By: Randy Tucker

In an extended family, discipline can rain down from many directions.

As kids, my cousins and I knew you don’t want to upset an aunt or mom and then have dad or one of the other larger apes deal with it as they “adjusted your timing.” But, the simple code of “don’t tell” protected us through many adventures that definitely would have been shut down if an adult were nearby.

My grandparents had five children and 19 grandchildren, nine granddaughters and 10 grandsons. I was near the middle of the pack in age. Each summer we would travel to Wyoming from Arkansas or one of the two bases my dad was stationed at in California. We’d time our vacations so we’d get a couple of weeks, or even a month with our cousins who were also traveling to see grandma and grandpa.

Grandma and grandpa had just a two-bedroom house, but grandpa had hauled in an old line shack from his days of cutting and riding green railroad ties down the Wind River from the mountains in Dubois, and the boys all got to stay together inside it.

Campers filled the yard for the other adults, and some of the girls were farmed out to aunts and uncles living nearby. It was a great place to be as a kid and later as a teenager.

One afternoon, my cousin, Mark, a well-known gun enthusiast from birth who had a fascination in all things that shot or exploded, stuck a “strike anywhere” match into one of the loops of a large rope one of the uncles had tied to a huge willow tree on the north side of my grandparents’ house.

The idea was to light the match with a shot from a pellet gun. The game was on. T
The other guys shot dozens, maybe hundreds of times before my turn came up.

We were shooting from about 50 feet away, and sure enough, on my very first shot the tip of the match lit as it splintered away from the rest of the stick, resembling a falling firefly. Bullseye on my first shot!

I’d watched my dad and his friends making friendly bets on stunts before and knew it was wild, blind luck that I had hit the match at all, much less light it. I was a wise 12-year old and handed the gun to one of my younger cousins.

“That’s how you do it guys,” I said.

They didn’t buy it and I got pummeled a bit in the ensuing dog pile.

After everyone else left, I tried it again, and even though I went through at least 50 pellets, I never even broke the stem of the match.

The old adage that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good rang true this time.
Mark continued his passion with firearms into his adult, professional life as a police officer, sheriff’s deputy, and special agent with the state criminal investigation division.

As teenagers, he once hung out of the door of my pickup throwing .22 shells at the pavement as it sped by after he saw a scene in a movie where a car being chased got away after the good guy in the passenger seat was able to throw shells on the road and distract the bad guys into rolling their car.

Not so in real life, not even close. He just wasted a 60-cent box of .22 longs in his futile attempt.

That old willow we shot at with pellets stayed around for a very long time. A few of our kids, our grandparents’ great-grand children, were able play in it before it split in half one winter, and we had to cut it up and take it away.

The tree is gone, but the bragging rights on a miracle shot remain.

Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at