Shooting Times Magazine

April 1987



While Skeeter Skelton was in the hospital recovering from surgery, Shooting Times Magazine reprinted several of his previous "Hipshots" articles. The date of original publication of the article is not given.


Almost every law-enforcement agency that employs more than a handful of officers has a manual of regulations that, if strictly adhered to, would dictate just about everything from the toothpaste the men use to how often they attend church. The larger the department, the thicker the book of regulations. They are a mixed blessing.

 In general, these regulations, outlining what the officer should, should not, or must never do in given situations, merely put into words how a man with a little training and a fair share of common sense would act. I never liked to work with “book” men—officers to whom the regs had become a bible, which they studied for hours on end and which they could quote to fit any occasion.

 I admit, in leading large groups of men of varying police skills, talents, and degrees of ability, certain guidelines must be set up. But the best men with whom I have worked were cool, streetwise types who knew that occasionally bending a rule could avert a catastrophe.

 One of the more universal rules held by various agencies concerns handguns and their use. I get frequent letters from officers who complain that they are required to use ineffective handguns, ammunition, or poorly chosen harnesses and holsters. There’s nothing I personally can do other than suggest that they pressure for a change in the rules or get another job.

 I have been very puzzled by the lack of bellyaching about another rule that is almost universal. This is the edict that the police officer must not draw his sidearm until it is quite apparent that he or an innocent party is in immediate danger of death or serious bodily harm. This is the old give-the-bad-guy-the-first-shot rule, which, if taken too seriously by the officer, could permanently retire him from duty.

 My first police job was with a city department of about 100 men. It had neither a training program nor a regulations manual. They gave you a badge and a card saying you were a patrol officer, and you furnished your own gun, uniform and gear. After a couple of days of being steered around by an oldtimer, you were left alone on a tough beat with the gruff advice, “Take care of yourself, kid.” When and whether you drew pistol was up to your good judgement, although I’m sure that a great deal of unnecessary pistol waving would have been frowned upon.

 Next came the U.S. Border Patrol, a topnotch outfit that adhered to the leave-it-in-the-holster-until-they-try-to-shoot you school. In those days, I was young enough to obey all the rules. I liked the Border Patrol job, although it was comparatively dull, since 100 percent of our arrests were of docile “wetbacks” who were merely looking for a job and something to eat.

 As the drug traffic increased in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, lonely teams of Border Patrolman began to run more frequently into “mules” (carriers of large quantities of marijuana and other drugs) as they crossed the Mexican border. The larger the load, the more likely the mule was armed.

 Two young agents were surprised by mules at a checkpoint on a southern California highway. They were disarmed, taken to an abandoned spot, and murdered in cold blood. I can’t be sure, but I believe that after this outrage, individual Border Patrolmen tended to worry less about regulations and their public image and were more likely to have their guns ready in potentially tough situations.

 I lost my own inhibitions and sensitivity about accusations of being trigger happy shortly after I left the Patrol for sheriffing in a West Texas county. Some of the old Border Patrol still remained in me at first, and I left my Smith & Wesson in its holster one night while arresting and extricating a fighting drunk fro the midst of an unruly mob. They swarmed me, got my holster gun, and proceeded to try to beat me to death. After taking quite a thumping, I managed to lay hands on a sawed-off 12 gauge and stop the party. 

As I healed and thought things over, I decided I was going to have to be more wary and alert if I wanted to go on living. From then on, I almost invariably met trouble with my gun in my hand, not in my holster.

 One of the men who gave me a hand in the aforementioned ruckus was Domingo Pesina, the manager of the migrant labor camp where it took place. Domingo owned property in the camp, lived there, and eventually became my deputy. A heavy-handed, pistol-and-sap-wielding man had preceded both Domingo and me in the policing of that tough area and perhaps had contributed to the hostile attitude of the inhabitants toward lawmen.

 When I hired Domingo, who is a soft-spoken, friendly sort, I told him always to go armed, but not to do any unnecessary shooting. By misinterpreting the word “unnecessary,” Domingo almost got sent home in a box.

 About one a.m. one moonlit night, I got a call from Domingo’s wife. He had been summoned into the camp to handle a family disturbance and had been gone a hour. She had received reports he was in trouble. Hurriedly dressing and picking up another deputy, I drove at top speed to the camp, where I found a frightened man and his wife, with a nasty knife wound in her arm. Her brother Manuel, a foul-natured, drunken, six-foot-five-inch giant, had argued with the husband and had attempted to cut him with a sharp switchblade. The wife, intervening, received deep gash.

 Domingo had arrived on the scene and told Manuel he was under arrest. Manuel scornfully walked away, with Domingo following. Manuel turned and slashed at him with the knife, then walked on. Domingo drew a S&W Chief’s Special .38 and followed, getting too close, and Manuel again turned and swung the keen knife, this time severing the lapel of Domingo’s new leather jacket. Domingo, thinking of what I had told him, held his fire.

Domingo pursued the powerful man into town, where Manuel took refuge in a sleazy second-floor apartment. The harassed deputy got help to watch the exits, then radioed me to come to the scene.

 Before mounting the stairs of the apartment building, I told Domingo and a city officer that, if Manuel came out before I did and threatened anyone with a knife, they were to kill him.

 Arriving alone on the second floor, I found it deserted. Apparently Manuel had hidden in one of the dozen rooms. A door stealthily opened, and I swung the muzzle of my .357 toward it. A tiny, ancient lady appeared, wrapped in a shawl. She didn’t say a word but held a finger to her lips and pointed to a door directly across the hall. I nodded, took a long step, and kicked the door in, magnum at the ready.

