

It looked like a possum. But since its tail was hidden in the bushes, and branches covered a fair amount of its body, I wanted to be sure before I did anything rash. I summoned Mrs. Yeoman Farmer, lit the animal up with the spotlight, and asked MYF if she thought it was a cat. “No way,” she replied. We agreed it was definitely a possum. And I figured it was stalking the barn cats which congregate on the back porch at night.

MYF held the spotlight on the possum, to “freeze” it, while I dashed upstairs to retrieve what may be the most essential of farm tools: a 12-gauge Mossberg pump action shotgun. Back on the porch, I racked a shell of 00 Buck into the chamber, disengaged the safety, and lined the little predator up in my sights from about 25 feet away. One squeeze of the trigger, and he fell through the branches. He was still gripping the branch with that long muscular tail, and at first I wasn’t sure I’d landed a lethal blow. But before I had to waste a second shot, he dropped to the lawn with a thud — and it was clear from the wound that he wasn’t “playing possum.”

Just another night, living in the country, and marveling at the way all these different tools can work together for the safety of our property. And grateful that I’d remembered to give the spotlight a full charge the night before. And invested in a bulk case of 00 Buckshot, so we’d never have to worry about having some close at hand when we needed it.

More Options on Guns

With this week marking the the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, there have been a number of stories about the event — and some interesting stories about Communist consumer goods making a comeback. One “commie good” that has largely gone unremarked in press reports, however, is surplus military firearms and ammunition. The Eastern Bloc produced a lot of really nice weapons, and these are now available in the West at quite reasonable prices. Many gun shops only focus on newer-type firearms, and only carry the Eastern Bloc stuff if a customer sells it to them or consigns it — but, if you know where to look, picking up an old Commie gun can literally yield a lot of bang for the buck.

First, I’d like to provide a more general update about firearms. Several months ago, I put up posts with thoughts about basic guns that are useful on a farm or ranch, and about the remarkable surge in gun / ammo sales that followed the previous Presidential election. I will reiterate: every farm should have a good pump-action shotgun, preferably a 12-gauge, for home defense and predator control. A longer range rifle can also be very useful, for varmint shooting or hunting larger game, but many find they can can do just fine with a basic .22 rifle. (They are cheap, and so is the ammo.) It all depends on your circumstances, and what you think you might need to shoot. I’ve personally found that a handgun is nice to have as well; it can be easily grabbed and carried to the barn, and either mounted with a tactical light or used with one hand while the other hand holds a spotlight.

Although ammo in some popular pistol calibers, such as .380 ACP, is still quite expensive and extremely difficult to find (our local Wal-Mart and Meijer stores have been sold out for months, and our gun shop imposes a limit of one 50-round box per customer, and that box costs $26), it appears that production of semi-auto rifles and ammo has caught up with demand. The gun shops I’ve visited tend to have a good supply of both AR-style and AK-style rifles, and online dealers are again stocking bulk packages of ammo in popular calibers (other than .380 ACP, of course). One online retailer, which just a year ago was “sold out to the bare walls,” has lately been offering outstanding cut-rate deals because they are so overstocked. As they admit:

OKAY FOLKS. HERE IS THE DEAL. AFTER AN INCREDIBLE FALL AND SPRING SEASON IT HAS SLOWED DOWN HERE A GREAT DEAL. IT IS NO SECRET THAT IT GETS SLOW IN THE GUN BUSINESS IN THE SUMMER AND EVEN WITH THE THREAT OF NEW LEGISLATION, THIS YEAR SEEMS TO BE NO EXCEPTION.

TO COMPOUND THE PROBLEM OF THE SLOWNESS, WE HAD SUCH A BIG WINTER AND SPRING THAT WE HIRED EXTRA STAFF AND WE WANT TO CONTINUE TO KEEP THEM ON STAFF. AS SUCH, THE ONLY THING WE KNOW TO DO TO KEEP OUR NUMBERS UP IS TO SLASH PROFIT TO THE BONE AND SELL, SELL, SELL.

— and they are even offering 7.62×39 ammo by the pallet load, something that would’ve been unheard of just a few months ago. Yep, you can get 40,320 rounds for $7,600 (plus freight), which works out to about .19/round. Since most of us aren’t resellers, or preparing for TEOTWAWKI, they also offer 1260-round cases for $250 each. That’s not quite as cheap as buying by the pallet, but still considerably cheaper than prices earlier this year.

