Interview With Jerry Rankin of the Santa Barbara News-Press

February 13, 1985

Rancho del Cielo

Q. Well, we appreciate your taking the time to, in effect, chat with your neighbors through us. That's a very nice thing to do.

The President. Well, please do it.

Q. I was pleased to see in the bulkhead back there that the temperature in Santa Barbara is 74 degrees, and we were joking that with the wind chill factor, it's 78 degrees. [Laughter]

So, now that you've got the houses built for your guests and for Lee Clearwater, and I guess the irrigation ditch is either finished or almost done, what's your next big project at the ranch? Or is there one?

The President. Well, it's been quite a time since the last one. Yes, we finished the irrigation project, and right now I can't think of anything else to fence in. There are always some little things to do around there. But there's always firewood. And the last 2 years there has been, I must say, an ongoing project which can fill in any time that we don't have a special thing like the irrigation to do.

A couple of years ago in April, you'll remember, there was a freak snowstorm up in that area.

Q. Yes, indeed.

The President. And that was about an 8-inch wet snowfall at our ranch. And during the night, Lee told me that it sounded like an artillery barrage -- with those live oak trees, the limbs breaking off. So, wherever you go in the woods, to this day, I think we could spend the rest of our lives -- there are these downed limbs all over. And so when there's nothing else to do, why, we pick another spot -- go in, clear it out, and cut the brush off, stack that for burning in the winter; and then whatever's usable, make into firewood.

We're trying to clear it up, because it really -- it was just -- you can't imagine -- I've got some 8 by 10 photos for an album from the ranch -- what it looked like, scenes of some of them. But it was just, well, it was a disaster.

Q. We tried to leave your privacy alone as much as we can. But under the circumstances, I remember that morning when I heard about snow, I called Lee up at the ranch, and I said, ``Lee, did you get any of that snow, because we can see it from downtown.'' He said, ``We got 8 inches of snow up here, 9 inches.'' And I said, ``Come on, you've got to be kidding me.'' ``No,'' he says, ``8 inches outside the President's side door there.''

And so I ran a little piece in the paper, and -- --

The President. Not only downed, but then there's some that, you know, that the lumberjacks call widow makers -- and that's the limbs that have broken off, and they're still hanging up there. We never know when one of them is going to come in.

Q. Right. What is it exactly that keeps pulling you back to the ranch? I mean, what do you get from attacking all that innocent wood? [Laughter]

The President. Well now, remember though, the environmentalists, I am sure, will be happy to know we don't cut down trees for firewood. We have to cut the firewood, because the only heat we have are -- come from firewood and such. But, no, we don't cut down trees. We've done it by things that are down, and there's always -- in as much woods as we have -- there's always trees that come down by themselves, that nature takes care of. And those we cut up, and sometimes some judicious pruning, where we think we can improve the tree with a little pruning.

Q. Is it the sheer physical enjoyment of doing it? I mean, when you're doing this, are you really thinking about anything else, like the Mideast, or are you really thinking about that log there?

The President. No, it's a real change. And it isn't always that; I think part of it also is that there's always a kick into building something. And we did a lot of work -- all those wood fences that we put in that weren't there, a lot of work on the house itself. It was a little, old adobe that was built in 1872, and we did most of the work ourselves there, fixing it up -- the fences. You get a good feeling out of what you've accomplished there. But the riding, of course, we like.

But I'll tell you, I think that particular place casts a spell on you. Maybe it's the fact that you have to turn into a kind of private road that just serves a few ranches; unlike the previous ranch we had down south where the highway went within 250 feet of the house.

Q. At Malibu.

The President. Yes.

Q. Yes, I was there one time.

The President. Well, in this one, when you get in there, the world is gone.

Q. I was lucky enough one time in the '76 campaign -- you took Frank Reynolds and Walt Zaboski and a couple of other people up there, and I went along, and so we got the tour of the house and a couple of things we've seen.

