Friday, November 18, 2016

A Tale of the Village Gun

My father did not spend a lot of time talking about the hard times in the Depression.  His father had been an avid hunter and trapper, and had passed those skills down to him.  Sometime in the 1930's he had obtained the Village Gun, my name for the old Springfield 84-C .22 bolt gun.  It had been nearly new, with a Weaver straight tube 2 3/4 power 3/4 inch scope when he purchased it for $7.50. Times were hard in the Depression.  Money was hard to come by. Wages for a boy picking rocks in farmer's fields were 50 cents a day.  As a man, my father was paid a dollar a day. It could be those were the wages he used to buy the rifle.

I only heard a few hunting stories about the Village Gun growing up. Most of the hunting stories involved my father's Savage 99, chambered in the classic .300 Savage caliber.  It was his favorite deer rifle.

This is a story of deer hunting with the Village Gun.

My father was a superb woodsman. He was quiet on his feet and taught me some of his skill. I could never gain his proficiency in the woods.  I inherited my mother's eyes.  My father could see things that were invisible to those without 20/15 vision and a lifetime of interpreting the cluttered visual field of the North woods.  He told me "Don't look for a whole deer.  Look for parts of a deer.  You will see an ear, or an eye, or an antler. You might see the straight line of a back, or a tail, or a leg."


Once, while my parents were visiting me and my wife in California, we took a walk through a live oak woods.  He pointed out three deer a hundred yards away, among the trees. I, my wife, and my mother, strained to see the animals. He said "they are going to run any moment". He could tell from long experience of observing deer body language. 30 seconds later, we watched three deer bounding through the trees. I could see them once they started running.

 My father knew the land within a few miles of the farm far better than the proverbial "back of his hand". I doubt that he could tell you about every vein on the back of his hand.  But he could tell you about the spruce grove in the hollow off the logging road, just past the big turn before you top the ridge. I could recognize those places, places where I had been dozens of times.

The country was different in Northern Wisconsin when he was a boy and young man. There were few big trees.  Most of those had been cut during the logging boom from 1880 to 1920.  The Wisconsin North Woods had supplied 80% of the worlds' lumber in some of those years.  The secondary growth was only a few years old. This story happened about 30 miles north of the farm.

He was visiting his in-laws in country even wilder than where I grew up. It wasn't deer hunting season. He had taken the Village Gun in the hopes of getting some meat in the early fall.

He told his father in law that he was going to get a deer. Grandpa Gillis was skeptical. My father walked out the door and into the woods with the Village Gun. In the early afternoon he was carefully, slowly, and quietly slipping through the woods, rifle carried at a high ready, safety on and under his thumb. He was in cedars near a creek.

Then, he saw it.  The front legs and shoulder of a deer.  He was hunting for meat. The rifle came up smoothly and quietly as the safety slipped silently forward and off. The rifle spat. Standard velocity out of a long barreled .22 is not a thunderclap. The deer did not immediately jump. Snap, snap, two more shots entered the ribcage just behind the shoulder, before the doe knew that something was wrong. The deer took off.  Bolt actions can be very fast when you are practiced.

My father was not in a rush.  He knew the deer was dead.  Better to let it lie down and expire, instead of rushing forward and having it run further.

After a minute, he moved forward a few yards, softly, softly. Suddenly there was the deer, peering right at him from 50 feet away.  In the dense cover, he could only see the head. "How are you still on your feet?" he thought. He took another shot, carefully placed just below the line of the eyes, aimed to intersect a line connecting the two ear openings.  A deer's brain is not a large target.  The deer dropped out of his sight.  He continued forward, carefully, slowly, quietly.

There was the deer looking at him again!  He was sure that was a dead deer!  It was a few yards away from where he had last shot it.  Again, only the head was visible.

The Village Gun came to his shoulder one last time.  With the last shot to the brain, the deer dropped dead.  My father was amazed at what had happened. Deer just didn't act like that. That deer should have been dead three times!

My father investigated.  Maybe there was a branch or twig he had not seen, that had deflected a bullet or three.

He looked at the deer he had just killed. It was a good shot, a bullet to the brain, a quick, instant, painless death.  But there was only one hole, one shot, no entry wounds in the chest. He investigated further.  Aha.  A second deer, virtually identical to the first.  Another single bullet to the brain.  No chest wounds.

More investigation revealed the third deer, the first he had shot, a good sized doe. No head wounds on this one.  Only three tightly spaced shots through the lungs. It was an adult doe with two nearly adult offspring.

I am sure none of the meat was wasted.  He field dressed the deer and went back to tell his father in law to hitch up the horses.  He had three deer to bring in.  Grandpa Gillis did not believe him until he saw the deer on the ground.

Shooting multiple animals in dense cover because of mistaken identity is not uncommon, if you spend a fair amount of time in the field.  Roy Chapman Andrews had a similar experience to my father's. It was with Alaskan brown bears on Kodiak Island.

The circumstances were similar. It was a female with two young that were almost ready to go out on their own. The famous explorer, spy, and museum curator shot brown bears with a 6.5x54 Mannlicher Schoenauer.  Like the Village Gun, it was a five shot bolt action. Both men were excellent woodsmen.  Both grew up in Wisconsin.  Andrews was a generation older. I am sure they would have enjoyed each others company.

Maybe the Village Gun has a few more tales. I will ask my brother if he recalls any.

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch

No comments: