It had been a police action for years on my father-in-law's ranch, a violent, bloody time fraught with booby traps and pitfalls soon to be followed with ambushes and bloodshed. There were many drive-by shootings in those early days with retaliation taking place in the form of vandalism in the yard and flower bed of my father-in-law's well kept yard. Armadillos are built for war; their leathery hides an armor to protect them from the onslaught of all but the most determined unarmed attacker. This hide protects their legs and even shields the side of their soft underbelly. Not unlike a small tank, they quickly, strike with deadly precision and disappear long before the first light of dawn will reveal their presence and allow for a pre-emptive or even retaliatory strike.
The armadillos had started the war shortly before I integrated myself into the family by marrying the oldest daughter of the ranch owner. In a guerrilla strike intended to disable my father-in-law's attempt at successfully taking his own hay from the long flat topped mountain, known locally as Haklochi, the armadillo clan lay a patchwork of holes through the hay meadow, hidden between knolls and small drains, these holes were devilishly devised to damage tractors, mowers and bailers a like. Each year between one thousand and two thousand dollars was spent repairing the equipment necessary to cut the hay for the cattle that provided the living of my in-laws. The guerrilla warfare was modestly successful and after three years of unanswered attacks we launched our first counterattack in the form of a jeep hunt that eliminated many of the small, yet efficiently clever creatures from the meadow. The ominous silence gave us all a deep foreboding as we wondered how and where the military genius of the armadillo would strike back.
The armadillos countered with a move to the yard and home turf of my father-in-law, destroying freshly planted flowers, shrubbery and garden plants late at night while my father-in-law slept soundly in bed. My father-in-law took a single enemy one night and within a week it seemed as if the whole yard was being infiltrated and destroyed by a concentrated effort of enemy armadillo. My father-in-law urged the assistance of all family members prompting my wife to take his .45 LC revolver from its holster one evening as an enemy scout worked frantically to burrow an observation post in the raised shrubbery beside my father-in-law's water garden. The water from a re-circulating pump created a small idyllic waterfall flowing serenely between two lifelike ceramic raccoons that created the backdrop to scene of soon to be violence, the armadillo oblivious to the witness of his actions or the stalk of the hunter.
My wife raised the .45 LC and fired as the armadillo dug hurriedly. With the sound of the shot, the waterfall abruptly stopped flowing and the enemy scout made his get-away. My wife's errant shot had severed the underground cable to the re-circulating pump and allowed the armadillo to make his escape unscathed.
That night multiple excursions through the yard destroyed three flowerbeds in the back yard and mussed another that would be repairable in the front yard. At supper we discussed the actions we would need to take that night. My father-in-law and I circled the home and barns near the house looking for the round hump bobbing along that gave away the position of our enemy. We found nothing, even after a second trip around the barns at midnight.
We had discussed getting up around 3 AM and trying it again, a discussion I intended to forget as soon as my head hit the pillow and sleep overtook me.
At 3:20 AM my father-in-law awoke, his eyes growing accustomed to the full moon glow illuminating his room. He felt as though something had woke him but he was unsure as to what it might be. Standing beside his bed, in the light of the full moon he could see the culprit behind his backyard vandalism "balled up and digging like mad" not 40 feet from his sliding bedroom door. Carefully, not taking his eyes from the armadillo, my father-in-law removed his 20-gauge shotgun from the gun rack. The box of number 4 shot on his dresser was more than adequate for the armor plating of his enemy outside. He opened the breech of the single shot 20, dropping a round in the chamber and closing it with a resounding click. Taking a second shell, he slid the end between the fingers of his left hand.
Chuckling to himself as he thought about waking my wife and me, as the shotgun blast would resound down the hallway, he woke my mother-in-law who asked, "What are you doing?"
My father-in-law replied, "Got one all balled up out here and digging like hell. I am going to shoot him and you watch how fast the light comes on in Sis's room. (My wife and I were asleep in "sis's room".)"
Easing the sliding glass door open a fraction, he said, "I can hear him digging." And he raised the gun, sending the whole load of shot into the balled up form in front of him. He quickly snapped the gun open, letting the ejector toss the hull as he fed another shell into it, blasted it a 2nd and final time, smiling happily as it expired in a heap half way across the yard in the moonlit shadow of the basketball goal.
He glanced at the hallway. Neither my wife nor I had budged from our sound sleep. My mother-in-law asked, "Did you get it?"
"Yeah I did," he replied proudly. "It ran but I got off a second shot quick enough that it only made it to the kid's basketball goal."
My mother-in-law said, "Be sure and get it picked up first thing in the morning. The other grandkids will be here and the middle one does not like to see dead animals."
"I will get it first thing in the morning," my father-in-law replied.
The late night excitement took its toll and we had all slept in. My father-in-law had just finished telling us of his success at eliminating one of the enemy horde in the middle of the night when my sister-in-law's truck rolled across the cattle guard. My mother-in-law and father-in-law looked at each other as they seen the kids race out of the truck.
"Did you get it?" my mother-in-law asked with an icy stare as my father-in-law sheepishly shook his head that he had not. With a sigh, my mother-in-law said, "You can explain to her why there is a dead animal in the yard then."
I could see my father-in-law was prepared as my two nieces walked in, their expressions strangely puzzled on their faces.
"Talk to your granddad," my mother-in-law said.
The oldest looked at my father-in-law and asked, "Granddad, who shot our basketball full of holes?"