Written by Cody Voermans
I can only start this tale with assurances to all that read it, the shot I am about to describe did in fact occur.
As far as I know, not one part of this recount is a hoax and not one detail is stretched past the limit of truth. Though, sadly now, all but one witness of the event has passed on. I personally heard a detailed description of the Greatest Shot Ever Made from one of the four men in attendance when the shot occurred. His account included such uncanny precision and detail I can only assume that he rehearsed the telling many times, and likely with a drink of bourbon in hand. Come to think of it, when he told me the story, he was aging past 95 years and had consumed no less than four Bourbon shots. So, take that for what it is. If you didn’t catch it, Bourbon is a common theme here that will come into play later.
To be clear, I have no intention of discounting the amazing marksmanship of legendary shooters such as Carlos Hathcock, Chris Kyle, any number of Marine Scout snipers and even Olympic shooting champions. However, the shot I am about to describe is by all accounts, the GREATEST that has ever been made.
I first learned of this amazing feat of marksmanship on my way home from work one evening during a routine stop at my grandfather’s house to share a whiskey. My grandfather, Pat, enjoyed a bourbon every evening at 5pm. He called it “Tiddly Time” and it was common for many neighbors and friends as well as his grandson (me) to join him. During those evening palavers, there were two things I could count on. First, the cap was always off the bottle. Second, the stories Grandpa would share could be described as either Class 1 amazing or Class 1 bullshit. It was my burden to decide which applied. While some of his stories, I’m sure, stretched truth to the limit or beyond, enough of them proved accurate enough to bewilder me and I routinely fell to total belief of every word.
Grandpa with a fresh reload of Bourbon in that Styrofoam cup.
On that particular evening, both the whiskey and storytelling were flowing with the ease before I arrived. As I poured my first glass, Grandpa finished telling the tale of an Antelope buck he had shot on the run from about 400 yards. I razed him a bit for attempting a shot with such questionable ethics and he just rolled his eyes. Sipping his drink, he responded with, “Well it worked didn’t it?” and I couldn’t help but chuckle.
The heckling between us prompted me to ask Grandpa, “In all your years and through thousands of hunting adventures, what was the greatest shot you have ever made or witnessed?”
Now, when I asked the question, I expected Grandpa to take a minute and reflect on 85 years of hunting and shooting adventures before regaling me with some, “no shit there I was” story of a long range, Hail Mary rifle shot taken in his younger years. To my surprise, that’s not what happened.
Instead, without hesitation or the blink of an eye, Grandpa pounded his bourbon glass down on the table and in a loud voice responded with “October 31, 1978, Missouri River Breaks, 9:00 P.M."
The confidence in his response set me back in my chair and it took me a few moments to sort through the details. Quickly, I could surmise that October 31, 1978 in Montana’s Missouri River breaks likely coincided with his annual Mule Deer hunting trip he attended most of his adult life. None of that was a surprise. Hell, I was in large part expecting him to tell me a story of a long range shot on a buck deer across multiple prairie coulees, likely with a stiff cross wind.
It was the 9:00 P.M. detail that I couldn’t wrap my mind around. By 9:00 P.M. in late October, shooting light in Montana has long since passed. My mind was feverishly trying to find a scenario in which the Greatest Shot Ever Made could occur in the absence of daylight. Grandpa sat in his chair, grinning like a watered mule at my bewilderment and relished every one of my confused facial expressions as I tried to sort it out.
Finally, after Grandpa had let me stew on it for a bit, he said, “Cody, I bet you're wondering how the hell that happened.” Knowing this had the makings of a fantastic story, I poured myself a second drink, settled into my chair and said, “Give 'er hell Grandpa. I can’t wait to hear this one.”
Now to set the stage for the event, Grandpa had invited three great friends along on the hunt that year. Tom Blinco, Bob Harner and Bob’s son Steve, all of which were common hunting partners and even more common characters in Grandpa’s stories. That day had been uneventful when it came to deer hunting and the meat pole was “a little light” as Grandpa explained, meaning no deer had yet been harvested on the hunt.
That evening, the four men had returned to camp which was comprised of a 10ft x 12ft canvas wall tent (the cook shack) and a nylon sleep tent. Tired and hungry, they prepared and ate a meal of fried spuds, cream corn and last year’s deer steak before retiring to the corners of the wall tent for a Bourbon.
Having spent many evenings in that wall tent myself, I could vividly imagine the old wood stove with bent legs in the front left corner and the large wooden gear box centered on the back wall of the small tent. That left each of the back corners and the front right corner of the tent open for fold out chair seating. As grandpa described it, he took the back-left corner, Tom Blinco took the back-right corner and Bob Harner took the front-right corner. The stove up front was roaring after being freshly stoked with a larch log and had heated the small tent to, as Grandpa described it, “hotter than the face of the sun.” That’s why Steve elected to forgo a chair and lay on the ground across the front door of the tent, using his elbow and forearm to support his weary head.