We know that there's mountain lions and bears up there. Have you ever actually seen them?

The President. I have not -- [knocking on wood] -- [laughter] -- seen a bear yet. I've seen the evidence -- tracks and so forth from the bear. And it's usually just a bear; they're pretty territorial. And the same with the mountain lions. Now, I saw one young one. Bobcats you see frequently. But the closest adventure that we had with a mountain lion was one day, early on -- they had Secret Service, and there was a big -- one station up on the hill above the house, looking down the pasture to where they could survey everything. And the fellows would take turns up there -- and with a camp stool -- sitting and watching.

And one day one of the agents came down, and his eyes were as big as saucers. And he didn't know whether what he saw was just to be expected or whether it was unusual. But he had sat there, motionless, while a mountain lion strolled by about 30 feet away. [Laughter]

Q. Wise. [Laughter]

The President. And he was wise to stay motionless. But that was the closest contact any of us have had with one.

Q. Someone told me that I ought to ask you about snakes, because they heard that awhile back, maybe right after you bought it, you and Lee Clearwater bagged, I guess, some rattlesnakes and dumped them in some place called Snake Lake?

The President. We named it Snake Lake after what we'd done. No, they weren't rattlesnakes. We had some -- these rattlesnakes. In California and that kind of country, you're going to.

We had a pond there that -- --

Q. The one next to the house?

The President. -- -- that used to be temporary. It would go dry in the summer, and we fixed it so that now it catches the drainage, and we have a year-round pond. And all of a sudden, there must have been a hatch of snake eggs of the kind that -- I don't know what you call them -- it was a kind of a gray snake with black and red vertical stripes on it, and it seemed to be a water snake. They headed for the water.

But this hatch -- they were all about 12, 14 inches long. And if you'd come out the door, they'd scatter across the lawn; you'd see them going. And to the women on the place, that was not very attractive.

So one day, Barney, Lee, and I -- I said, ``I've got an idea.'' Now, I've never liked to pick up a snake. I've always heard that people who handle them -- herpetologists -- will tell you that if you ever do, you will lose any of that feeling about a snake -- that once you've picked it up -- it's firm and a cool body; it isn't slimy or anything of that kind.

But I headed down -- I got some big paper bags like they use, the markets use -- and we put on gloves, and then we went out. We started catching them, putting them in the bags. Well, pretty soon -- we missed too many. We'd grab, and with those clumsy work gloves on -- so I peeled off the gloves, and I found out the herpetologists were right. After picking up a few, well, we'd pick them up and stuff them in; we had a bagful. And then I didn't want to go around, you know, slaughtering them and -- bloody, awful bloody to do that.

So, we put them in a jeep, and down we'd go. Way back down the back corner, there is a pond just off the -- our border, the ranch of our border. So, we dumped these snakes there -- and kept wanting to get the big ones, because I figured they have to do this every year if we didn't -- and eventually came upon the two adults. And we captured them the same way and dumped them down there.

But one day when we were getting them pretty well, we kept count. It was over 120, 120-odd snakes that we picked up and dumped. But the last half-sackful, we were -- this was before the helicopter, still had agents -- I had a half a sackful and no time -- we were leaving the ranch that day -- to go down to Snake Lake. It was the wrong direction. So, I just put it in the car.

And we started down the hill -- [laughter] -- and two agents in the front. And you cross a stream about three times on the road down. So, at the first crossing, I said, ``Pull up, stop.'' And they tried to -- stopped. And I got my sack and got out -- [laughter] -- and dumped the snakes. [Laughter] And I came back, and three people were just staring at me -- [laughter] -- those were in the car all the time. [Laughter]

Q. Was that while you were campaigning or while you were President?

The President. It had to be from the campaigning because, the other -- I was -- we have the helicopter now.

Q. You were talking about shooting a rattlesnake one time.

The President. Which story do you want?