 There stood Manuel, grinning like the boozed-up idiot he was. There was a kitchen table between us on which lay a large butcher knife. His hard hand reached for it, and I audibly cocked my Smith & Wesson, aiming carefully between his eyes. From 10 feet, he looked into the caities of my cast hollowpoints and decided to quit the game.

 I took Manuel out handcuffed, and we put him in the slammer for a godly while. Then I sat down with Domingo. It was the only time I was ever mad at him. He had a large, fine family. His salary as a deputy was peanuts. I told him that if he ever allowed an armed man to attack him again and didn’t shoot, he was fired.

 Years after I left that office, Domingo told me that on one later occasion he had trouble with Manuel, who still had a propensity for knives. Before anything could get started, Domingo informed the hellraiser, “The sheriff told me that if you ever tried to hurt me again and I didn’t shoot you, I’d lose my job.” Things with Manuel stayed peaceful after that.

 Another time, a call came from a country grocery store that a man with a knife was threatening two women. I entered the door with a .44 Special in hand and found two frightened female clerks cowering behind the counter and a shabbily dressed bum leaning against some shelves, with nothing in his hands but the orange he was eating.

 “He’s got a knife under his coat!” screamed the women in unison.

 I told the bum to get the knife with two fingers and drop it on the floor. He smiled insolently and continued eating. From six feet away, I put a .44 slug in the wooden floor between his feet, which were planted rather close together. The knife clattered to the floor. It was a good-quality skinning knife, with just the right amount of curve in the blade. I’ve dressed out a lot of game with it over the years.

 I also remember a well-liked businessman who went haywire one night and started hunting an antagonist with a shotgun. He was speeding through the city streets and was stopped by a young highway patrolman. The man pointed his shotgun at the officer, who wisely backed off and reported the incident on his radio. I suggested that he follow the man’s car from a safe distance, since I believed he would go home. He did, and I was waiting in the dark area where he parked. He didn’t  see me, and as he started to dismount from the car with the shotgun, I stepped into the light with my sixgun in both hands, aimed at his chest, saying, “Leave the gun in the car, and let’s get this straightened out.” The man hesitated, than stepped onto the concrete with empty hands.

 We did get his problem straightened out, and the next day he thanked me for not killing him. Had I not had him covered, the chances are good that in his frame of mind he would have tried to use the scattergun, and one-or both-of us would have been shot.

 Some officers don’t care for guns, know nothing about them, and on some occasions won’t use their firearms when it would seem imperative to do so.

 A few years ago, I was assisting in a  case that involved an attempt to deliver 10 ounces of Mexican heroin to a dealer in the U.S. The recipient was known to my agency as a drug dealer of long standing, as well a dangerous, vicious man who had killed a couple of people

 The circumstances of the investigation were such that officers of another agency were invited were invited to participate in the attempted delivery and arrest. A trap was laid, and the dope dealer picked up his contraband and drove away with it. The area of the pick up was full of undercover cars, and it happened that the dealer drove past mine, which was occupied by my partner, an agent from the other service, and me.

 It was three a.m. and dark. The suspect’s car took a course down a winding farm-to-market road. I decided to bust him before we lost him and prepared to close the distance between us, reminding my companions that the guy was a killer.

 When the suspect stopped for a red light, my partner correctly jumped out and ran to cover the far side of the car. The other agent, who was closer to the lead car than me, walked to the driver’s open window with nothing but a badge in his hand. Before I could get out from beneath the steering wheel, circle my car, and push him aside, the officer was actually sticking his face inside the car, nose to nose with the suspect, and looking over the interior.

 My right hand held a long-barreled .357 Magnum as I shoved the officer aside, yanked open the car door, and rather roughly threw the heroin dealer to the ground, showing him the muzzle of the magnum. I got him on his feet, making him face the car with his hands on the roof and his feet spread. I began twice to pat him down for weapons, and each time he tried to lower his hands and face me and the other agent, who still hadn’t pulled a gun.

 After his second try to turn on us, I relaxed the man by putting a new crease in his hat with my gun barrel. The gunless wonder at my side loudly protested, “You can’t treat a prisoner like that!” I went on with the frisk, as he sputtered  and fumed, and slipped a fully loaded .380 from where it was tucked, crossdraw fashion, in our friend’s waistband. My angry sidekick didn’t even notice it as I dropped the hideout into my pocket. I noticed his difficulty in handcuffing the prisoner and finally did that myself, too.

 Later, in the office, I dropped the little automatic on a table, and my fellow officer’s eyes bulged. “Where in hell did that come from?” he inquired. He had been standing two feet from me when I relieved the dope runner of it.

 The defendant showed up for arraignment the next morning, holding rosary beads, murmering prayers-the epitome of the misunderstood, innocent man. It was a pity he never got the opportunity to prove his innocence in court. Out on bond, he was killed in a knife fight in a tough beer joint within the month.

 I believe my point is made, but let it be clear that I am not advocating unnecessary, promiscuous gun waving by the police every time they stop a jaywalker. I’ve seen officers of that type and like them less than you do. Coolness, judgment, common sense, and quick reaction are the watchwords when an officer draws his handgun.

 A good cop gets to the point where he can smell trouble and he gets hunches. All I’m saying is that if the hunch signals “Watch out!” the officer should have this gun ready, regardless of the regulations. Right or wrong, he’ll get no thanks and probably a great deal of criticism. But he’ll be alive.



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