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Northern Wisconsin is gun culture country. When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, everybody had a gun or three in every house. It wasn’t always so. The Depression was a hard time for a lot of people. My father managed to snag the Springfield model 84-C during the 1930’s. He paid $5 for the rifle and $2.50 for the scope. The rifle will feed shorts, longs, and .22LR interchangeably through the detachable five-shot magazine.

The scope was an old straight tube 3/4 inch 2 3/4 power Weaver. That was state of the art in the 30’s. As I recall, it was a model 329. Those sold in 1934 for $4.75, with a choice of mounts.

The rifle was advertised for $9.70 in 1939, so the pricing ratio was about right.

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Somehow the scope had acquired hole in the tube, just ahead of the adjustments. I never changed the adjustments, and it always was right on. The hole was sealed with a couple of wraps of ordinary Scotch tape. It was a farm boy repair. It was in that condition when I first became aware of it in about 1960.

The tape grew more and more yellowed with age, and the scope grew dimmer and dirtier. By 2010, the inside had gathered enough grime that it was becoming unusable. I considered having it refurbished, but could not justify it, so I replaced it.  I reasoned that no one but me would have an attachment to that old scope.

My father said that a deer shot through the lungs with a .22 acted the same as if it were shot in the same spot with a .300 Savage. It ran a hundred yards and died. He told me an excess of 200 deer had been harvested with that 84-C. Most of them were taken illegally. They were much appreciated in those hard times. Meat was expensive, even on the farm. During WWII, it was rationed.

Maybe not everyone had a rifle and ammunition. The rifle was a favorite of the neighbors to borrow when they wanted to get some venison. If the hunt was successful, the rifle would be returned with a front quarter.  Besides being quiet and cheap, the village gun destroyed little meat. I never shot a deer with the rifle, but hundreds, probably thousands, of squirrels, grouse, rabbits, and various pests from crows to ground squirrels and the occasional raccoon or fox were accounted for.

I went to Panama in the 1980’s. I left the rifle in Wisconsin.  I didn’t want to risk it overseas, through import and export.  While in Panama, I visited the San Blas Islands.  Americans were popular there, even with an ongoing “cold war” with the Noriega regime, just before the invasion of Panama in 1989. Little handmade American flags were on top of most of the houses.

An American missionary group had brought running fresh water to the main island. It was a small, flat, corral island. It sat a couple of hundred yards off the coast, in the Caribbean. Houses covered the Island, because there were no mosquitoes.  Mosquitoes cannot live in salt water. The addition of running fresh water improved the quality of life enormously.

I encountered the same village gun system on the Island.  Guns were relatively expensive. The old rules applied. Borrow the gun. If successful, a share of the game went to the owner.  Basic capitalism at work.

As a poacher’s gun, the .22 has few equals.  It is quiet, powerful enough, and inexpensive. Food is cheap in the modern United States. Poaching in Northern Wisconsin is rare. If it is done, hunger is seldom the reason.  That is a good thing.

Many memories are attached to the village gun. I learned to shoot and to hunt with it. I don’t have a problem with my father and his neighbors feeding their families, even though game was scarce.

The game recovered with modern management practices. Poaching to eat was never the problem, market hunting and loss of habitat were.

I hope to pass the village gun to my grandson.  Perhaps he will find an interest in the old, obsolete, bolt action.  It works fine and shoots straight.  I have been wondering if I should refinish the stock, maybe have the rifle reblued. But the stock dings and wear have been honestly earned with thousands of miles of carry in the field.

I will consider it. Maybe there is time for my grandson to make the choice.

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

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27 Responses to The Village Gun

  1. I hope we will never get back to the days when poaching is necessary to feed a family. With Hillary off the table I am slightly more optimistic on that front.

    • “…when poaching is necessary to feed a family. With Hillary off the table…”

      The way you worded that made me briefly think Hillary was on the table feeding a family.

      Yeah, my brain does weird things to me…

    • I did not find it in my scope box when I wrote the article. It might be around somewhere, but I might have tossed it in an overzealous attack of minimizing a tendency to accumulate stuff of marginal value.

  2. Bounce that “restore the scope for your grandson” idea around through the eyes of the man that originally bought it. What would he think?

