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One of My Favorite Heroes – Game Warden John Marlin

Posted by Range Officer Rhonda on May 9, 2010

I always like to see the humor in any situation, but Ben Rehder absolutely knocks me out of my deer stand with his series of books staring John Marlin, Blanco County, Texas Game Warden. I like to research and write pieces about the guns that the characters use in various books but I had to go a little deeper with GW Marlin.

Let me give you a little history. In the 1960’s, GW’s were generally issued Smith & Wesson .38 special revolvers and the infamous Sam Browne gun belts. In the early 70’s, new wardens were issued the Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolvers. I can’t fault this gun and neither can GW John Marlin. He’s comfortable with it and has carried it for years. It is an impressive and popular revolver. When the 1990’s came along and many law enforcement agencies were transitioning away from the revolver and into the semi-automatics, the Texas Game Wardens were issued a Glock .40 caliber sidearm. Marlin [or Rehder], however, sticks with his S&W .357 Magnum. I teach both types of handgun training and each has their own good and bad qualities. Maybe later I will get further in depth with a comparison of the two. But this time around, Rehder intrigued me with something new in his book, Gun Shy.

While investigating a suspicious hunting accident resulting in the death of an unknown man, the clues and cues just aren’t quite fitting together.  When Marlin takes a break for lunch to secretly pick up an engagement ring he hopes to use soon, one of those spectacular ‘A-HA!’ moments occurs. Here is the section from the book, Gun Shy, which Ben Rehder sent to me, by the way.

Before returning to his office, he drove to his house and removed a single-shot .22 from the gun safe in his closet. Next, he used pliers to pull a bullet free from its casing, creating, in effect, a blank. Then he went to the kitchen and squirted half a cup of ketchup into a small bowl. He mixed water into it—a few drops at a time—until the viscosity was about right. It didn’t need to be precise; this was just a trial run. Henry would conduct more extensive testing later, if Marlin’s theory proved valid.

He grabbed a small funnel, the bowl, and the rifle and exited through the back door. His pit bull, Geist, was drowsing in the shade, and her tail thumped against the dry grass.

Marlin loaded the rifle, then, pointing it toward the sky; he held the funnel over the muzzle and poured a generous amount of the ketchup mixture straight down the barrel.

It would be a hell of a mess to clean up—he’d likely have to disassemble the entire rifle—and he hoped it would be worth it.

“Here goes nothing”, he said.

Geist raised her big head and watched expectantly.

Marlin began to lower the rifle barrel, but he kept it above horizontal, so the contents wouldn’t spill out. He aimed at the upper trunk of a massive live oak tree and pulled the trigger.

Immediately he knew that a small piece of the puzzle had fallen into place.’


Can you see where I am going with this? I just had to try this out! But I had an advantage, I hoped. I shoot and teach about Muzzle loading rifles. I didn’t have to make a mess in one of my .22’s [although later I did this as well to make sure the test worked as well as it did in Rehder’s book].

Here’s how I performed the test. I mix my own blood solution for blood trails I set up for Hunter Education field trials. I have my own methods/ ingredients for mixing fake blood that are quite realistic, but again, to validate Rehder’s methods [or Marlin’s?] I wanted to do it almost exactly like the book portrays. I take my .50 cal Muzzleloader to a safe shooting location where I have permission to discharge firearms. Instead of having to pull a .22 bullet out of a powder charged  and primed casing, I simply loaded up with powder [40 grains of FF], followed with a couple of pre-lubed patches, followed the patches with a ball of wadding and tamped it down well to get a good gas seal. I then squirted in a generous portion [about ¼ cup] of fake blood and lightly tamped in a couple more lubed patches so as to slide the fake blood all the way down to get a tightly sealed powder charge. Keeping my muzzle up, I walked to the firing line, aimed at my target, primed my gun with a percussion cap, and then fired. It worked! The one thing I did not count on was the tiny flecks of fake blood that vented through the nipple hole with the smoke and gasses. I shoot right handed guns with my left side, so face, shirt and arm were properly splattered as well. Cleaning a Muzzleloader is much simpler than a standard rifle, but cleaning a yellow shirt of the red dye was a bit more complicated. I’m happy to say the experiment worked and neither gun nor shirt suffered any permanent mishap.

What I want to know now is – Mr. Rehder – did you come up with this test on your own or did someone clue you in on this – maybe a crime scene technician? It’s brilliant!

I tried not to give away too much of the book, so now you will have to go and read ‘Gun Shy’, a fun mystery starring canny Game Warden John Marlin and featuring a story line that plays with a large gun organization fondly called the National Weapons Alliance, or NWA.

The quote is from the book, Gun Shy, provided to me at no charge by Ben Rehder; published by St. Martin’s Paperbacks. The opinions in this piece are entirely my own and the tests I perform with any firearms mentioned should not be tried at home without proper training or supervision.


2 Responses to “One of My Favorite Heroes – Game Warden John Marlin”

  1. I’ve never read one of Ben Rehder’s books, but you review has convinced me to put him on my list.

  2. Love this!! great job ROR

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