Grandpa near the 10'x12' wall canvas tent.
Grandpa told me he had just poured a round of drinks for each man in small white Styrofoam cups when I stopped his story. “Grandpa,” I said. "What in the hell does any of this have to do with the Greatest Shot Ever Made?” Visibly frustrated, Grandpa said, “Dammit Cody I’m getting to that. Hold your puckering string.” I guess that’s cowboy vernacular for calm down kid, just listen to the story.
He continued by restating that he had just poured each man a shot of 80 proof Evan Williams Bourbon and was just about to raise his glass in honor of a fine day hunting when all hell broke loose.
All of a sudden and without warning, Steve, who was laying on the ground across the front door of the tent, let out a guttural yell, elevated himself and dove for the side of the tent almost knocking his father Bob out of his chair. Not knowing what was happening, both Grandpa and Tom Blinco in the back corners of the tent immediately thought Steve had been bitten by a rattle snake or something just as evil. As Steve attempted to dive over his father and under the sidewall of the tent at the same time, his boot caught the loose tent flap and opened the front door just enough to frame the bushy and elevated tail of an aggravated skunk.
At this point of the story, Grandpa paused his description of events just long enough to hold eye contact with me, nod his head and asked if I had any idea what happens to a man’s level of calm when a skunk has backed his hind end up to the only door of your 10ft x 12ft canvas wall tent. Of course, I had no idea how to answer but his question brought me to the edge of my chair and totally distracted me from wondering what any of this had to do with the Greatest Shot Ever Made.
Continuing in an excited voice, Grandpa described the scene inside the tent as total chaos. As Steve was trying to crawl under the side wall of the tent and spewing a string of cusswords that would make a sailor proud, his father Bob, trying to distance himself from the angry skunk, dove for the back-left corner of the tent and right into Grandpa’s lap. In the process, Bob spilled his drink all over Grandpa, knocked over the whiskey bottle and scattered a plate of gingersnap cookies my grandma had made for the hunt.
At this point, three of the four men inside the tent where either entangled with each other or the tent wall and trying, with urgency, to find an exit that didn’t exist. That left old Tom Blinco. As I said, Tom was seated in the back-right corner of the tent with a freshly poured cup of Bourbon.
Apparently, Tom wasn’t going to let anything disrupt his libation. Not the train wreck unfolding in front of him or the angry skunk that had raised its tail at the tent door a mere 10 feet away.
Now, nearly as excited as he was that evening, Grandpa explained that over his many years, he had witnessed some amazing feats of marksmanship. Deer taken at over 1000 yards with marginal and old-fashioned rifles and Olympic Champions shooting perfect scores under the highest pressure. But none of that shooting could rival the shot Tom Blinco was about to make amidst total chaos inside that small wall tent.
In the blink of an eye and with a steady hand, Tom flipped his white Styrofoam cup and sent a perfect stream of 80 Proof Bourbon toward the unsuspecting and exposed tailpipe of that skunk. Unbelievably, the stream held a perfect line for 3 yards. Its didn’t spray or splatter on its trajectory, likely due to the perfect English Tom had applied on the toss. The stream rolled in slow motion as if the cup was rifled with a 1-in-10 foot twist, and the shot connected with exact precision.
Much to the amazement of everyone in the tent, the entire length of that Bourbon stream piled up square in the middle of that skunk’s posterior.
The results were immediate. The moment the skunk received his semi-high velocity 80 Proof enema, he dropped his tail without spraying a drop and ran for the sagebrush hills. In total amazement, Steve stopped trying to crawl under the sidewall of the tent, Bob stopped flailing around on Grandpa’s lap and Tom calmly reached to reload his cup with another shot of bourbon. All of them broke into hysterical laughter and quickly exited the tent right behind the skunk.
Grandpa headed for his pickup to get a shotgun while Bob and Steve each looked for a flashlight. None of them wanted a repeat encounter with that bushy tail and all thought it best to get rid of the skunk permanently.
Four abreast and with malice intent, the men hiked up the grassy slope leading away from the camp site swinging their flashlights in a broad arc as they went. It didn’t take long to find the skunk. He hadn’t made if far and was obviously suffering from what must have felt like fire and brimstone under his tail. Grandpa told me he quickly raised his shotgun to end the situation but found himself laughing too hard to shoot. He said, “Cody, when we found that skunk, it was obvious Tom’s shot of bourbon had burned his ass something terrible. That poor critter was dragging his ass through the sagebrush and prickly pear cactus like a dog does on the carpet. I didn’t have the heart to shoot him.”
The men watched the skunk drag himself into the darkness before turning back toward the tent. About halfway back, Grandpa slapped old Tom Blinco on shoulder and said, “Hot Damn Tom. That has to be the Greatest Shot ever made.”