Q. The one where you shot the rattlesnake.

The President. Oh, well, I was still Governor when we took over the ranch. And some of the people, my staff -- they loved to come up there with us on a weekend, come down from Sacramento. And they'd come up, and they'd pitch in. We were doing all this work. And one of them -- he's now an architect -- he and I got in the jeep and went down the back country looking for some type rocks -- there's rock everyplace up there, but a lot of rugged kind -- but one of those rounded things for something we were doing up on the lawn; then we didn't locate any. And we started back, and he said, ``There's a snake.'' There was a kind of a ditch beside the road and then a bank going up, and then rocks are all up on the bank. And I stopped, and I got out and started around the front of the jeep. And I said -- I don't like to go around killing things, but -- I said, ``If that's a rattler, I'm going to have to.''

And he had started to get down on his side, the side where the snake was. And all of a sudden, he was backing up right onto the jeep. [Laughter] And he says, ``Kill it! Kill it!'' And sure enough, it was about 4 feet long, and it was a rattler. And it was trying to get up the bank.

I looked and I couldn't find anything to get it. And there was a rock about the size of a lime -- nice, oval, smooth rock -- there in the road. And I picked it up, and just desperately I let go. I hit it right on the head, and it was -- just squashed. I never said a word. I just came back around, got in the jeep. We started back down.

When we got to the house, I went in where Nancy was, and I heard him outside telling: ``And then,'' he says, ``then he picked up this stone, and he threw the stone, and he hit that snake right on the head.'' And Nancy's listening to this, too. And I turned to Nancy and I said, ``And he will never see me throw a stone again as long as I live.'' [Laughter]

Q. Is there something on the ranch that you call the hanging tree?

The President. Yes.

Q. What is that?

The President. Well, there's a great history about that ranch.

Q. Yes, I'm familiar with a lot of it.

The President. It goes back to the old Refugio Pass. Originally part of it went right through our ranch. Now it goes around the -- --

Q. Yes.

The President. But the trail is still there, the evidence of the trail. And all of this history -- and you know the bandit -- --

Q. Oh, yes.

The President. The famous romantic bandit -- --

Q. I know the one you mean, with the Spanish name.

The President. He traveled it. And when we came there, when I first saw the place before we actually bought it -- down this canyon, a friend of -- Ray Cornelius, who had the ranch -- Ray showed us this big oak tree. Now, on one side of the tree was a face carved on the side of the bark. And it looked like the pictures that you see of Jesus. It's gone now. The bark, you know, got old and peeled away. Only a little sliver shows a part of it -- --

Q. Right.

The President. But on the other side, not gone, is a cross, and then some notches. And Ray thought it was a clue to some kind of treasure. And he used to go down there trying to figure out these notches -- what do they mean?

Well, I took one look after we -- and I said, ``I know what that is.'' Got to doing some reading of the history of the area -- there's a great big limb comes out of there -- and I said, ``That's a hanging tree.'' That must have been where they did their own justice in those days. So, we've just named the canyon ``Hanging Tree Canyon.'' But there -- those notches -- are, how many? About 9, 10 of them.

Q. Do you still run cattle on the ranch for the agricultural preserve status, or is that not the case anymore?

The President. No. Well, I did run -- when we got up there, it was what they had done before me, and they had grazers. Bring them in at the beginning of the grazing season -- yearlings -- keep them, and then sell them for the increase in weight. And, naturally, that would not meet the cost of the ranch. And then something in the Treasury Department happened where they began naming ranches ``hobby ranches,'' and they were no longer deductible. And -- [laughter] -- but, also, this move -- why there was just no way to keep on doing that, being away as much as we are. So, I quit.

But what I do do is bring in a few yearlings now and then and butcher them for our meat and so on -- --

Q. Well, you still qualify for the California -- the Williamson Act Ag Preserve status?

The President. Well, yes, because we are not subdividing or anything else of the land -- --

Q. Right.

The President. So, yes, this meets those terms.

