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Two months ago, I lost a friend, mentor, and hunting partner. He taught me the fundamentals of shooting starting at around age six. He also taught me many other things that would make my life easier. He was my dad and he passed away August 10th.

We didn’t get to hunt together as often as either of us wanted. Life just kept getting in the way.

Among the things that I inherited from him is the Winchester model 70 you see above. It’s chambered in .243 and its a beautiful rifle. By the serial number, it appears to have been made around 1965. I remember shooting it at a military range across from Mirimar Naval Air Station in San Diego as a kid. The last time I shot the rifle was about 1978 when I was developing hand loads for it for Dad to hunt deer.

After Mom gave me everything that was in dad’s safe and a few ammo cans, I inspected the contents. In one can was a box of my reloads from almost 40 years ago. As my deer hunting season was coming on fast, I took her to the range to check the zero.

Yup, still on after many years and a few different scopes. So I decided to take it on this year’s fall deer harvest.

As I dipped back into the can for a box of ammo, I came across an unfilled deer tag that dad had saved. Not nearly the oldest, but certainly one of the earliest of our joint hunts. Back then, I got to tag along with dad and a couple of the coolest uncles a kid could have the privilege to be related to.

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This year I drew a tag for the central part of the state surrounding the small town of Grass Valley. It’s thousands of acres of rolling wheat fields. My hunting buddy Sean and I have been privileged to know a few of the local ranchers. We not only have permission to hunt their land, but get to stay in their homes and break bread with them.

After arriving at Lee’s place, we set up our cots, sleeping bags and gear, readying it for the next morning. (My cot is next to the pellet stove, I hate being cold. ) I’m glad I checked, I forgot to let the sling out for easy carrying.

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The next morning, we were blessed with a gorgeous sun rise.

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After a short drive from Lee’s house, we parked the truck and rucked up. Sean was carrying his custom .300 win mag and a GLOCK 20.

I was carrying my Dad’s .243, my GLOCK 40 MOS, my laser range finder/binoculars and my camera. On our way to one of the more promising fields, we spotted our quarry. The only problem: they were on land we don’t have permission to hunt on. So I just shot them with my camera, long lens style. These boys were out at about 600 yards.

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We parked near a scab in the land. This is an area that’s too rocky to till, so it stays natural sage brush. These scabs can harbor all sorts of wildlife, including the buck deer we seek. The wheat had been harvested, so the fields were all stubble.

Walking with a light breeze in our faces, we made it almost all the way through a half-mile deep scab when two bucks spotted us. They started trotting diagonally away and we froze. They were about 120 yards out. No time to laser or photo. It was point blank time.

Sean and I have hunted enough that if I’m right and he’s to my left, he shoots left and I shoot right.
This worked to perfection as Sean shot the left buck. I watched it drop like a sack of concrete. I got the slow hopping buck in my cross hairs and squeezed off a shot. Two bucks down!

Dang, we are all smiles as we walk to our harvest. Two nice mule deer bucks.

Now the work begins.

First, we gutted the deer in the field, removing intestines, lungs, wind pipe, kidneys…. Everything from the belly and chest area. The only thing we save are the livers and hearts.

Oops, my buck’s heart is kind of in tatters.

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Oh well. At least the liver was saved. Those go to friends of ours back in the Portland area.

We hauled the deer back to the ranch for a quick skinning and hang the to air dry. We also trimned off some of the excess fat and any meat that’s blood shot. They then get a thorough wash down.

After a couple of hours, the meat had a nice glaze to it. We cover them in cloth game bags and hung them high in the nice, cool, dark barn.

After a nice lunch of barbecued brats and rib-eye steaks, we headed back out for an afternoon hunt. We saw lots of does and some gorgeous country, but no shooter bucks. Even in the area called “Buck Hollow”:

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While opening morning was a success for Sean and me, Lee still had an unfilled tag. We headed out toward some fields that we hadn’t glassed yet for our afternoon hunt. Since Sean and I filled had our tags, we went along as spotters and support for Lee. I had my rangefinding binos and my camera. And a good knife.

We make it about a mile south of the ranch and spotted a buck, backing up the truck a good half mile so we weren’t in view.

Crawling low, the buck was on a slight rise, and appeared to be close to the top so he could see everywhere. I’m still getting used to video, so what I got was useless. But I did take photos.

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Here’s the unlucky buck, bedded down on a rise. He appeared to be in a great position to oversee all of his domain.

I followed Lee and Sean as we walked in a crouch and then low crawled to get to a point where the wheat stubble wouldn’t interfere with Lee’s muzzle.

