“The road goes on forever and the party never ends” – From the song, “The Road Goes on Forever,” -Robert Earl Keen, Jr.
Maybe with growing older comes the realization that Robert Earl’s words might not relate to the life we live in this world and that here, the road does not go on forever. Some things come up during a walk through this life that just need to be done. This idea, I guess, was the inspiration for the very popular movie, “The Bucket List,” starting Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. This months article is about just one simple thing on My Bucket List.
After World War II, there were a lot of military surplus and captured weapons placed on the market by the US Military available at modest prices to the general public (oh, how times have changed). Dad bought up a pretty good pile of these rifles through the NRA and sporterized them over the many years that were to follow.
He re-barreled an 1898 Large Ring Mauser to 30-06 and whittled out a very nicely figured American walnut plank into a very serviceable rifle for my older brother, Harold. Dad checkered it on the grip and forearm in a traditional pattern and Harold went on to shoot a number of whitetails with it around the Black Hills after he got out of the US Navy and Korea, and before he moved his family to Las Vegas NV to work at Nellis AFB until he retired. I do not know if the ’06 ever saw any action out west, but I think not as pressures of family and a whole new world diminished or stopped Harold’s hunting. Nevertheless, the rifle served its purpose and put venison on the table.
For my next older brother, Jim, of whom I have written from time to time, Dad worked up a 1917 Enfield 30-06 with some nice relief carvings of deer on the walnut stock. Jim, too, put down several whitetails including one old grizzly buck that was the talk of the Hills the fall of his Jr. year at Rapid City High. Until their house burned down in 1988, that picture of Jim in his “R” Letter Jacket holding the 191
7 and that buck had a place of honor in the living room.
Dad fashioned for himself an 8 mm with a full length Mannlicher Stock, also carved in relief with whitetail deer running on the butt stock. The rifle was fitted out with a full buckhorn sight that Dad used as a peep, as the rifle bolt handle came through the receiver rear ring and would not permit either a scope or a traditional peep sight to be mounted. Dad was not a horn hunter so while he did shoot some bucks, he also would shoot the first doe that moseyed past the stump where he might be sitting. W
e never went hungry for venison if the old 8mm spoke.
For me, he took a 1903 Springfield and put a beautiful cherry wood stock on it. The cherry plank, according to Dad, came out of the South Dakota State House when it was replaced during a remodeling project that Dad was involved in as a carpenter / cabinet maker. On the Springfield stock, he departed from the deer motif and carved a mountain lion on the butt stock, a bobcat on each side of the fore end and then embellished the underside of the stock from the grip to the tip of the fore end with a vine and leaf pat
tern. Then he took a common nail punch and stippled the entire background with little circles from the end of the punch. He fitted it out with a high quality Williams peep sight and gave it to me when I was about 5 years old.
The rifle served to really increase my already high desire to get old enough to join the hunt. In South Dakota in those days, a 9 year old
who had passed hunters safety and was in full presence – and by that I mean, no more than arms length away- could hunt with a parent or legal guardian. Dad reasoned correctly that a 9 year old and the recoil from a 30-06 might not be a good combination so he re-barreled the rifle with another Springfield barrel that he had cut down and chambered to the then-popular 300 Savage. He also took up reloading cartridges about that same time and began making light recoil loads with home-cast bullets with gas checks.
Dad and I spent several winter evenings in the basement pouring and sizing bullets, lubricating them and putting on gas checks. Then we loaded up I don’t know how many shells with some 1800 fps recipe.
I turned 9 in April and by the time the weather had warmed up, Dad had me out shooting the Springfield in our back yard out in the Hills. The stock was a little long for me and it was kind of heavy for me, but we got through that after the first two or three hundred rounds. I got where I could shoot it quite well and Dad apparently decided that I was ready. I took a Hunters’ Safety Class in September and in October, Dad and a friend of his named, Earl, began to take me along when they went “scouting” in October.
Dad had suffered a debilitating heart attack a few years prior and while he could do a lot of stuff, he had to take it easy. This suited him fine for deer hunting as he had concluded long ago that Stump Sitting was the best way to get a whitetail anyway. Dad, Earl and I confirmed fresh deer activity in the area of the Hills the older men liked to hunt. It was not very steep or gnarly so the old timers could handle it without any particular threat to their health.
