Monday, November 14, 2016

The Village Gun

Northern Wisconsin is gun culture country.  When I was growing up in the 50's and 60's, everybody had a gun or three in every house.  It wasn't always so.  The Depression was a hard time for a lot of people.  My father managed to snag the Springfield model 84-C during the 1930's. He paid $5 for the rifle and $2.50 for the scope. The rifle will feed Shorts, Longs, and .22 Long Rifle interchangeably through the detachable 5 shot magazine. The scope was an old straight tube 3/4 inch 2 3/4 power. It was state of the art in the 30's. It was a Weaver. As I recall, it was a model 329.  Those sold in 1934 for $4.75, with a choice of mounts.  

The rifle was advertised for $9.70 in 1939, so the pricing ratio was about right.


Somehow the scope had acquired hole in the tube, just  ahead of the adjustments.  I never changed the adjustments, and it always was right on.  The hole was sealed with a couple of wraps of ordinary transparent tape, probably Scotch. It was a farm boy repair. It was in that condition when I first became aware of it about 1960.

The tape grew more and more yellowed with age, and the scope grew dimmer and dirtier. By 2010, the inside had gathered enough grime that it was becoming unusable. I replaced it. I considered having it refurbished, but could not justify it.  I reasoned that no one but me would have an attachment to that old scope.

My father said that a deer shot through the lungs with a .22 acted the same as if it were shot in the same spot with a .300 Savage.  It ran a hundred yards and died. He told me an excess of 200 deer had been harvested with the 84-C. Most of them were taken illegally.  They were much appreciated in those hard times. Meat was expensive, even on the farm. During WWII, it was rationed. He shot a lot of the deer himself, but he wasn't the only one.  In those times, not everyone had a rifle.

Or maybe not everyone had a rifle and ammunition.  The rifle was a favorite of the neighbors to borrow when they wanted to get some venison.  If the hunt was successful, the rifle would be returned with a front quarter.  Besides being quiet and cheap, the village gun destroyed little meat.  I never shot a deer with the rifle, but hundreds, probably thousands, of squirrels, grouse, rabbits, and various pests from crows to ground squirrels and the occasional raccoon or fox were accounted for. 

I went to Panama in the 1980's. I left the rifle in Wisconsin.  I didn't want to risk it overseas, through import and export.  While in Panama, I visited the San Blas Islands.  Americans were popular there, even with an ongoing "cold war" with the Noriega regime, just before the invasion of Panama in 1989. Little handmade American flags were on top of most of the houses.

An American missionary group had brought running fresh water to the main island. It was a small, flat, corral island. It sat a couple of hundred yards off the coast, in the Caribbean. Houses covered the Island, because there were no mosquitoes.  Mosquitoes cannot live in salt water. The addition of running fresh water improved the quality of life enormously.

I encountered the same village gun system on the Island.  Guns were relatively expensive. The old rules applied. Borrow the gun. If successful, a share of the game went to the owner.  Basic capitalism at work.

As a poacher's gun, the .22 has few equals.  It is quiet, powerful enough, and inexpensive. Food is cheap in the modern United States. Poaching in Northern Wisconsin is rare. If it is done, hunger is seldom the reason.  That is a good thing.

Many memories are attached to the village gun. I learned to shoot and to hunt with it. I don't have a problem with my father and his neighbors feeding their families, even though game was scarce.

The game recovered with modern management practices. Poaching to eat was never the problem, market hunting and loss of habitat were.

I hope to pass the village gun to my grandson.  Perhaps he will find an interest in the old, obsolete, bolt action.  It works fine and shoots straight.  I have been wondering if I should refinish the stock, maybe have the rifle reblued. But the stock dings and wear have been honestly earned with thousands of miles of carry in the field.

I will consider it. Maybe there is time for my grandson to make the choice.

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

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