Q. There's been some criticism by people saying that, ``Gee, on the one hand President Ronald Reagan may get some significant cutbacks and some Federal tax breaks that are enjoyed, but son of a gun, he's still taking that California tax break.''

The President. Well, that's the only break we have. But that was on there 10 years before we came there -- from the time that the act went in. The County Board of Supervisors in California can designate certain land, that if you will sign a contract -- I think they're in 10-year stretches -- sign a contract that you will not develop that land, you will not, you know, sell it for tracts and that sort of thing, and keep it in its present condition, then it will be taxed on that basis, not on its best potential value.

The truth is, I don't think very many people could afford to do this without that act. I think it was one of the great land preservation things that's ever been done in California. It was there in effect when we came, but -- --

Q. It's been very successful, certainly in our county. There's half a million acres in Ag Preserve, and yours is just a little -- --

The President. Yes. And I love it the way it is, and I don't want to change it. But I wouldn't be able to afford to stay there if somebody said, ``Oh, how much would it be worth if it was a subdivision?''

Presidential Security

Q. Right. Real value. It sort of brings up security. You made clear that you wanted as little security as possible commensurate with your new position when you became President. You've still got the guy sitting outside at night on the vehicle, and you've got dogs around -- you know, the whole bit. Down at Point Mugu, when you come and go, there's some personnel, you know, you wave to who are across the street. And then there's a little disgruntlement. They say, ``Well, gee, we've got all the super secret clearance,'' -- you know, they do the missile work and that kind of stuff, and yet now they've got buses parked there, so it's very difficult for them to see -- you know, they say, ``Why is all that really necessary?''

The President. Well, I'll tell you, I've never intervened in any of the security things that are done. And when we land at a military base, not only that but some kind of other ones, sometimes the families of the personnel are turned out, and I say a few words to them; and sometimes not. And I've never asked who does that, or who determines that. But today I have been told that there is going to be a whole turnout there at the base -- all the families and everything -- going to be -- --

Q. Maybe they'll let them back in closer to, say, where the press is.

The President. I've never even inquired or intervened in anything like that or who makes those decisions.

Q. You leave it to the pros?

The President. Yes. Or whether it's the local base.

Rancho del Cielo

Q. Your home is about the size of a Goleta tract home. It is -- what, 1,500 square feet? Other places you live, such as the White House and down at Pacific Palisades, that are a bit larger -- do you ever miss any of the amenities at Rancho del Cielo in that very modest house?

The President. It was very wonderful to get in that size house. It is -- you've said it; I think I heard you say -- it's about 1,500 square feet. Well, this is one of the benefits of going up to Camp David. There you go to a -- and you spend a weekend in a normal size house, where you can open a door and go out in the backyard and things of that kind.

No, the White House -- there's no question about the luxury and all of that, but you can get a kind of a bird-in-a-gilded-cage feeling out of it also.

Q. So, you like rattling around, obviously, in that small house?

The President. Yes.

Q. The house itself, of the ranch, I guess, may be possibly the most isolated, geographically, retreat of any President in modern times. I gather you don't feel the isolation?

The President. No, no, not at all.

Q. You don't feel out of touch at all?

The President. I cite the passage: ``And I look to the hills from whence cometh my strength.''

The President's Retirement Plans

Q. I assume that you and Mrs. Reagan have given some thought to what happens in that glorious day when you return to California after the second term. What are your current plans about retirement? I remember you told Barbara Walters that you didn't think the ranch would be your full-time retirement home.

The President. No, I've never thought that. I think then that would be too secluded and so forth. No, we've always loved living in Los Angeles, and we just assume that we'll find ourselves a home in Los Angeles and then, just as we did before, go to the ranch and -- --

Q. So, somewhere in the L.A. area?

The President. Yes.

Q. Did you give any thought to Palm Springs?

The President. No, no, that's nice to go to at certain times, but I've never been a -- --

Q. Gets a little hot out there.

The President. -- -- I've never been a great aficionado of the desert.