That first year, and for the four to follow, we hunted more or less in the same area. I think Dad and Earl got deer every year. I did not. I was, and still am, a very bad fidget-er and drove Dad nuts. Even though the law said “arms length” Dad elected to put me on my own stump several yards away, with enough cove r between him and the trail he was watching so as my fidgeting would not screw things up.
I had a hankering for a rifle with a scope on it so Dad altered a 1903-A3 from the same purchase period as the other rifles mentioned above. He gave it to me pretty much as issued except for having turned down the bolt handle and altered the safety so it was Safe in the Up position and on Fire in the Down Right position (instead of the Down Left as issued). I polished up all the metal and Dad blued it. He then gave me a $9.95 semi-inletted Fajen stock ordered out of Herter’s catalog.
The resulting 30-06, which I have named Meat in the Pot, has gone on to serve me well, taking countless whitetails and mule deer, a dozen pronghorns or more, a black bear and an Ontario moose. You do not want me shooting at you with Meat in the Pot unless your life insurance is paid up, believe you me.
The fall I finished Meat in the Pot, I put the 1903 Springfield 300 Savage on my gun rack. (Remember when we used to be able to put our guns out proudly on display instead of having to keep them locked up in a gun-safe in the basement?) Dad decided that my passion for deer hunting as a Stump Sitter might be waning so he hooked me up with some of his younger co-workers and Dad and I never hunted deer together again. He got to where he didn’t go at all anymore, about that time. He was never in the woods with me for the harvest of a deer. I will mention, however, that Dad and I did share two great pronghorn hunts and several successful pheasant hunts so all was not lost. Just never did get deer together.
The idea that I had never used the Springfield 300 Savage to take a deer began to eat at me a few years ago. It became one of those things that just seemed like it needed to be done. Each time I dug into my gun vault to get out something for whatever hunt I was about to go on, I would think about the 300 and the fact that it had never fulfilled its purposed.
I thought about breaking it out a few times but my right eye, my shooting eye, is not able to be fully corrected anymore no matter how much glass the optometrist uses. And, I am left-eye dominant. Using a scope helps me be effective with both of those shortcomings. The peep sight on the Springfield 300 Savage and I are no longer made for each other.
In anticipation of this fall’s deer season, I made the decision that the next deer I would shoot would be with the 300 Savage. Period. I dug out the old girl and scrubbed the bore – which did not need to be done as I had cleaned it thoroughly before I put it on the wall, and later into the gun vault, and periodically wiped a rag through it over the years. Always putting it back into the dry dark place without shooting it.
I rooted out my stash of cartridges for it, took it out and sighted it in – it had moved over the past 50 years, but not a whole lot. I figured out that if I were to have a chance at all, I would have to shoot left-handed or more particularly, left eyed. So I did a lot of practicing bringing it up and achieving a left eyed sight picture for the last two months,
Last Saturday, the gun deer season opened in Wisconsin and the 300 and I were out there. I missed a doe. I was happy to get a shot with the rifle but must confess I was pretty disheartened that I did not get the deer. An hour after shooting light on Sunday morning, however, a small buck made the mistake of trying to sneak through a thicket of heavy cover about 75 yards in front of me. With my left eye and the peep sight, I was able to see his head clearly so I drew a bead and touched her off at what I thought would be its shoulder. The deer did not move. I put in another shell and did it again. This time the deer started walking but showed no sign of a hit. Once again it stopped and lowered its head as if he were following a doe. This time when the 300 spoke, the buck did an acrobatic jump then disappeared.
Pretty soon, my pal, Slip Bobber, happened along so I directed him to the spot I last saw the deer when he saw the blood trail and called to me, I got down out of the tree stand and walked toward the Bobber. He soon hollered out that the deer was down,
Sure enough. What has been Unfinished Business for about 50 years is now Finished. I looked at that rifle and thought about how Dad’s handiwork, if not he, himself personally, was there for my First Buck with the Springfield 300 Savage rifle he whittled out of a cherry wood plank all those years ago.
The big smile came easy that day. I think I may plan to take another deer or two with it now that I know I can get the job done left-eyed.