Which brings us back to Eastern Bloc weapons. One good source for such firearms is gun shows; one can find a dizzying array of items there that a typical gun shop would not be able to stock. But if gun shows are an impractical option, there are other sources. Classic Arms, the online retailer mentioned above, updates its website daily — and usually offers a fascinating array of firearms. They tend heavily toward AK-variant rifles, but carry the whole spectrum. I usually browse their site once a day, just for the entertainment value and to see what’s available.

One of the more interesting firearms they’re currently offering is the Draco pistol; think “sawed-off, semi-auto submachine gun version of the AK-47.” It’s not terribly accurate, and I have no need of one, but for just $350, you can get what might be the ideal survival tool if you’re ever stuck in an urban riot situation. It can be fitted with a 30 or 40-round clip of powerful 7.62×39 rifle ammo, but is as compact and maneuverable as a large pistol.

In most cases, if you want to buy a firearm from them, it is necessary to have it shipped to a FFL (Federal Firearms License) holder (typically, a local gun shop), who will complete the background check and record the transaction. This usually entails a fee of about forty bucks, but it varies from shop to shop. However, many of Classic’s guns are legally classified “Curio and Relic” — meaning anyone who has a C&R FFL can purchase such guns from them directly and have them shipped right to one’s door. I don’t have a C&R FFL, but they are fairly easy to get and not very expensive. Basically, buying one C&R firearm with a C&R FFL saves enough money on the transfer fee to cover the cost of the license.

And what kind of Eastern Bloc bang can you get for your buck? I recently picked up a MosinNagant M91/30 rifle for $80, plus $20 shipping and $40 for the transfer. The MosinNagant is one of the most popular battle rifles of all time, and was used in the Soviet empire up until about 1960. It’s a five-shot bolt action rifle that is as powerful as a 30-06 — but uses military surplus 7.62x54r ammo that comes in a 440-round metal tin and costs about a fourth of what 30-06 ammo does. It comes with iron sights, but optical scopes and mounting kits run about $110 total and can be installed without gunsmithing. Presto: instant deer rifle or long range varmint gun. I haven’t yet invested in a scope; I’ve been basically breaking the thing in, shooting in my back yard.

Actually, what I’ve been “breaking in” is my shoulder: the MosinNagant kicks like a mule, and it takes some practice to learn how to handle it properly. But this beast is in great shape and is as cool as can be. Mine has “1941” and various Cyrillic characters stamped on it — and comes with a wicked looking bayonet that’s about as long as my forearm (and doubles as a flathead screwdriver when disassembling the rifle). One can only imagine the stories that this rifle could tell. Most remarkable, IMO, is the following that these rifles have attracted; one quick Google search reveals a great many user groups, support forums, and sources for parts/accessories.

And there are lots of similarly powerful Eastern Bloc surplus rifles you can get, also at reasonable prices. How about a Yugoslavian-made M24/47 that fires 8mm Mauser ($.29/round military surplus) ammo? Sometimes they also carry ex-Nazi Mauser rifles, which the Soviets captured at the end of WWII and then shipped around the world to their proxy armies. Or, if you’re looking for a powerful semi-auto handgun that uses inexpensive ammo, it’s hard to do better than a Romanian TT-33 pistol; the list price is $209, and the 7.62×25 Tokarev ammo is around .11/round. Classic also carries CZ-82 ex-police pistols, chambered in 9×18 Makarov, for around the same price; the Makarov holds more rounds, but is not as powerful as the Tokarev, and 9×18 ammo tends to cost more.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: if you’ve been looking for a powerful but affordable bolt action rifle, but have been discouraged by the high prices for brand new American-made 30-30s and 30-06s at the local gun shop (not to mention the cost of ammo), take a look at Eastern Bloc military surplus weapons. Ditto if you’ve been trying to find a good semi-automatic handgun. These Eastern Bloc firearms are very good; the Soviets may have made lousy consumer products, but they did know how to make effective weaponry. And with the Berlin Wall down, these guns are available here for reasonable prices.

That, to me, is one of the most remarkable legacies of the last 20 years: I can buy in the free market, and own, a rifle that for decades was employed by those who sought to destroy our freedom and way of life. And how can one put a price on that?