As Lee got settled in, I lazed the big boy, telling Lee he was at 491 yards. Lee said something and dialed in the elevation turret on his Leupold scope. He settled back down and took a shot. Nothing.

The buck didn’t move. There was no dirt splash…nothing. I told Lee that he must have shot over his back. Lee dialed in a little less elevation and settled back in behind his custom .25-06. After what seems like an eternity, he pulled the trigger.

The deer didn’t get up and run…his head just flopped to the ground like he had a sudden attack of narcolepsy.

Sean and I will be turning ours into steaks and burgers. Lee will spend the better part of a day processing his into a killer batch of jerky.

I almost forgot to do one last thing. Something dad didn’t get to do 45 seasons ago.

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Aim small, miss small.

34 Responses to My Father’s Rifle: Keeping the Tradition Alive

  1. I lost my old man last year. He lived in the country in KY til about a week before his death. As a kid we hunted in at least 5 states including Texas and CA. Dad liked his pheasant hunting and CA had some prime hunting in the 60’s.

    It’s hard to explain to someone that’s never done it but hunting with your respected elders is an honor, privilege and rite of passage. Dad, grandpa’s and uncles and esteemed family friends taught a youngster more just being with them than any school could hope to. I feel sorry for these kids now that a father is nothing in their lives but a ‘babydaddy”.

    I had quit hunting for many years when my son, who was a grown man, started talking about it. I got my second wind from him and started again.

    Like a lot of folks my guns had become primarily a self defense item. But if all we do is arm up militia style and wait for the shtf we lose a lot of the joy of gun ownership and fellowship. And that Winchester is one sweet looking rifle.

    +1 for the .243.

  2. I lost a good friend recently. Never got to shoot with him, but we always had shooting stories to share. Sorry for your loss. Cherish those memories. They will always be priceless.

  3. Tom, great story, sorry for your loss, happy for your harvest. Sounds like your dad had a good life and you had some great hunts. I do not know what i would do without hunting.

  4. You have my sympathy, Tom.

    That camera of yours must have a good zoom to get a photo of Lee’s buck like that at 490 yards.

    • It’s a 70-300mm with image stabilizing mounted to a canon T5i. It’s a bit heavy, but I really like it.

  5. Got choked up reading that story Tom, but I think you picked just about the best way possible to honor/remember your father. Among what sound like a long list of admirable characteristics, your old man sure had impeccable taste in rifles, that thing is just beautiful.

    • Dad was forever learning. He joined the navy at 17 so he could have 3 meals a day. Made Master Chief. After 26+ years in the navy, he went back to school and got his high school diploma.
      He was a good guy.

  6. Anyone who uses “fascist” or “imperialist” as a knee-jerk ad hominem is most likely a disciple of Karl Marx. I’ve had the misfortune of listening to enough progressive blathering to know.

    • Lee is a heck of a shot. His .25-06 is on its third barrel he shoots so much. He’s got steel plates all over his ranch for plinking from his deck. He nails the 400 yard plate off hand like its nothing.

  7. Love hunting with my father even though he is now in his mid seventies. Still carries his Rem700 3006 . The same rifle that when he first let me shoot it broke my nose. Shot my first 2 deer with it and my first elk. I think now he hunts every year because its one fo the few times we all get together.

  8. Great article Tom. I am sorry for your loss. I hunted with my father when I was young, before he and my mother divorced. They are the only good memories of him I have. There is something magical about being in the woods with your dad when you are a kid. It made me love hunting and the outdoors for the rest of my life.

  9. The only rifle I love and don’t want is a 721 Remington .270 Win my Dad bought in Colorado in 1955 when he was working in the Climax moly mine before they caved the mountain in . We both have made unbelievable long range shots with it over the years .
    He turned 89 in September . Still drives and farms . Made a couple of 300 yd+ shots on groundhogs this summer .
    He also still drinks a liter of whiskey a week .
    I don’t want that rifle because I have to inherit it .

  10. That comment deletion was a good example of what TTAG does on occasion, not bothering with a FLAME DELETED, but simply erasing the entire comment.

    They don’t do it often, but when it happens, it’s well-deserved…

  11. “Back then, I got to tag along with dad and a couple of the coolest uncles a kid could have the privilege to be related to.”

    Yeah, I hear ya on that one. Lost my last uncle about a year back, and he was a cool one.

    He was in the Corps, attached to a battalion for a while, and got transferred to be a naval attache in a very small country south of Mexico. While he was down there, got the news his battalion was the one that got truck-bombed in Lebanon. It broke his heart, he retired out the Marines when that tour finished.

