Saturday, August 23, 2008

Simplicity and Elegance... Who Knew?

To complete the title thought... well, I should have. As many of you folks are undoubtedly aware by now, I am into the gun-thing. Specifically, hopping up the Ruger 10/22 has been my thing for a number of years. In a world full of thousands of custom parts and hundreds of forums to discuss how things need to work, the 10/22 is the perfect entry point into the DIY world of customization. Given all that, a funny thing happened at the range the other day and we can mark it as a seminal moment in my way of thinking about rifle function, firearms and artistry.

(This story is windy so if you need to skip around, no worries)

I had the Ghost at the range the other day. The optics were replaced and I wanted to get it out and get some range time and see if a better scope helped with the long range stuff I was doing. I had the damnedest time with that rifle. At 25 yards she'll cut a sub-dime sized hole, no sweat. When I move to the 100 yard line I can consistently (consistently) powder small chunks of clay pigeon with a single shot. When I point the thing at a target at that range I am all over the place and I honestly can't figure out why. By comparison, the Black squirrel rifle (green TS barrel, weaver scope, special single stage trigger work by me, etc.) will shoot like a house of fire. I have not printed it at 100 yards but at 25, I never seem to miss with it. I would be more that willing to blame my shooting if it were a consistent issue.

Anyhow, as I was working on the line, scratching my head and wondering why everyone loves KIDD triggers so much (because mine is just not that great. It may be me though so I am giving it a fair shake...) and trying to figure out a patern to what my rifle was doing, an older guy I've never seen there before arrived and started to set up. In listenting I heard that he had forgotten his rest. I always pack some extra stuff and had two sand bags to loan so I did. This is to me is not a big deal. I mean, sandbags are just that and replaceable as hell.

Anyhow, as I go back to what I am doing and the rifle continues to just piss me off because of how much money is in my hands and how badly it is doing its job, I notice that the old guy is not shooting just any rifle and I am unable to ID what it is that he has but I am sure it costs some heavy dollars. A single shot falling block rifle with bluing that seems to be endlessly deep, well figured and really well finished walnut fore and aft and on the lever for the action, a double set trigger.... and topping the damned thing is a 20x Unertilt scope from about 1920. (I did not know that at the time. All I knew was any scope I had ever seen that looked like that and worked was about $1200 and this one was spotless...) I continue plunking away and keeping most of my shots on the paper... then we pause so everyone can freshen targets, etc.

When we return, I decide to clean the rifle and begin again. Stupid Wistlepig barrel. I am totally aggravated at it even thought I know it is something to do with me that is not working right... and the old guy starts shooting. Now, one plus to the updated optics I put on is I don't need a spotting scope to see where things are hitting. Given that, I decide to watch a bit as that elegant bit of machinery next to me and its owner keep booming away. After 4 shots I am no longer able to tell the hole is growing on his target and by the looks of it, the hole is about a half an inch wide. Now, that's a shooter right there. Talking time....

I pull back from the lens on my own scope just in time to be asked if I am going to shoot or just watch all day... (all with a big grin from across the way) So, I do the usual and it goes about like this, "What the hell is that thing anyway? No kidding? Did you have to sign anything in blood to get it to shoot like that? What caliber? Do they still make that? Well, what's your load behind it? Cast them yourself?" and on and on it goes. At the end of it I am stunned. I am asked if I would like to put ten through it myself. Oh my... Now let's pause a second here. 'It' turns out to be a Stevens model 44 that has been restored and modified a bit. Barreled in 32-40 with a Douglas XX barrel, the stocks are all custom from his shop (made by him), all bluing is his work, and the scope mounts are his manufacture as well. Now draw a deep breath and be stunned with me. Of course, I did the only thing I could do. Ten shots later I knew what I would be doing for about the next 10 years and apparently I was laughing while I was shooting. So much so that he went and got a another couple of them out of his truck and let me shoot those too. (another in 32-40 and one in 22 hornet)

I have handled more than a few weapons in my time on the earth and very, very few of them came close to the feeling I got with these rifles. Truly amazing. Nothing modern or flashy. No fiberglass stock, no ultra-mega mag chambering. Nope, this was just about as good as I has ever been for me pulling the trigger.

One week later, not having the resources required to go purchase a model 44, I purchased a used and pretty new Stevens Favorite in 22 WMR and found, despite the inferior (or I guess less artistic) appearance of the weapon, even in reduced size, it still shoots and handles like a dream. I was able to plug Mr. Muskrat without a second shot with it and with no scope. It is the oddest thing.

So here I am now, 4 active 10/22's in my collection and my new favorite is my Favorite. Thank God for I guess. I will thin out a bit, raise some cash, and start on my new obsession. Let's hope gunsmithing (for real gunsmithing) is as rewarding as it appears to be. I am a student of something new again and this is really exciting. I am sure there will be stories posted here discussing my trials and errors and, hopefully, final triumphs.

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