Q. Well, are you and Mrs. Reagan actually looking for a house at this point, or is that something that's far in the -- --

The President. No, I think we'll wait for awhile, closer to the time when -- --

Presidential Vacations

Q. Occasionally we run a letter to the editor, wondering why does President Reagan have to come out to California so often at substantial cost of the flights and all of that. And some of them say, ``Well, we understand that, but couldn't it be once or twice a year, instead of five or six?'' So, this is your chance to give a direct reply to those letters to the editor.

The President. Yes, and I would like to very much. Let's look back over the history of previous Presidents. I don't know of any of them that didn't have some place, sometimes even more than one, that they liked to go. I remember the same criticism of Jerry Ford because of Vail, Colorado, and his wanting to ski. Certainly my immediate predecessor seemed to get back to -- --

Q. Georgia -- [laughter] -- a lot -- --

The President. -- -- Georgia quite a bit. But before them, there was President Eisenhower in Augusta, Georgia; there was Nixon and his home in Biscayne Bay, Florida, in addition to the California -- --

Q. Right -- --

The President. -- -- house out there. No, I have to say that, first of all, I think Nancy put it once better than anyone else: ``Presidents don't get vacations; they just get a change of scenery.'' And you're still President. The job goes with you.

Now, an awful lot of this cost is a cost that would go on anyway, if you stop to think about it. This plane -- now it's been many, many weeks since we've been on this plane -- but this plane doesn't just sit there. This plane has to get so many hours that it's put in flying. And this just takes the place of those. The salaries of the people and so forth, those would go on -- the staff who're going along -- whether they do that or not. Yes, there is some cost of -- while they're away, out there -- living expense and all.

But as I say, the job goes with you. And I find, and I guess every President before me has found -- with Franklin D. Roosevelt it was Warm Springs -- you find that there is, there's something that you need. And I look at it in another way: At my age, how many more years do I have to go to the ranch and enjoy the ranch? You give up an awful lot in privacy and so forth in these positions, and I think you're entitled, as long as you're still President, are still faced with the problems that -- I've spent some days at that ranch, the better part of the day, on the telephone.

California Offshore Oil Drilling

Q. Well, let me ask you a couple of questions about oil, which is of some interest to us out in Santa Barbara. Is there any spot from your property that you can actually see the oil platforms out in the ocean?

The President. Oh, yes, because those that are up, further up -- I'm always tempted to say north, but actually it's west, as the coastline there runs -- --

Q. Right, exactly. A true Santa Barbara resident knows the directions.

The President. But, we can see them, because from our ranch -- and that's one of the reasons why, when you asked a little while ago about Palm Springs -- no, I couldn't get that far from the ocean. There are spots on our ranch for riding when we can see both the Santa Barbara Channel and the Santa Ynez Valley at the same time. We just have to turn our heads.

Q. Can you see as far as Goleta? Like Storke Tower on the campus? Or is that a little too far down?

The President. No, we can't see that, never see that, but we see all the way to Anacapa, out to the Anacapa rocks -- --

Q. That's very good -- --

The President. -- -- the coastal islands. We're at -- we're about 2,400 feet at the ranch. But we see those derricks.

Q. When you see those, obviously, you must think about this business of the drilling in the channel. Some people in Santa Barbara, including some businessmen, say, ``Well, let's explore -- find out where the oil is, but not drill, not actually put it out. Let's hold it in reserve, because of the danger to the economy if there were another spill.'' Obviously, do you think that's possible, or realistic?

The President. I think they're ignoring one thing we found out at the time of the spill, because I was Governor at that time. And we sent -- incidentally, that was a Federal lease that leaked. And we found out at that time and they, themselves, told us that had they known the regulations on State leases, had followed the same regulations, there never would have been a spill. So, the Federal Government at that time -- the Nixon administration -- they adopted for Federal leasing -- we still do -- the same standards and requirements the State imposes.

