Taking An Old-timer Hunting Can be A Rewarding Experience!
Most of us who consider ourselves hunters can, or could, benefit from the experience of those who have been in the game longer than ourselves. There is always something to learn from seasoned veterans, and doing so can help you both enjoy your time afield more, and in a safe manner. When I began to hunt again after spending 30 years or so as a hard, hard core fisherman, I remembered my younger days when I loved to hunt, and read everything I could in the popular outdoor magazines of the day by the giants of the industry – like Jack O’Connor. Of course, it wasn’t possible to ask these departed authors to hunt with me – or was it?
The constant companion of every hunter is his or her weapon of choice, be it a rifle, shotgun, handgun, bow, or crossbow. This implement will always be at your side – or in your hand. Probably no other companion can teach you more about the killing portion of the sport, which is not all there is to hunting by any means – but it IS a part of it. The animals we hunt deserve to be taken cleanly, and quickly. Not only is this important from a humane angle, but if the animal is to be eaten the meat will be of much better quality if the kill is quick, and the animal is not wounded and pursued. This usually involves “using enough gun” to make a clean kill, knowing where to best place your shot, and then being able to put it there. To do this, your firearm must become a very good friend – one you can depend on.
A noted custom revolver builder remarked in a book he wrote that each one had its own personality, its own soul. I suspect this also applies to guns other than wheel guns. Some rifles have endured over the years longer than others. Those that are still popular reach that status because they were – and are – accurate and dependable, and chambered in popular cartridges. Simply put, they work.
My first such hunting companion after I returned to the field was one I had always thought to be one of the best looking rifles ever, besides it’s other qualifications. After admiring this rifle in magazines and catalogues as a teenager, I finally found and acquired a Savage Model 99, in .300 Savage caliber. Mine was made in 1950, as was I! The .300 Savage cartridge was originally envisioned as a military round being capable of approximating the power of the .30-06 in a shorter cartridge easier to use in a semi-auto. This was the role later filled by the .308, but the .300 Savage found its place as an excellent sporting round, mostly in the Model 99 lever action rifle. A bullet weight of 150 grains was probably the most popular, although a 180 grain version was also made, and used mostly by hunters after elk or moose in more Northern climes. I killed a spike buck in South Texas with that 99 the first year I used it with a 150 grain, and a small 8-point on my property a few years later – and the older rifle seemed to remember exactly how to do it. Quite a few hogs have also fallen to this gun and load, and I used a 180 grain soft point from it to down my largest boar to date. The old Savage comes to my shoulder naturally and points quickly. It is also more accurate than an old lever gun in a “dated” cartridge might be expected to be, especially when firing the 130 grain hand loads with the Barnes TTSX all copper bullets I have begun to use.
My next “hunting buddy” was even more experienced. I sort of inherited a 1909 Argentine Mauser. An uncle who had passed away had been a big fan of Jack O’Connor, also, and had this surplus military rifle – which I found was actually produced in 1917 – re-barreled to .270 caliber and set the action in a decent, but not quite finished walnut sporter stock with a vintage Leupold variable scope. I soon found that the 1909 Argentine is well thought of as a “donor” action for custom rifle builds, but the barrel on this one seems to have been produced by a company no longer in business. It has never been my most accurate rifle, but the only deer I have shot at with it was taken down with a high shoulder shot at just over 100 yards – and showed me why the .270 is so legendary as a game cartridge. I re-finished the stock, and have enjoyed the company of this rifle afield.
The next step for me was a natural one – to get a Winchester Model 70 to share my hunting adventures. The first one I found was a 1968 vintage “push-feed” in .30-06, but attractive to me because it was a Mannlicher version with a full-length stock by custom stock maker Fajen and a 19” barrel. Only about 2,500 of these rifles were built, in .30-06, .270, .243, and .308, with the most being in .30-06. I have made no kills with this gun as yet, but it has faithfully come along with me on some enjoyable hunts.
The 1968 Model 70 was followed by a real find – a 1952, pre-’64, build. This one showed me why the pre-1964 Model 70’s are so highly thought of, and is perhaps the most accurate rifle I own. It has put down some large hogs for me, and who knows where it hunted in its younger days, what game it harvested?
My other pre-64 model 70 just barely qualifies, as it was made in 1963. The caliber is .300 Winchester Magnum, and this was the first year the .300 Win Mag was offered. This action as bedded in a Boyd’s laminate stock, making it heavy enough to contain the recoil. This is also a very accurate rifle, and most of my shooting with it has been with Federal loads containing the 130 grain Barnes Tipped Triple Shock all copper bullet. The high velocity and bullet construction knocked over a large feral sow at 130 yards for me, but a small doe I shot in South Texas ran about 30 yards after being hit through both shoulders, so maybe it isn’t too big for Texas deer?.
All of these rifles probably fall in the “classic” category. Another like that is a Ruger semi auto carbine in .44 magnum that I bought for my wife as a hog rifle. She had been using a .243 that just would not put them down – and keep them down – for her. The first one she shot with the .44 mag went straight down and stayed there. Between us both, we killed 4 nice hogs with that rifle the first weekend we used it – all one shot kills. As I said earlier, you need to use enough gun. I recently read that Bill Ruger designed the rotary magazines in this rifle and his 10/22 rim fire rifle to emulate the magazine in the Savage, one of his all-time favorite rifles. He is also supposed to have “converted” a 99 into a semi-auto while in college. Early Ruger .44 magnums were called “Deerstalker” carbines, until the Ithaca Shotgun company pointed out their Pump shotgun designed for shooting slugs at venison had been going by the same name for some time, but it is still one of the very best deer rifles in heavy brush.
The last rifle I added to my safe was my only brand new purchase. It is a Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in .270 – a REAL Jack O’Conner rifle – made the first year Winchester went back to the controlled round feed of the pre-64’s. Sadly, this .270 is also not capable of pin-point accuracy on the range as it came from the factory, but like the Argentine Mauser, it is a deer-killer. My largest buck to date fell to one shot to the chest from this rifle at 75 yards, and I was able to watch it drop through the scope.
These are more rifles than I need to hunt efficiently with, I know that, but I treasure each one. They are trusted friends that I can rely on to do their job as long as I do mine, and if we can’t go hunting we often just shoot at targets – and enjoy spending the time together.