My relationship with lever action rifles runs deep, and like many folks, is closely tied to that of family and history. I doubt that the Red Ryder BB gun will hold much of a place in the history books as a formidable weapon system that impacted in the course of history, though it should. I probably have as many hours logged in the woods with my Red Ryder BB gun, embarking on “adventures” as I do with all other systems combined. Like many, it was the first weapon that paved the way for adventure, curiosity, and appreciation. As I grew older, naturally I graduated to a .22LR, and even though I ventured the property checking traps like I was Grizzly Adams. I remember wanting a scope so bad I could taste it. Though my father was not a traditionalist per say, he did insist that my brother and I learn to shoot with open sites and be proficient shooting ambidextrously. Like many things growing up, this appeared ludicrous and depriving. I always laugh about it now, because after years of wishing and dreaming for those high speed optics, nothing brings a smile to my face quite like shouldering an old lever action and lining up the sights. I have no doubt that this intentional handicap also aided in honing my skills as a woodsman over years of trying to get close to anything that moved. My first deer rifle was an old Marlin .30-30. It was nothing particularly special, but to this day I can look at that rifle and recall many emotions. I spent many a year following my dad around in the woods in search of deer and elk, usually with my BB gun in tow, but there is a certain step into manhood when you step into the woods for the first time with a rifle. You made it, this is it, or so you think. Little do you know, you have much yet to learn and many failures and frustrations to wade through. Yet for now, you might as well be batting in the big leagues.
In life, as in all things, in order to appreciate something you must step away from it for a bit. I have always held my old Winchesters in the highest regard, and have bought and sold many guns over the years. Several of them have held a special place for a time, and some were traded to soon. Recently my grandfather stopped by the shop with a special gift, a Government issue model 1895 Winchester, chambered in 30-06. After leaving the army in his twenties, my grandfather went to the local sporting goods store and purchased a “hunting rifle” for $50. Though this is the first model 1895 I have owned, I know for a fact that unlike all the Winchesters that have, or ever will go through my hands, this one is special. It was then and there in my shop that a little seed was replanted in my brain. Grandpa asked me if I was going to take it hunting. Actually he said, “You might want to check the sights before you take it hunting.” At the time, I laughed and said, “Grandpa this isn’t a gun you take hunting, or even outside.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that conversation sparked an interest in reliving the days of old. The right hunt has yet to come along, but I definitely plan to take this old gun on at least one last hoorah before she gets placed in the safe.
Fast forward a year and I got the invite to go to California and hunt wild pigs in the hills of wine country. I had just finished some new 44-40 Winchester hollow point ammo and thought it would be a great opportunity to test the new 44-40 ammo. The gun of choice for this hunt was a Winchester Model 1892 replica made by Chiappa Arms. Though I have spent a fair amount of time at the range with this firearm, it wasn’t until I was wandering the hills in search of game that I remembered hunting in my youth. Hunting the hills of California with a trusty lever action rifle, it’s hard not to imagine this place as it was a hundred plus years ago. I am sure someone, long before me, chased wild boars in these same hills with a similar gun. The pigs in California were brought here as a food source by the Russians in the early to mid 1800’s when Fort Ross was a prominent Russian establishment. Over time they have thrived and grown in population throughout the hills of central California. The hills are much steeper then you think of when imagining the rolling vineyards of today. They make me wonder what this place looked like before the hustle and bustle of the California life.
Glassing up a group of pigs feeding in an open meadow my anticipation and excitement grew. As I stalked in on the group of hogs as they fed across the open grass, I could feel a smile on my face as I remembered the feeling of holding a lever action so many times as a kid. At a distance of 80 yards, I knew that I was well within killing range for my weapon and raised my gun onto my shooting sticks. There was something about holding those open sights on the boar as I waited for the perfect angle that created such a connection for me. I paused to soak up that moment and truly appreciate the experience-cocking the hammer back and settling in to make absolute sure that the sights were perfect.
It is no surprise that I have the desire to ensure that we remember the guns and the way of life from an earlier era. I have built Powder River Cartridge around this idea and have always promoted the idea of honoring the Winchesters and the Henrys. Not necessarily in a specific gun, but in an idea. I love old guns and the stories they hold, but I support replicas and new manufactured versions of old guns as well. Truth be told, that is how the 73s and the 92s will live on for future generations, and to get the opportunity to go on a hunt with a great old gun was very rewarding.
This Old Gun will be our new collaborative blog here at Powder River Cartridge to both share the history, as well as inspire others to enjoy the guns of an era that shaped our great country.