The Perfect Shot

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I thumbed through the journal, scanning the pages for something interesting before discarding it onto the pile on my desk. I seldom read anything cover to cover, but I could rapidly review the pages and pick out any interesting articles. Those articles I could quickly scan a little closer in a manner that would allow me to retrieve it later if needed.

This journal was a lessor journal, titled Veterinary Medicine. It occasionally had some practical articles from real practitioners, not just a bunch of university types who had no fundamental concept of what private practice was like.

The article that caught my eye today was on a do it yourself blowgun and dart that you could use to get a capture drug into an otherwise wild critter. Lord knows I seem to have my share of those.

It was relatively easy to make. Using a four-foot piece of PCV pipe for the blowgun and darts fashioned from a couple of 3 cc syringes. The blowgun was nothing to make. The dart took a little time.

The flanges on the back of the syringe were trimmed off, so you had a smooth barrel. One plunger stopper was inserted into the barrel of the syringe. It would deliver the dose when the syringe was loaded, and the chamber between the plungers was charged with air.

  The second plunger was used on the back of the syringe. You used silicone gel to secure a bundle of one-inch long yarn pieces to serve as the fletchings, like the feathers of an arrow. Using a bright color for the yarn may aid in finding a dart that missed the target. This plunger was secured to the syringe’s back by driving a couple of 20 gauge needle through the syringe and clipping them off flush with the edge.

The journal’s plan called for a 16 gauge needle, plugged with superglue at the end, and a side port in the needle. This port was made with a small file close to the end. I found that to be an unnecessary step. I just used a standard 16 gauge needle that was one and a half inches long. Plugs for this needle were fashioned from a strip silicone gel pushed out and allowed to dry in a strip. Cutting a quarter-inch piece and inserting it on the end of the needle would plug the hole, and then it would be pushed up on the needle when the target was struck. This would allow the drug to be delivered.

With a syringe and needle inserted into the chamber between the plungers, you could control the free plunger in the barrel of the syringe dart. Inject air, drive the free plunger to the end of the dart. Insert the dart’s needle into the drug and withdraw air from the chamber, thus drawing the drug’s dose into the dart. Then plug the dart’s needle with a silicone stopper, and inject air into the chamber between the plungers to charge the dart.

I fashioned several darts and even practiced with the blowgun. It worked remarkably well and had a surprising range. With a strong puff of air, I could send the dart for over 30 yards. The dart held its line in the air. The trick was in the elevation. To fly the dart 30 yards, one needed about 30 degrees of elevation. Hitting a target at that distance would take a little luck.

My opportunity to use this dart came only a couple of weeks later. Margery was a client with a small acreage out in the valley. She had lost her husband some years before, and now her son and his family lived with her.

“Doctor, my grandson bought this cow and turned it out in the pasture,” Margery said. “It is wild as can be. He can’t get close to it, and it has an ugly looking eye.”

“Do you have a corral or even a smaller pasture you could run her into?” I asked.

“No, Bob never used that pasture for anything,” Margery said. “It just has a fence around it. And that fence ain’t much, just steel posts and barb wire.”

“It doesn’t sound like I could get a rope on her very easy, and if I did, I probably wouldn’t have anything where I could tie her,” I said.

“I could park the pickup out in the pasture,” Margery said. “That would give you someplace to tie her. It might help you get close to her also. But I can guarantee you she will be running fast.”

“You tie a wild cow to a pickup, and she will swing around on the end of that rope and cave in the side of your truck,” I said. “Maybe both sides before she is done.”

“That would not be good,” Margery said. “Maybe we are just going to have to shoot her. I can’t see just allowing her to suffer from an infected eye.”

“There might be another option,” I said. “I do have a blowgun dart that I could tranquilize her with if I managed to hit the target.”

“That might be worth a try,” Margery said.

“The thing that you have to understand is that if I come out and chase a cow around a pasture for an hour and don’t catch her, you will still have a bill to pay,” I said.

“That is only fair,” Margery said. “But I would like you to try.”

I stood at the gate with Margery’s Grandson, Jason. The brindle cow was at the far end of the pasture, head up, and watch us.

“Jason, this is not much of a fence,” I said. “If we get her really excited, she could go right through it.”

“Grandma is pretty worried about her suffering with this eye,” Jason said. “If we can’t catch her, she is probably going to make me shoot her.”