    Condolences on your loss, likely only a few more years left for mine…

  12. Great story!

    Brings home poignant memories, especially today.
    I lost my dad way back in ’66, him being 64 at the time.
    My God, 50 years ago!
    Oh, how I wish we could go for one more pheasant hunt!

    I hunted pheasants in ND last year, but just too much going on this year, along with reports of diminished prospects, (and wife’s health problems).

    Plus, both I and the dog are getting old, I will be 80 in less than a month.
    The dog is a rescue, had him 10 years and one would think he is still a pup, without looking closely! He is ready to go! Will have to break down and go to some “pay and take”, a little later in the season!

    At least the son that I got started shooting, now has several national titles to his name, in long range, black powder cartridge silohette. His son, who I also started, is following in his foorsteps, and the great grandson is just now getting started.

  13. Great article, Tom. Few things in life rival getting some quality gear ready and heading out into the field with a trusty friend. So sorry for the loss of your father. I can see he is remembered well. I know I would certainly want my old rifles out in the woods where they belong.

    Cheers,
    Aaron.

  14. “The Old Man And The Boy” by Robert Ruark. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. Ruark wrote some especially touching coming-of-age stories around learning to hunt with his grandfather. These were originally published as Ruark’s column’s in Field and Stream during the mid-50’s and early 60’s.

  15. Sorry for your loss, Tom. My Old Man departed last year. It’s a very unsettling feeling to inherit firearms. Objects imbued with power, admired for decades, become repellent after granted to us by death. Thankfully the spookiness departs and the artifacts take on a new character after a while.

  16. Great article, brought back many memories. I’m glad I shared the same with my son. One thing that can never be taken away from you are the memories you have, and some of the best ones are being afield with your Dad. Sorry for your loss, but he left you with fond memories and skills that last a lifetime.

  17. I lost my dad back in 1994. He grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania and was a shotgun guy. He was a child of the depression and carried a double barrel 16 gauge. When he was a young man the white tail in that part of the world had been pretty much wiped out so he hunted birds, rabbits and squirrels. Dad said that he never saw a deer in a part of the state that’s almost over run with them now. Dad hunted to put food on the table. He went out with two shells and his father taught him that he’d better come home with two dead somethings – and if he didn’t people were going to go hungry. Dad said that the first new pair of shoes that he ever owned were issued to him by the US Army in 1943. He described the Army as a pretty good deal as he had good clothes, three meals a day, and less work than he had on the farm. My older brother has Dad’s shotgun and I’ve got his ribbons and the New Testament he carried across Europe. I miss him.

  18. I have my Dads rifle, it’s a Winchester model 100, in .308. There are 4
    generations that have killed deer with this gun. My dad, me , my youngest son and my grand son.

  19. Thanks for making me smile. I lost my dad two years ago when he was a few weeks short of 88.

    One of my most treasured possessions is his pre64 Model 70 in .30-06. It has a 4 power scope, and is still a tack driver. It put quite a bit of mule deer on the table, along with at least one moose and some antelope.

    My condolences.

  20. Great story and a commendable tribute to your Dad. I have a very similar one right down to the same era Winchester. Every single day since August 19, 2004 I’ve missed Dad.

  21. An excellent article! I remember my last hunt with my dad, Just out of the service, Dad had lung cancer but he went and bagged 2 deer with three shots at dusk using iron sights on a Winchester 30-30! this is the only season that Dad hunted with me, I learned a lot and hope to have passed some of that knowledge on to my children and grand children!

  22. In my case, it’s my son’s gun. When he was 12, my son saved up and bought a Ruger 10/22 rifle. A few years later, I ended up with it, with a promise to never sell it. I added a decent scope to it and shot many thousands of rounds through it.

    Erik died in January of 2015 from pancreatic cancer, and I still have the little rifle. I recently put on a Green Mountain 16.25″ barrel and Ruger BX-25 trigger. Stock it shot about 3-4″ at 50 yards. Yesterday I shot a 10 round group in the white bull (1″) at 50 yards. I think my son would be proud.

  23. Great story Tom. Some of my best memories growing up were hunting with my dad, grandpa and cousin. We would usually eventually meet up with my uncle and a bunch of cousins while out hunting. I luckily still have my dad and grandpa around. My grandpa is around 86 now, but he goes out everyone once in a while to just drive. He doesn’t actually shoot. I do miss those big hunts and I don’t live in Oregon anymore.

  24. Gosh,
    The comments here brought a tear to my eyes.
    I revisited this post because a friend on mine just gifted me a case of federal .243.

    Thank you to my TTAG friends.

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