Ron eyeballed the dented moss and boot heel print in the sandy mud, making a wild ass guess that he was less than a few hours behind whoever made it. One of the scattered clouds passed through the sky, dimming the sun just enough to make it feel cooler even under the sparse shade of the pines.
“What you think Ron?” The Marshall asked, “One hour, maybe two?”
“About that.” Ron answered. “From here you can go north to the pass, or head over the ridge then follow the river down to the ocean.”
“I’m not worried about the ocean” the Marshall replied, “The air unit can keep an eye on that.”
“Well, fill up your canteens from the creek.” Ron instructed as he filled up his empty one quart green canteens. “It’s going to be a long hot climb if we want to catch up, and gonna suck worse if we want to get ahead.” Ron dropped two chlorine dioxide tabs, one in each canteen, and put them back into the pouches on the side of his hunting pack, rifle secured in the center pouch. The Marshall did the same, although he kept his M4 slung on a single point sling.
“Can we get ahead of him?” The Marshall asked.
“If he’s staying under the vegetation and moving slow and deliberate like you seem to think, maybe.” Ron answered. “We could go high, straight up the ridgeline and try to get to the pass before him. If he’s not checking the skyline, and luck is on our side, we might get there before he notices us.”
“Lets go then.” The Marshall said.
The wind blew the cloud away, and the sun beat down once more. Ron and The Marshall left the tree line and half scrambled hands and feet up the steeper parts of the ridge. Ron pushed, following a route taken years ago hunting elk, but then he’d been in a hurry to get down the mountain before a storm rather than climb in the heat of an early summer. The Marshall had the courtesy to breathe hard, as Ron’s thighs burned with effort.
Ron led The Marshall to a small flat spot with waist high scrub. He dropped his pack gently on a flat spot and pulled out a set of Nikon 7×50 binoculars. Sitting on his butt and pulling his knees up as an impromptu rest let Ron slowly scan the vegetation line in the valley below, leading up to the pass. The Marshall took a prone position and increased the magnification on the optic on his M4. The pair scanned downhill looking for any movement.
They waited like this for a few minutes. Ron reached over to his pack for a canteen. Even hot water would taste like heaven.
CRACK! something, Ron knew it was a bullet, zipped overhead before a BOOM followed. Ron rolled down from sitting onto his belly and crawled towards his pack, quickly putting some terrain between the valley and himself. At the pack he unfastened the straps keeping the old Swede Mauser in place, a pawn shop purchase years ago. Someone had drilled and tapped the M38 short rifle for a hunting scope back when Swede M38s were cheap and plentiful, destroying any collector value but giving Ron a handy, accurate hunting rifle.
CRACK! another bullet breaking the sound barrier passed overhead, Ron started counting, “thousand one, thousand two” and the BOOM hit just after two seconds.
“He’s about 700 yards out.” Ron said, voice a little louder than he meant.
“Roger” The Marshall replied, inching forward on his belly, scanning through the optic on top of his M4. Ron unscrewed the elevation cap on his scope. 15 minutes up to 700 from his 200 yard zero, Ron methodically counted the clicks “one two three one, one two three two, one two three three” until finishing at “one two three fifteen.” Shouldering the rifle, sliding the sling around his left arm in a hasty position, Ron scanned through the 6×42 power scope looking for any sign of the unseen marksman.
“Got him!” The Marshall said. “Middle of the valley, near the dry stream bed, there’s a patch of brown that isn’t quite right!”
Ron scanned down the dry stream bed and found where he thought The Marshall meant. Ron racked the bolt of the Swede, chambering a 6.5×55 round, loaded with a 139 grain soft point boat tail bullet that had always worked on the mule deer. Ron looked at the angle indicator mounted on his scope, down twenty degrees. Ron did some quick math, 700 times 0.9 would be 7 times 9, 63, times 10 would be 630 yards. Ron quickly dialed back 3 minutes on his scope, getting down to 12 MOA above zero, but still one MOA beyond the 11 MOA above zero that he knew was dead on at 600.
The Marshall pulled the trigger a few times on his M4, kicking up dirt beyond the splotch of brown. The splotch moved, clearly trying to maneuver to a better position. Ron’s placed the cross hairs of the scope on the leading edge of the brown splotch and pressed the trigger.
The old Swede bucked against his shoulder, and Ron struggled to regain a sight picture. When he did, he found the brown splotch stationary on the near side of the dry stream bed. Ron racked the bolt again, the empty 6.5 Swede brass flying off to the right.
The Marshall pulled out a satellite phone and began a conversation that Ron didn’t bother to catch, as he focused on the splotch of brown for movement through the scope. Minutes passed, and Ron’s heart rate slowed back down to normal.
“Chopper on it’s way.” The Marshall said as he put the phone away. “I’m glad he missed. Those shots sounded right over us.”
“Didn’t account for angle.” Ron answered quietly. “He was dialed in right for horizontal distance. That’s 20 degree angle between him and us saved our bacon.”
“How so?” The Marshall asked.
“When you shoot uphill, or downhill, doesn’t matter which, you have to multiply your line of sight distance by the cosine of the angle. Cosine of 20 is something like .92, so I estimated that my correction should be 90% of the straight line distance. Since sound travels in a straight line, and since every second between crack and boom is about 350 yards, I figured he was about 700 yards away, minus 10% to be around 630 yards. I knew my 600 and 700 yard dope, so I dialed back 75% off of my 700, or 25% more than my 600, and hoped that was enough.”
The Marshall smiled and shook his head. “Is that why I seemed to be hitting high? I kept seeing dust kick up behind him.”
“Most likely.” Ron replied.
The helicopter came, collected the body from the valley. Ron never cared to ask the details. The Marshall collected the Swede Mauser as evidence, but it came back in a month after all the reviews determined it was a justified act of self defense, mainly based on the testimony of The Marshall.
Ron never did find out if he was a hero that day, or a villain.