    My grandad would tell me to toss that old scope if the repair is beyond economical sense. I’d probably refurbish it anyway.

    • Oh, I know. But they don’t make stuff like they used to. A period correct scope on a period rifle is nice thing. Just ask any Springfield 1903 owner with an Original Sniper Scope.

    • Oh, I don’t know about that… most folks here will all readily admit to a true fondness of their .22s. I never miss an opportunity to sing their praises to a noob customer who may be looking for a recreational” range gun” and a compact lightweight .22 rifle to stick behind a truck seat for stomping around the property is simply standard equipment. Any collection lacking a .22 or three is incomplete.

  3. Thank you for a great story from days gone by. I didn’t get to live the childhood you did. Sometimes I wish I had, sometimes I don’t.

    • Returned with a quarter of gold chain? Fed the family for the same amount of time, I do suppose.

      Good Lord, Ralph. You’re a bad influence. *snicker*

  4. “I have been wondering if I should refinish the stock, maybe have the rifle reblued. But the stock dings and wear have been honestly earned with thousands of miles of carry in the field.”

    I have an old .22 rilfe that was my grandfather’s and has been an important part of my family. Like yours, mine has plenty of wear and dings earned over the years. I don’t plan on doing any refinishing work on mine, only what is required to maintain it and keep it from deteriorating.

  5. “old, obsolete, bolt action. It works fine and shoots straight. ”

    If it works fine and shoots straight, is it really obsolete? It will shoot 3 different cartridges, all without feeding issues something no semi auto will do.

  6. a good story, growing up we had only three guns, a Marlin.32 and a .22 Remington pump, a.410 Savage, the tiny .410 did most of the Bird hunting, the big bore was for Deer and Bear, the lowly .22 everything else, Dad had a drinking problem so food was not one of his priorities, our .22 helped provide us with necessity meat along with garden veggies,
    Sorta glad I do not have any of those guns as they would bring bad memories, but a .22 is a great cartridge it’s all I’ve used on Rabbit and grouse for over 50 years, tried a shot gun for Rabbit and missed at 10 feet so old faithful came out of the woodpile!

  7. I am pretty sure that the “your not supposed to shoot it so it does not matter what you shoot with” concept is why gator hunters in the gulf states often still use .22s and it is legal. There was a time when legal gator hunting was made illegal (most of it anyways); however, as found throughout the globe just because the king calls it poaching does not mean people stop. When legal gator hunting started back up .22’s was the caliber of choice. While very cheap (at least it used to be) .22 ammo is under-powered (for many animals), is often hypersonic (has a not so quiet “crack”), and does not have a jacket (magnum does though) so it often shreds and deforms. If its all you got ok, but I do not think of it as ideal.

    * How is it your rural village in WI had so few guns prior to the depression? Didn’t the people settling there in the 19th century have guns? No veterans or retired cops?

    • I was not there at the time. By the time I recall, it seemed everybody had guns. But in the ’30s the per capita numbers of firearms in the United States were considerably lower. It wasn’t quite a village, more of a rural neighborhood. In the Depression, a lot of people moved back to the country from the city, in order to have enough to eat. People built little tar paper shacks to survive the winter. My father probably bought the rifle from someone desperate for cash. The rifle and scope would have been less than a decade old, yet he purchased them for essentially half price. Money was extremely hard to come by. .22 shorts were 25 cents a box of 50. That was two to three hours worth of work for a day laborer. 30-30 cartridges would have been about 7 cents a round, or a day and a half’s work for a box of 20.

    • There is a family story that during the depression, my grandfather took a matched pair of Colt .45 revolvers into a “bank” (I suspect the equivalent of a pawn shop) for some cash and a .22 single shot Remington Rolling Block pistol in trade. I still have the pistol, but I would rather have had the matched set of SAA revolvers!

  8. Dean, I’ve got that exact same rifle.
    My dad used it to bring dinner to the table when he was a kid. It’s probably my favorite.

  9. Dad had a 30-30 Winchester he usually shot deer with – only because it was illegal to use the .22.

    In WW2 Borneo and New Guinea he carried a 12 gauge trench gun and a .22 of some sort. He said the shotgun was for night time and the .22 was for daytime. He made it back home with three Bronze Stars, but the fellows he came across in the bushes did not.

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