Now the Federal Government has about 16 platforms off the coast of California, as increasing by some -- and they seem, we seem now, the Federal Government, to be getting all the attention and abuse. But there are several hundred wells that are State leases that have been there for quite some time. But when we sent the experts in -- and they weren't buddies of ours -- we sent scientists from the university campuses of California in to study this whole area and the problem. And they came back with one unanimous recommendation -- drill, get the oil out. They said the bottom of the channel is badly fractured. There are 16 permanent oil slicks that have been there as long as the memory of man.

Q. Yes.

The President. And they said the safest thing you can do is get that oil pumped out of there because there could be a natural disaster -- I'm sure they were speaking of an earthquake at that fractured bottom -- that would create a disaster of such dimensions that you could never get a -- the previous oil strike, or leak, as far as I can learn, was only about 790 barrels of oil. Now we're taking out tens of thousands of barrels. But their recommendation was drill, get it out, and remove that permanent threat that lies off the coast.

Q. But also, it's, of course, the policy of the administration to go after the off-shore oil, even though -- which reminds me that we've got a glut now in the world of oil that doesn't show any signs of slacking off. It may happen. And so a lot of people say -- and, again, we get letters to the editor -- --

The President. But we don't -- --

Q. -- -- ``Why drill with this glut?''

The President. Well, we've offered oil lands for lease, and they've turned it down. There have been no takers.

But here's another thing. The same people can't scream about the trade deficit, the imbalance of trade, when 50 percent of that is the oil that we have to import.

Now, wouldn't it make more sense for us -- we've already reduced considerably the amount of oil that we have to import, making ourselves closer to self-sufficient. But from a security standpoint, from even the balance in trade, it would make much more sense for us to be producing the oil ourselves than having to go out and buy it.

Q. There's an ongoing debate, I guess, perpetual in Santa Barbara -- some people say, ``Oh, those platforms are ugly as sin.'' Other people say, ``Well, they're not. Jeez, at night, they're beautiful.'' What do you think about them? Which side of the debate do you come down on?

The President. I have to say, you know, I think this is really reaching to say that some structure out there that far out in the ocean -- when you've got that whole expanse of ocean -- it isn't as if you were looking at the ocean through a little frame, and now somebody put something in the way.

And I once said to people that were complaining, I said, ``You know, we've got a lot of freighters, those liberty freighters, up in mothball. Why don't we bring down some and anchor them between the shore and the oil derrick? And then the people would see a ship, and they wouldn't find anything wrong with that at all.'' Or they don't mind seeing piers that go out a half or a quarter mile into the ocean. And why, I don't find them -- and then, as you say, at night -- I know one lovely old lady there who automatically complained in the daytime because she could see this derrick from her place. And then it was one of them that I guess they -- no, it was when they were drilling, and then, when they evidently didn't find oil, then they left. Then, she said, ``I miss the lights at night.'' [Laughter]

Q. Of course, the great solution would be to drill -- the rigs underneath the water, so we wouldn't have to see the platforms.

The President. Yes.

Q. But, of course, the expenses of that are -- --

The President. I know that there have been times when -- --

Q. -- -- outrageous.

The President. There have been times when some people in the business have talked about the possibility of submerged parts. Of course, there, you look at it in another way, too, what if you have -- nothing's perfect -- what if you have an accident there and then how do you deal -- --

Q. How do you -- exactly.

The President. Hundreds of feet down in the ocean.

Rancho del Cielo

Q. Tell me about the first time you saw the ranch.

The President. Well, you come in that private road. And now, you come down about a half a mile or so, and then you turn in the entrance road that was built before we got the ranch. But when we first looked at it, the entrance was way up here, right near that -- after you go through that gate.

Q. Right.

The President. Then you come in on a road. And you come in through the trees and everything. Well, Bill Wilson and his wife, knowing that -- see, we had to sell the ranch in order to be Governor because there wasn't a Williamson Act and the property taxes on that ranch -- there's no way I could be Governor and keep that. But we always knew we would want one.

