Well, elk actually. My first gunnery rotation as a gunner (as opposed to being a dismount) was going pretty well. I was the gunner on A-11, my Platoon Leader’s track. The crew was LT K as the Bradley Commander (BC), your humble scribe as the gunner, and Chuck as the driver. Bradley and Tank gunnery isn’t just driving to the range and popping off a bunch of rounds. You have to reach certain levels in the simulator. Then, the whole battalion goes to the ranges. There’s several of them, in fact. You start by doing some non-firing exercises that show you have a basic grasp of the concept. Then you graduate to a firing the coaxial gun. Finally, you go to the dress rehearsal, then you fire on what is called Table VIII, which, if successfully completed, qualifies the crew.
Our tale starts on Table VII, which is the dress rehearsal. You first fire a couple of rounds to confirm your zero- that is, making sure the sights of the gun actually point to where the rounds will go. Then you drive from station to station, engaging targets. Some are engaged from a stationary position, and some on the move. After you’ve done this, you go back and do it all again. At night.
On this particular night, A-11 had the duty as “the spotter”. When crews would zero their main gun, we would help them spot the shot to tell how well their sights were aligned. The target was a large square board on a pop up target. Normally, when you hit a pop-up, down it goes. They have a mechanical lifter to raise it for your next shot.
I’d been spotting shots all night, from just after sundown until almost 3am. Finally, it was our turn to go. After a mechanical problem with the zero target was solved-which led to “The Great Hot Mic Frab-up”(but that’s a story for another time), the range was hot, and we were cleared to zero. One small problem. While we had been fooling around waiting for the folks in the tower to raise the zero target, an elk had decided this was a fine time to graze. Right next to the zero target.
Now, one of the things you hear at every single range safety briefing is this, “Don’t shoot the wildlife!” In fact, post policy called for a cease fire. Shooting the wildlife is a major no-no. It was a good way to lose stripes and a goodly portion of your pay. So, I called in to the tower and told them that a large herbivorous mammal was standing next to the target. There was some hemming and hawing and cogitating going on up there. We were running out of nighttime. We had to finish up pronto, shoot at night, and clear the range so the next company could come in and start their runs. Eventually, the call came from the tower, “Pop a round down there to scare him off.” I looked at LT K. LT K looked at me… What were they smoking up there? After a brief conversation with the controllers in the tower to confirm they were in fact in possession of their faculties, LT K and I decided to proceed. We had just zeroed the gun that morning, and I was pretty certain the sights hadn’t drifted at all. This particular track held its zero very well. The decision was made to just put one round through the zero target to confirm, and since that was right by the elk, maybe it would scare him away.
Select Single Shot AP. Manual Safety Off. Electrical Safety Off. Ghost round cycled. Sights on target. LT K gives his fire command. I respond with, “On the way” and squeeze the triggers. CRACK.
Down goes the zero target.
And down goes the second elk standing right behind it. The one nobody saw.