The ‘gun group’ decides what constitutes the ideal SoCal deer rifle for an older hunter
By JIM MATTHEWS
For the past few years, I have been an irregular participant in group of older men who meet most Saturday mornings in the cramped little office at a glass shop in Los Angeles County. Some are gun loons of the first order, some are long-time hunters, and most are both. The group convenes around 8 a.m., give or take an hour, relocates to a local restaurant for lunch at 11:30 or so and then adjourns after a meal until the next weekend.
Most of us are past 60, some well past. As we hobble and gimp in, there is always the question about whether to sit down or stand up because one or both are uncomfortable. That usually stimulates brief talk about ailments, updates on conditions, and status of other friends.
Away for a while, I found out one had sold all his guns, moved to Oregon, and spends all his time traveling with his wife these days.
“All his guns?”
“I didn’t think he’d ever sell that little rifle he doted on.”
“No, all of them. He can’t hunt any more, so what’s the point?
There was a pause and everyone looked at one particular member of the group, questioningly.
“I didn’t get it! I don’t know what happened to that rifle. I think he gave it to his step-son.”
And then a general groan went up, all knowing the step-son didn’t deserve the rifle. First, he wasn’t ever even a visitor to the group, and second, he didn’t appreciate fine firearms or how important that gun was to his step-father because he didn’t appreciate this particular fine firearm. We all knew it was a wonderful, old classic gun. Perhaps, we were mildly sad that it wasn’t in appreciative ownership, but hopeful it would find its way into hands like ours in the future. We all had guns that found their way to us by this route.
I was filled in on the news that a long-time regular had died since I’d last attended. He choose assisted suicide when he couldn’t do anything he loved to do any more, including walk, pee, shoot, hunt, or eat anything that had flavor. He made the decision when he was about to lose use of his right hand and arm, just a week after the left side of his body became trash.
Mostly we talked about rifles and bullets and wildcat cartridges and told hunting stories on other members of the group. It was revealed that one hunter was called a “bird watcher” by a dog handler on a recent pheasant hunt because he let far more fly away than he shot. It came to light that another had to be practically carried out of the field by other members of the group on two separate trips the previous two falls.
“Wait, you too? I about had a heart attack getting him back to the truck.”
There was a unanimous decision that he simply be left for the coyotes and maggots the next time he couldn’t get back to a vehicle under his own power. And then everyone started claiming his different guns. I was the first to speak up for his .250 Savage and his odd-ball 9.3x57, both bolt action rifles. A couple of other members disputed my claim on the 9.3, but I said that possession was 9/10s of deal: That the gun was in my gun safe at the present time, ostensibly because I was doing the owner a favor and shooting it to get him some correctly-sized brass handloads in the oversize chamber. I said that I didn’t plan on giving it back while our friend was still alive, and that no one else was getting the 9.3 when he did die.
We laughed a lot, gloated about Hillary losing and complained about Trump winning, and had our perfunctory and gleeful discussion about hard-recoiling rifles that hurl big bullets downrange. All of us have, or had, big guns that can detach retinas and dislocate shoulders because they are fun. And all of us have handloaded full-power loads for those guns. These are loads that can send you staggering backward three steps from the recoil, but we also have very light, cast-bullet loads that make the gun painless to shoot. One laughed that his wife’s cat could run down the bore of his latest big bore rifle project. None of us volunteered to shoot it. That led to more stories of guns with bruising recoil. We all agreed we would not let people shoot our boomers with the painful loads if they were unaware they were about to be brutalized. Never. (If this story were a screenplay, you’d now read something like, “Insert loud, raucous laughter here.”)
Conversations would diverge and divide into discussions between two or three of the group and then merge back to all six crammed in the little office during my most recent visit. It was like watching river currents, roiling and sweeping around boulders and bank, before joining together again, all with a shared journey.
I told them I wanted to buy or put together a really lightweight deer hunting rifle to use while I can still tromp around in desert mule deer country and in our local mountains. You wouldn’t think that five shooters and hunters of vastly different backgrounds would agree on anything, but by the end of lunch – some three hours after I first brought up the question – it was decided in intermittent spurts of conversation and pondering: I would get (not “should get” but would get) a 6mm Remington. One insisted that Winchester’s 6mm Remington brass was just about the best brass cartridge case ever made. Another said it would need a non-standard 23-inch barrel to optimize performance but keep weight down. There was head-nodding agreement that the 80-grain Barnes bullet would be the correct and most effective slug to use in California. It would wear a fixed six-power Leupold, said one to more head nodding. They all agreed on a range of actions and lightweight stocks that would be appropriate. The complete gun would weigh less than seven pounds with scope. I would be happy.
I was happy. I was with a bunch of like-minded hunters and shooters who knew firearms, especially hunting rifles and calibers. They all liked the quirky and the uncommon, but appreciated the classics. For example, all of them like Savage Model 99 lever action rifles. I always feel like a piker with this group because I only have four of these wonderful old guns. One of my Savage rifles was made almost exactly 100 years ago, an 1899 model chambered for the .303 Savage. They all swoon over this gun and cartridge because they all know its historic place in hunting, not caring about its monetary value, which isn’t much.
I’d tell you their names, but it doesn’t really matter. You all know them, or men like them. You see them at different places, talking about fishing or woodworking or cars. They are older men with more history than future and a lot of learned experiences and knowledge who aggregate together, bound by some common passion others don’t care about or understand. This group is bound by the rich history of firearms, their craftsmanship, and use in the field. I need to make more Saturdays. They will want to know about the progress of my 6mm Remington.
[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.]