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Stick of Dynamite

Women’s Outlook – February 2005

The old bull elephant’s back leg had been caught in a poacher’s snare and was swollen to twice its normal size. A grumpy old loner by nature, this injury had done nothing to improve his disposition and he’d had enough of this nonsense. He turned and charged at the party of hunters 30 yards behind him.

The petite lady in the lead raised her .500 Nitro double rifle, but didn’t fire. She stood her ground and waited while five tons of enraged death hurtled at her. The professional hunter beside her finally shot and the bull fell just a few yards in front of them.

“Why didn’t you shoot that bull,” a wild eyed Randy Brooks asked his wife Coni, “That elephant was trying to kill you!”

“He is not what I wanted and I am not writing a $10,000.00 check for an elephant unless it’s one I want.”

When Randy tells the story today he laughs and says, “Coni would rather be trampled and die than shoot or pay for a bull that doesn’t meet her standards.”

But, that story epitomizes Coni Brooks; focused, determined and fearless. She is a woman who knows what she wants and is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her goals.

Coni and Randy own Barnes Bullets, one of the premier bullet makers in the world, where Coni is the V. P. of Sales and Marketing. She and Randy bought the company and in 1974 moved it to American Fork, Utah with a 16-foot horse trailer and a pickup truck. They set up shop in the basement of their 580 square foot house, where they also lived with their two daughters. They only grossed $12,000.00 that first year. But, Randy and Coni are a strong team and the company grew. In 1976 they built a 1,200 square foot shop that they quickly outgrew. They hired their first employee that year and by 1980 they were expanding again. In 1997 Barnes put up their current 40,000 square foot building in Lindon, Utah and now have plans to build a larger facility.

Barnes Bullets first got noticed by serious African hunters with the development of their homogenous solids in the early eighties. When they expanded (pun is intended) that concept to the solid copper, expanding X-Bullet in the mid eighties, the rest of the hunting world took notice. The X-Bullet soon became a favorite for serious big game hunters because it would penetrate deep and track straight on big game, while creating a large wound channel. It has often been said that the introduction of the X-bullet changed the rules about bullets and it put Barnes on the map.

Under the leadership of Coni and Randy the company has expanded the line to include one of the best and most popular muzzleloader bullets on the market, a line of varmint bullets and the new Triple-Shock line of X-Bullets, which is getting rave reviews from hunters.

I recently asked Coni to tell me a little about her life. “I was born and raised in American Fork, Utah,” she said. “I was always pals with my dad and we did everything together. That meant pheasant hunting, deer hunting and a lot of fishing. We had a cabin on Strawberry Reservoir and we spent a lot of time there. We lived and breathed the outdoors, it’s what we did. It’s still what I do.”

She and Randy met in high school and married in 1970, a few years after they graduated. “Randy was outdoorsy too and we hunted together when we were dating,” Coni told me. Today they have two daughters and six grandchildren, who are some of Coni’s greatest joys.

Coni shot her first big game animal, a mule deer, when she was about 21 years old. But, her first “big game” hunt outside of the lower forty-eight was a grizzly bear hunt, done in typical “Coni” fashion. In 1982, an outfitter friend in Alaska called her with a cancellation on a grizzly hunt. That was Thursday and she left for Alaska the following Tuesday. Her sister in law hadn’t hunted other than for rabbits, but Coni talked her into going with her and the two of them headed for grizzly country. Just two women off on vacation to hunt one of the most dangerous animals on earth.

They floated the Talkeenta River and lived out of their backpacks during that spring hunt. The bears were not cooperating and they went home empty handed. But, they went back in the fall and both connected with grizzlies.

A few days after returning home a newspaper reporter showed up looking for the “women who shot the grizzly bears.” At first he refused to believe that Coni who stands five feet, two inches tall and weighs 110 pounds and her sister in law, who wasn’t much bigger, could pull that off. “I was expecting a couple of women seven feet tall and built like loggers,” he explained after. “Not these two tiny ladies.”

But, Coni is living proof that size doesn’t matter. She hunts just about everything today with a .338 Winchester Magnum, a gun noted for its stout recoil. In Zimbabwe she took an elephant and a cape buffalo, both with a .500 Nitro Express rifle. The ammo for this gun is about the size of a big cigar and the recoil is stout enough to send grown men away, whimpering for their mommies. But Coni is tough. For example, the day they tracked and shot the buffalo it was 117 degrees! She credits hunting for much of that toughness and she notes that, “hunting has made me stronger, both physically and mentally.” That strength has been important in the hunting fields and in the business office.

Coni has hunted extensively in Africa and also has a leopard, as well as a wide range of plains game to her credit. She has hunted most of the North American big game, including bighorn sheep. But her first love is elk hunting. She shot one bull in Wyoming that scored more than 340 B&C points which, in case you don’t know, is a very big elk. She also enjoys shooting prairie dogs. I spent a wonderful afternoon with her and Randy in Montana last year “field testing” their new varmint bullets. She proved that she knows how to handle a rifle by hitting prairie dogs almost at will at long range in a relentless Montana wind.

But, Coni believes in giving something back to the sport that has been so rewarding to her. She has been actively involved with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Safari Club and Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife. She was an instructor for and involved with Becoming an Outdoor Woman for four years. She served as Utah Chapter Chairperson for Safari Club for two years and as fund raiser chairperson for nine years. When she took over, the top record fund raiser was $21,000 and she took that to more than $200,000.00, all money earmarked for conservation. There were 60 members in that chapter when she took over and now they boast more than 500. Coni is a life member of Safari Club International and a life member of the National Rifle Association. She served on the Utah Wildlife Board from 1995 to 2003, to which she was appointed by Governor Leavitt. She was one of two women to serve on the eight member board that is charged with setting the rules and regulations for wildlife and aquatics in Utah.

“That taught me a lot,” she said. “For example, I didn’t even know we have brine shrimp in Utah before I served on the board. But, I know a lot about brine shrimp now!” She said. “Serving on the Wildlife Board was a very rewarding experience.”

If it’s not enough to run a business, hunt the world and volunteer for all these positions, Coni recently earned her pilot’s license and flies her Cessna P210 for sales calls and business. She owns and cares for nine horses and rides often. She and Randy spend summer weekends on their houseboat on Lake Powell with their family, where she is an avid water-skier. My wife Robin and I were privileged to join them on Lake Powell a few years ago and I can tell you that Coni approaches skiing like everything else, with a determination to be the best she can be, which is very good indeed.

At 54 years old Coni has more energy than a teenager. “I should have, it’s in my blood,” she said. My dad is 88 years old and he hasn’t slowed down much either.”

I am not surprised, slowing down just doesn’t run in that family.

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