Story by Mike Burchett
Ever since I was a little boy, I can remember spending many days with my grandpa. His name was Ray. It was actually Walter Ray, but he simply went by Ray. I would spend summers with him at the beach fishing, digging clams and an occasional trip shooting. I can still remember the smell of his den. It always had the aroma of Hoppe’s #9, the gun-cleaning solvent. He had a desk set up to reload, and his rifles were stacked in a gun cabinet. It was in this room I learned many things. I learned to assemble cartridges, how to clean a rifle and the endless love of a grandfather to his grandson.
As he aged, his memory failed and his attention to detail waivered. Once when we went shooting, I was just 8 or 9 years old, and his rifle almost knocked me down. It was a Winchester 94 in 30.30. He couldn’t believe it did that to me.
There was no recoil pad, just the steel plate on the butt to rest against my shoulder. I tried again and the results were the same. He took it in disbelief, shouldered it and let it bark. He never thought of that rifle acting like that.
We put it away and went back to the .22LR I always enjoyed. I can remember him pulling the bullets and weighing the powder. Low and behold, the ammo had been loaded with enough powder for the .308. It was a wonder we didn’t get hurt. Time went by and he always told me that when I got my hunting license I would receive his hunting rifle. I loved this rifle. It was just like my dad’s rifle. I didn’t understand the nostalgia of this rifle for quite a while. All I knew was it had a silly name. My dad’s had a cool name. We called it “Black Widow.” It had a super dark stock, almost black, and it had a reputation of filling the freezer. My rifle to be was called “The Pea Shooter.” Not quite as manly but I couldn’t wait.
At age 12, my dad put me into hunter’s education classes. I passed with 100 percent and couldn’t wait for my rifle, though it didn’t come right away. Hunting season came and my grandpa pulled out his new rifle. I then got to hunt with my new rifle. No, it wasn’t new by any means but it was as nice as I could ever want.
The rifle is a 1952 Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in .308. My Grandpa had sanded the stock to remove the varnish, and loaded it up with Linseed oil to bring out its natural grain.
I CHERISHED THIS RIFLE. Cherished it as much as a 12-year old could, that is, until I was tired and fell asleep while hunting. I let it lay on the floor, as I was told not to many times, and something fell on it. The first time out and there was a gouge in the stock.
DEAD FOOT ARMS
I was sad, I was mad, I was embarrassed. I didn’t know what to say. He had this rifle for 35 years and not a mark. I have it for a couple of weeks and now it was ruined. At least I felt like it was ruined. All I can remember getting was a hefty “I told you not to leave it on the floor;” nothing more, nothing less.
I continued to visit through the years and take time out of school to hunt with my grandpa. It was just the two of us many times. We spent weeks away from town covering the hillsides looking for deer and elk. My trusty rifle at my side and his trusty grandson at his.
23 years have passed since I was given this token of his love. I have since lost my grandfather to gain something more. A deeper relationship with my dad and the chance to see another generation learn from what my grandfather taught me. Seeing my kids with my dad takes me right back to when I was 9 years old. Seeing my dad tromping through the brush with my daughter on his heels stirs emotion I can’t explain.
I have since retired the “Pea Shooter” and replaced it with something new. It makes it to the range every now and then, and even made a trip afield this past year. I will always treasure this rifle. I will always treasure the time I spent with family while learning its use. As I get older, I will have the pleasure of passing it down and sharing the stories again.
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