Nov 2, 2011

Getting Back Into an Old Hobby

My father was a gun nut.  He loved to collect, restore, and shoot firearms of all kinds.  As a kid, guns were always around. They became something that we were very comfortable with.  When we were old enough, he taught my brother and I how to shoot.  We started out with a Benjamin model 317 air rifle that he had traded for.  It was well loved by the time we got it.  The brass barrel was polished in places and the wood had seen better days.  We tracked down some new seals and a few parts for it and fixed it up a little.  This was no easy task in the days before the internet.  It looks something like this:

We took any opportunity we could to shoot the Benjamin.  My dad would ask, "Who wants to have a shoot-out?"  We would gather up targets ranging from pop cans to popsicle sticks and shoot for hours.  As we got older the targets got more difficult and we got better and better.  My dad was a jeweler, watchmaker, and a very skilled craftsmen.  He eventually reshaped the front sight to allow for finer aiming.  He was also a tinkerer.  He used to take flat top lead pellets and drop a bead of soft solder on the top.  He would then put them in his jewelers lathe and turn them to a point.  I am not sure how accurate they were, but they would fly right through both sides of an aluminum garbage can.  I can remember thinking how "cool" it was.  The Benjamin is still around and we still shoot it from time to time. 

As we got older we moved on to .22s.  I'll never forget when my dad brought home the first .22 rifle for us to shoot.  He had gone to an old jeweler's home to look for antique watch parts. In the basement, he found a beat up and rusty bolt action rifle.  He bought it for $18 and brought it home.  It was a Remington model 34 tube fed rifle.  We started by cleaning up the metal and rebluing it.  It was pretty badly pitted on the outside, but somehow the bore was perfect.  The wood was also pretty beat up.  So, we refinished it.  My dad taught me how to refinish wood with that gun and a few others.  It turned out pretty well.  It shoots very well and we have put thousands of rounds through it over the years.  I had it out last night for a deep cleaning, in fact.  We spent many weekends in Eastern Washington plinking.  My favorite times were shooting out to three hundred yards or more with my .22 rifle.  Battling the wind and walking the shots into the target was always my favorite challenge.

When I was about fourteen, my dad asked me if I wanted to try competitive shooting.  I decided to give it a try.  Our local gun club had just started up a junior shooting club.  We had an armory full of Springfield .22 target rifles and bulk ammunition.  The first few times out, we learned the positions and some fundamentals.  My brother and I both enjoyed it.  After a few months of weekly practice we decided to look for a rifle.  True to form, my dad found the most obscure rifle.  It was a Martini Action with a custom thumbhole stock.  It must have weighed twenty pounds.  It looked similar to this:

The Martini proved to be too awkward with the heavy thumbhole stock.  I was getting more serious, so my dad decided to look for something a little more appropriate.  We heard about a gun for sale in the area and checked it out.  It was a Walther UIT Match Universal.  To this day, it is the most accurate gun I have ever owned.  I used it for a couple of years and by the time I passed it down to my brother, I was regularly shooting perfect targets in competition. 

Things were starting to get serious with competitive shooting.  I was travelling almost every weekend up and down the west coast.  I had a shooting coach who had competed on and coached for the United States Olympic Shooting Team.  My dad had just imported the state of the art target rifle of the time, an Anschutz 2013, and I was doing pretty well. 

I had added air rifle competition to the mix and was really enjoying that.  My air rifle was a Walther UIT, as well.  The pressure started to increase as the stakes got higher.  I was being pushed towards shooting year-round and that created a direct conflict with my passion for baseball.  In 1995, I qualified for the National Championships in California.  If I had scored in the top eight, I would have been invited to the OTC.  This was the point I decided to quit.  It was not fun any more and I no longer had the desire to make the commitment needed.  I turned down a college scholarship to shoot for a school in Alabama and committed to playing baseball. 

A few years later, my dad passed away.  Most of his guns were gone and I had lost my interest in shooting.  The few guns that were left just sat in the closet.  I thought about it a lot and my brother and I would often talk about it, but we rarely got around to doing any actual shooting. 

Fortunately, about a year ago, my friend Eric started talking about buying a gun.  We talked about the culture of guns and shooting and we started going out to the range.  He bought a handgun and a rifle and we started shooting pretty regularly.  I have to say that the love of shooting started to come back to me.  I realized how much I loved it and how fun it really is.  Shooting is an escape for me.  I can focus on that and nothing else when I am doing it and I find that truly therapeutic. 

I have always been a rimfire guy.  I love to shoot .22s.  I decided to buy myself a .22 handgun.  I wanted something that I could shoot all the time and it would be accurate and reliable.  The choice was pretty easy for me.  One of the things I inherited from my father was an affinity for Browning products.  I considered a Belgian made Challenger and even a Medalist, but settled on a Buckmark.  I knew I would be too paranoid about putting a scratch on one of the Belgian guns.  So, I found a very nice used Buckmark.

I did some trigger work and got it to a point where it shoots better than I am capable of shooting it.  Although, I have a ton of shooting experience, very little of it is with handguns.  Here is a target I shot last week.  This is 10 rounds fired offhand at 30 feet.  I used CCI mini-mags. 

Over the years, countless guns came and went.  My father bought, sold, and traded over a hundred guns that I would love to have back.  Some of the highlights that I can remember include a Colt 1902 Longslide and a Winchester model 12 Diamond Grade Trap.

Winchester Model 12 Diamond Grade Trap

We still have one of my dad's all time favorite guns.  It is a Remington model 12C.  The 12C is a pump action, hammerless, tube fed .22 with an octagon barrel.  It has a very compact shape.  Looking back, I can now see the trends of the guns he loved.  They were all compact and sleek guns that had an artistic design.  He also loved the Browning semi-automatic .22 rifle.

Remington Model 12
He traded for it years ago.  The metal was in fairly rough shape when he got it, but he decided to leave it original.  The stock had been damaged and was pretty ugly, so he refinished it.  We shot it a bit over the years, but it seemed to be reserved for special occasions.  That gun is now 100 years old.  I had it out a couple of months ago.  I decided that it needs to be retired due to pitting in the barrel.  Its only job now is to look pretty.

I started shooting when I was about 8 years old.  The fun and memories it has created will be with me forever.  My brother and I have countless shooting stories that start out, "remember the time..."  I realize now that shooting created a bond between my father, brother, and I that will always be there.  My father left us with these memories and skills that cannot be traded for anything.  Getting back to shooting has reminded me of all of these things.   It has also inspired my curiosity in collecting. 

I took time away from shooting and part of me regrets that.  But, If I hadn't, I don't know that I would appreciate it for all that it is and was.  Either way, I am glad to be back doing the things that make me happy. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you - I will make sure my seven year old son reads your blog. That is what its all about. He will inherit (sp) my Walther collection, and I will teach him how to shoot. And we will both have endless hours of innocent fun. Thanks for the story.