As you pass through the front door that familiar “ding” sounds, and the cashier welcomes you kindly with a smile, and a “hows the day treating you?”. You return the greeting, and make your way quietly past the isles of Stanley tools, and the glass fronted cases full of American made Old Timer, Case, and Buck Knives. You finally reach the back of the hardwear store, where the hunting supplies are. “Hey partner, what can I do for you fellas?” You look up at you father with excitement in your eyes. “Junior here needs his first real hunting rifle” your fathers tells the clerk. Finally you will have your very own deer gun. “Well what an exciting day this is, whats it going to be, the model 70 in 06′, or the model 94 in 30-30″…
How quickly, in these days of infinite choices and availability, we forget that not all the long ago the purchase of a firearm was just like that. You went to the local hardware store, and depending upon who the store had affiliation with, had to pick from a very limited amount of guns. If they carried Winchester it was a Model 70, Model 94 or a Model 12. If it was Remington, you were looking at a Model 700, Model 760, Model 740, or the 870 pump shotgun. Calibers were limited, most likely in 30-06 or 30-30. (Yes there were others calibers available but stock on hand was most times kept pretty well limited, and we will get into that later.) You would pay with cash at the counter (remember that a 1967 Winchester Model 94 cost between $100-$140 depending on the model) and you would walk out of the store with rifle in hand and not a lick of paperwork anywhere. We could go on for days talking about the 4473… But instead lets talk about all the oldies and goodies that still make visits to the deer woods every year, and still put venison on the meat pole.
Variety is the spice of life… Maybe. Speaking from the personal stance of having a lot of firearms in different calibers (.22 LR, .22 WMR, .243 WIN, 270 WIN, .303 British, 7.62 x 54R, .338 WIN Mag, 45-70 GOVT. .38 Spl, 9mm, .357 Mag, .44 Mag, 40 S&W, .45 acp and 12 gauge) I can officially say that sometimes it is hard to choose what to take to the range or out into those cold November mornings. The first “hunting rifle” I purchased was a Ruger M77 featherweight all-weather in .270 Win at age 18, it still brings me a smile when I look at it. I’ve never even harvested a deer with that rifle (now it’s locked up and waiting for my son to christen it) but I know that it can, its accurate, beautiful, lightweight and in a caliber that is more than enough to kill anything in North America if used in the right situation and a proper shot is taken. But the same can be said about the Enfield SMLE that I got when I was 13. I talked my mom into buying it for me from Big 5, all $69 of it, it was my money after all, but Ma had to do the paperwork. Heavy as hell, with a sweet action, and a great caliber that can take care of almost anything (they still kill moose with it in the Canada) But let’s be honest, can’t every rifle do the same? lets look at the lowly 30-30 Winchester, Its 122 years old and ballistically about as exciting as a dud-firecracker. We have all heard the exact same sentiment about this rustic old caliber, “it’s an OK brush gun, just keep your shots under 100 yards, it just doesn’t have enough knockdown power”. Well lets give it some real thought. If you had the opportunity to shoot a black bear or moose at point-blank (were talking muzzle touching animal kind of range) would you make that shot with the mighty .44 Rem Mag? Would that be sufficient to humanely kill that animal? I sure think so! The .44 Rem Mag loaded with a 240 gr. jacketed soft point leaves the muzzle of a Smith & Wesson 629 with a 4″ barrel at 1180 fps, that works into a kinetic energy level of around 741 foot-pounds. Now lets look at the 30-30 for comparison, shooting a leverevolution 160 gr. bullet from a 20″ carbine will give you a muzzle velocity of 2340 fps, or roughly 1945 foot pounds of K.E. The pip-squeek 30-30’s kinetic energy doesn’t DROP DOWN to the mighty .44 mags muzzle energy until it has reached a distance of 400 YARDS (747 foot pounds). “Yeah but a 30-30 drops like a stone”. I guess it all depends on how you look at it, if you site in 3″ high at 100 yards, your dead on at 200, and 13″ low at 300. I don’t know about you ,but 300 yards goes along way in the woods that I hunt. In fact I would say that 95+ percent of the deer shot in North Idaho are shot at 150 yards or less, and of those I would just about bet my tax returns that 95% are shot at less than 75 yards. Do you know what will kill deer at those kinds of ranges? Everything! So where is the magic? What can a .325 wsm (est. 2005) do that a .250-3000 savage (circa 1915) cannot? At practical ranges, nothing. A miss with a .460 Weatherby or a miss with a .219 Zipper count the same. So do shots that don’t hit the vitals, a shot in the leg is still a shot in the leg no matter how big the hole is. Remember that Teddy Roosevelt, declared that the “”little 30″ (30-30 win) was a fantastic antelope gun, routinely connecting at shots of 180+ yards.” He liked them so much that he actually order one custom-made with a SUPPRESSOR, for killing varmints at his home in Long Island. (Like we needed any more proof that ol’ Teddy was the coolest man ever) Lever guns have also came in a lot more calibers then we tend to remember, the Marlin came in 30-30 win, .35 Rem, .219 zipper, .32 special, .356 Win, .44 Rem mag/ .44 spl., .410, 45-70 Govt., 444 marlin, .450 marlin, .357 mag/ .38 spl. and .45 Colt. The Winchester comes in .38 Special/.357 Magnum, .44 Special/.44 Magnum, .45 Colt , .405 Win, 30-30 win, .38-40 Winchester,.44-40 Winchester, .410 as well as 7-30 Waters. If you want to throw the Savage model 99 into the mix (and I firmly believe you can’t talk old school lever guns with out mentioning the 99) you have a hammerless lever gun in .303 Savage, .30-40 Krag, .300 Savage, .30-30 Winchester, .250 Savage, .22 Hi Power, .22-250 Remington, .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .358 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, .284 Winchester, .38-55 Winchester, .32 Winchester Special, .375 Winchester. That’s a lot of options, in a lightweight, high-capacity carbine that can be carried anywhere, and in most cases wont even raise an eyebrow in the media. In this day in age, that is truly saying a lot, especially in regards to firearms.
Maybe today we just have to many choices, or maybe we just want to be different. Every time we develop a new cartridge it’s like we are creating a solution so we can look for the question. Since the beginning of time, man has been protecting his livelihood, his livestock and hunting to feed himself and his family. The battle hasn’t changed, and neither have our goals. But as we become more technologically advance we feel that only new answers can solve our problems, how quickly we forget. So maybe next November, as you open your gun cabinet a 0′ dark thirty and prepare for another day afield, you will look past your .300 short mag with its $3,000 Nightforce scope, and grab the old lever-gun with its old iron sights. Maybe you bypass your Sitka activated carbon camo, for Granddad’s old Mackinaw Jacket. The feeling is different, you are experiencing what all the generations before you felt, stalking close, getting on a personal level with the animal, it’s what Dad did, and his Dad before him, and his Dad before that. It’s an appreciation for all the cold mornings spent afield before you, and a hope that there will be plenty more after you are gone. Remember that all your new inventions today, will at some point in time be considered old-school too.
-Grant Willoughby 02/05/2017-