So, as we were coming to the end of the second term, we started looking for a ranch. And Bill knew us very well, and they had a dude ranch down at the bottom of the -- --

Q. -- -- uh-huh.

The President. -- -- pass. And they knew the kind of thing that I was looking for. So, one day we were up visiting them. And Nancy and Betty got in the back seat, and he and I got in the front seat, and up the mountain we went, up Refugio Pass.

Of course, pretty soon, you know, all you're going through is that chaparral and -- --

Q. Yes.

The President. -- -- goat land.

Q. Right.

The President. And I was kind of thinking, gee, you know, maybe somebody's got a house up here on the mountain with a view and calls it a ranch. But it doesn't look like there's any space up here for a ranch. And Betty had never been up the road before. And Betty was saying, ``Bill, turn around. There can't be anything up here.'' He just silently kept driving.

And all of a sudden, as we came up close to the gate, suddenly here is a kind of a meadow of smoke trees beside the road -- and I think, well, then, maybe he does know what he's doing. And then we came to the gate where we turned in at the private road. And we came in through that second gate, now, and we're winding on this little gravel road through all of these trees. But it is, you know, kind of looking like rolling land and heavily wooded -- and suddenly you come out of those trees, and there is this saucer.

Q. Right.

The President. Down there you could see the house and the barn and so forth, and then you could see this thing. It's a 600 and some acres of meadows and oak and the -- forests and rolling hills. And there are some very steep canyons and so forth also.

But I just took one look, and I said, ``Let's buy it.'' [Laughter] And Bill said, ``Hey, don't talk that way. We've got to talk with the couple that's selling here.'' He says, ``Quiet down.''

But then we got down there, and -- Ray Cornelius and I -- they had horses, and we got on the horses. And we took a ride and -- --

Q. That did it.

The President. And I tell you, it's just unbelievable. It really is.

Q. Well, it's a fabulous place, and, you know, you're very fortunate to have it. And I think you got a pretty good deal on it, too, myself.

The President. I do, too.

Q. I went back, and I looked at the deed at the courthouse to see what was on it.

The President. The ranch at Malibu. Bob Taylor is alive. Bob, Ursula, and their son, Terry. And they came up to the ranch, and Bob and I -- I've always liked to plink -- and I'm not a great hunter. I've never killed a deer or anything. But I don't mind killing rodents.

And ground squirrels in California are an official, you know, pest. In other words, you can call the State, and they'll come in to eliminate them.

Q. Absolutely.

The President. And with the horses -- I mean, we were infested at that other ranch. So, Bob and I -- because he was a hunter -- well, we decided we'd go down -- and Terry, his son, came with us to a place where I knew there was a colony and where we could lie in wait. And all of a sudden the boy, Terry, was wandering around, came running back in, ``Snake! Snake!'' So, we went over, and sure enough it was a rattler. And it was heading toward the rocks also.

Well, I looked around, and there was a stick. And I grabbed the stick, and I swung at it, and the stick broke. And it was almost to the rocks and getting away. Well, now, I always at the ranch wore boots and britches, English-type boots, and I knew you can be pretty brave about snakes with those boots on. There's no way they're going to get through those boots, and they're not going to strike that high to get above. So, the stick broke, and he was almost getting away. I stomped on his head with my heel and then looked down. I had sneakers on. [Laughter]

Q. Oh, my God. [Laughter]

The President. Just entertaining them -- hadn't ridden that day or anything, waiting for them to come up. I'd forgotten all about it that that day. I just put on sneakers and a pair of jeans. And I'm looking down at my heel -- snake's head just -- if I'd missed him -- --

Q. But you nailed him, huh?

The President. -- -- that was the end of -- --

Q. Between your sneakers and the rock, you know, the Pentagon might be interested in a new weapons system, it seems to me. [Laughter]

Q. Thank you very much.

Note: The interview began at 11 a.m. on board Air Force One en route to California. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this interview, which was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on February 17.