Out Our Way: Balloon busting - Hebrews 13:5 - 6


January 31, 2020

Out our way, the only cowboys carrying guns tend to be kids playing dress up. I remember playing "cowboy" as a kid and I also had a toy pistol - a " Fanner Fifty" - just like the pistols the TV and Hollywood cowboys carried. But when I finally met Charlie and started to learn to cowboy, I never saw any real cowboys actually carrying a pistol except for "balloon busting."

Sometime after I started riding on a regular basis with Charlie, I discovered a sport in Montana in which folks actually did carry a .45 revolver. The pistol was filled with blanks, but the idea was to ride a zigzag course and shoot at nearby balloons along the way.

Although there are no bullets in blanks, the powder blasting out of the barrel still has enough impact to bust a balloon - or burn anyone close by that got in the way. I wanted to try the sport, and so I went out and bought a .45 pistol and got a holster. The blanks were not available at the local gun shops at the time, but I wanted to learn to use the pistol, so I decided to buy real "cowboy load" bullets and go out to the firing range north of the river. 

The sport never really caught on out our way and the closest events tended to be down in the southeast corner of the state - a good day's drive. I wasn't sure if I would enjoy the sport enough to take the time off from the church and my family to go to events, which were mostly on weekends when I was sort of tied up being a pastor, so I never really got a chance to use the pistol except at the firing range.  

I was never a great shot, but I went through a few boxes of shells and started getting comfortable with the .45, and also came to realize the punch those bullets could deliver. I shot targets but also an occasional can and was amazed at the damage it could do. This was no "toy" but a powerful and lethal weapon. Most of my cowpoke friends owned pistols, as well, but nobody ever wore a gun except when hunting or riding in "lion country."

Now, you have all read of the time a lion came into town and was checking out Doc and me as it approached. When it realized we were both alert and aware, it stopped, flipped its long tail a few times, and then turned and trotted off. I am not the only one to see a lion in town out our way, but they were rare and, aside from my friends and my encounters, I never heard of any other such confrontations. Ah, but out of town, in a rural area like the Bear Paws, such sightings were not quite so rare.

I remember a dentist from Helena, or somewhere, out hunting deer and being attacked by a lion that same year I spotted mine, and not long afterward, a woman jogger was attacked as she ran along the road not too far from us.

Then, you will recall, the incident when Jack the Rez dog up in the Bear Paws ran off something that really spooked Doc as were riding.

Suddenly my .45 I had purchased to try "balloon busting" took on a different role. I loaded my gun belt with bullets and loaded five rounds in the pistol. I kept the hammer on an empty chamber as I had heard of and witnessed idiots shoot themselves when they did not take such precautions. When I rode with Doc and Jack in the Bear Paws from that point on, I rode with my revolver on my hip and with a sense of confidence that I need fear no lion again.

I was proficient enough to believe I could hit and kill any critter who dared attack us, and the comfort from my old "balloon buster" gave us all a sense of peace and confidence even in areas where lions were known to prowl.

As you know, the image in the scripture of God as the Good Shepherd with his rod and staff - ".45 pistol and Winchester rifle" - to protect the flock comforted them as they knew God was more than able to deliver them from all evil. The "Valley of Shadows (death)" held no fears when the Shepherd was there. And that is the point in Hebrews as well, the Chief is on the job. 

The lions that lurked in the trees and underbrush ready to pounce up in the Bear Paws were no match for my "balloon buster," and I think they knew it. I certainly did and so I stopped being afraid and nervous in the back country. I like to think Doc felt it, as well, as I never had him stiffen or show fear when I was wearing the Colt and knew no lion was a match for it. Imagine if we had that same sense of confidence Doc and I felt when I was wearing that "big iron" on my hip.

The lions needed to beware of us rather than the other way around, and the great spiritual fathers and mothers of the past tell us that when we walk with God, it is the demons and devils who are terrified. No wonder in our modern times the dark forces try to hide and get fools to tell us they don't exist, so that we will go about unprepared and unarmed.

Well, in the Bear Paws where the lions are seen and heard, I wore that "balloon buster" with live rounds. And while some dude tourists from the big cities scoffed at me for wearing it, I wore it anyway. The lions are real, but so is the "balloon buster" with five loaded chambers and a full ammo belt. The Devil is also real, but so is the Holy Spirit and the power of God. The lions and the demons know it even if the scoffers do not. And so do I.

Be blessed and be a blessing!

Brother John


The Rev. John Bruington is the retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Havre. He now lives in Colorado, but continues to write "Out Our Way."


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