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Drive and shoot a tank on a one-of-a-kind Texas adventure vacation

Taking aim at a bullet-riddled car with the main cannon of a WW II Sherman Tank. At Ox Ranch, near Uvalde in the Texas Hill Country, civilians can shoot fully functional tanks, machine guns and other weapons of war. (Photo:Bettie Cross)

Deep in Texas, on the edge of the Hill Country, pastureland is being transformed into an African savanna. 18,000 rugged acres in Uvalde have been transformed into a free-roaming range dotted with giraffes, zebra and 60 other species. But at Ox Ranch it's not just the animals that are exotic. Every experience immerses guests in another time or place.

"Who wouldn't love driving and shooting an old historic tank," asked Todd DeGidio, one of the co-founders of DriveTanks.com.

The retired Houston Police Department helicopter pilot and Green Beret helps run the only ranch in the world where civilians can feed a giraffe and then shoot fully functional tanks, machine guns and other weapons of war.

"Our number one goal is to have fun and let people have a great time, but also to keep history alive and rolling," said DeGidio.

The famed Sherman tank is the headliner of the World War II collection. The 1944 relic can uncomfortably seat a family of four. The Rodenbergers drove 900 miles from Colorado so they could log a few more on a tank course that includes obstacles, drop-offs and a spring-fed crossing.

"You'll see wildebeest herds running through the tank course, giraffes, sometimes you have to stop the tank and wait for the water buffalo to cross the water crossing," said DeGidio.

Holly and Keith Rodenberger helped their two sons save up so they could rewind the clock 75 years and embed themselves in a living military museum.

"They would help with washing the car, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house," said Holly. "They are just loving being here. This is like a dream come true for them."

She and her family set their sights on an adventure that could be transforming. Her 12-year-old son, Jack, is obsessed with World War II. He's the one who pulled the trigger on this all-day adrenaline rush.

"He would love to drive a tank, to be in the Army to drive tanks, so I think it's a really neat experience for him," said Holly.

Jack and his 16-year-old brother, Jonathan, can handle a lot of the firepower on the simulated battlefield.

"It's powerful. It like kicked, a lot," said Jack after firing one of the guns.

But their dad, Keith, was drafted to remotely fire a 15-pound projectile at a bullet-riddled car.

"There's really nowhere else in the world that somebody can come out and shoot the live main gun of a Sherman tank," said DeGidio. "We know it's the only one in North America that still shoots."

For Keith and his two sons the countdown to firing the Sherman Tank's 76mm cannon was filled with anticipation.

"Just waiting for that explosion to happen is just absolutely incredible," said Keith. "And once it does the force, the sound and everything goes and of course it hits dead on, perfect shot. So this has been by far the best day of our lives for sure."

Adventure travel sends everyone down a different path, but where else could 12-year-old Jack drive a tank and blow things up long before he's old enough to enlist.

The package that includes driving the Sherman tank on the simulated battlefield course, shooting the main gun, and firing some vintage machine guns will cost about $3,000.

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