“We will give it a try,” I said. “But what about next time? You need to build corral up here in the corner so you can get her into a small place and get a hand on her.”

“She wouldn’t go into it,” Jason said.

“You solve that problem by making a fence that funnels her into the corral,” I said. “You get her used to going into it by putting the water in there and a feed rack. This time of the late summer, there is not much food value in this grass. If you had a couple cows, you would need to be feeding them already. I don’t see any hay stored around here. What do you plan on feeding her this winter?”

“I guess I haven’t thought about that,” Jason said. “I was just thinking that I would get a calf out of her and start building a herd.”

“That’s a good plan, but you need to cover all those little bases,” I said. “Let’s go see if we can take care of this eye, and then you can come by the office, and I can give you some ideas on a corral system that won’t break the bank. And I can set you up with a couple of guys who might have some extra hay.”

“How do you want to catch her?” Jason asked. 

“I am going out into the middle of this pasture and have you go out around her,” I said. “If you can walk her down the fence line, I will try to get one of these darts into her. I have 3 darts loaded with a dose of Rompun. If I can hit her with one of them, we will have her.”

“Grandma bought a halter to put on her when we catch her,” Jason said. “She thought it would help next time.”

“We can put it on her, but a corral will be what will help next time,” I said.

“And she is not going to walk down that fence line, she will be running at full speed,” Jason said as he started toward the far end of the pasture.

I walked out to the middle of the pasture, and the cow was watching both of us now. She was turning this way and that way, not sure which way to go. I load a dart into the end of the PCV pipe.

As Jason approached the corner where the cow was standing, she started down the fence line, picking up speed as she came. I raised the blowgun to my mouth and took a deep breath. Pointing it in the air at about a 30-degree angle, I waited as she approached what I guessed was the launch point. She was running full speed now, with one strong puff of air into the pipe, I launched the dart.

The dart flew in a high arc, the cow continued at full speed. I held my breath as I watched the arch of the dart.

Pow! The dart struck her on the side of the neck and stuck. I could not have placed it better if I had been standing by her side. I smiled as I looked at the end of the PCV pipe. Jason came running up to me.

“Wow, that was a good shot,” Jason said.

“Lucky, Jason, lucky is different than good,” I said. “You stand here with me for a couple of minutes. She will settle down and then just lay down. When that happens, I will let you run up to the gate and get my bag and my bucket.”

Rompun is an excellent sedative for cows. It is not ideal because there are times when a patient will appear asleep, but they can still jump up defensively. But this cow was well sedated.

The left eye was ugly looking but did not look like a simple pink eye. There was a large ulcer on the cornea. I lifted the 3rd eyelid with a pair of forceps. There was the problem, two large grass seed awns stuck in the corner of her eye.

I removed the grass seeds. Then I did an injection of Amoxicillin under the upper eyelid and another injection into the space behind her eye. I didn’t think we would be catching this cow again any time soon.

Then I sutured the 3rd eyelid up over the ulcer with a single mattress suture of 00 chromic catgut. That would give enough healing time, and the suture would dissolve on its own. Then we sprayed her face for flies.

By the time I had things put away, the cow was up and acting like she would be okay.

“That eye will heal just fine,” I said. “We should not need to do anything more with it. Now you be sure to come to the office. I won’t hit her with a dart like that in the next 10 tries.”

“So, should I build a corral or just buy one of those that you can set up?” Jason asked.

“It is just dollars and cents,” I said. “The commercial systems are good. And they are fast and easy to set up. You could probably do it cheaper with a few post holes and some posts and lumber.”

“Well, it’s Grandma’s money,” Jason said. “It might be a lot easier if I got a few of those panels and set it up that way.”

“Either way works,” I said. “Sometimes, when you’re a young man, it is better to do things yourself and get a feeling of accomplishment. And, Jason, you should be very careful and thoughtful when you are spending Grandma’s money.

Photo by Elina Sazonova from Pexels

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

3 thoughts on “The Perfect Shot

  1. Reading that article on the blowgun and implementing it for future use was fortuitous. Yes, lucky is different than good, but I suspect your days in the Army gave you a leg up on the good side. Thinking about this post and your earlier one on the wicked witch cow that nearly killed you, your bovine veterinary practice back then seems to have required a combination of both Indiana Jones and Marlin Perkins (Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom”) skills.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Another good post..For anyone considering veterinary practice for a career…they could certainly learn much from your blog..


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