The Last Hunt.
Have you ever noticed how much of our life is made up of Firsts? Many of our memories as we look back to our past revolve around something we did for the first time. We don’t remember those Firsts such as our first words, or first steps; however, by the time we are ready for school those Firsts really begin.
Most of us will never forget the combination of fear and excitement surrounding our first day of school. That begins a long list of Firsts stretching all through our teenage years. Our first fight, our first crush, our first day of high school, our first real love, our first date, our first kiss, our first job, our first car, our first time to fire a gun, our first time to hunt, our first personal gun purchase, for many of us our first day of college, our first child, and as the years passed ever so quickly our first grandchild.
Where there are Firsts there are also Lasts. Usually the Firsts are mostly enjoyable while the Lasts can run the full gamut of emotions. Our last day of grade school, our last day of high school, our last day of college are all high states of emotion we are not likely to forget. My last day on the job I worked in a tire factory while attending college was one of the most pleasurable days of my life, however the last day on the great job I had previously was a very sad time. It was a job I dearly loved however it did not pay near enough to support a family and so I had to walk away from it. I still feel sad as I think about that. My first day of teaching was another great high, however 31 years later my last day was both terribly enjoyable and at the same time exceptionally sad.
This past year I experienced my Last Hunt. I can still shoot, perhaps with experience I now have even better than ever, however many other things have changed. As with most youngsters I started out hunting squirrels, rabbits, pheasants, and rockchucks. My first big game was a 4×4 muley buck taken with a borrowed Remington .270 Model 721. That trophy is hanging to the right of me as I sit here composing and it is special not only because it’s a first but also because across his antlers resides a 3-foot piece of a tree limb.
That limb came off the tree on a ranch outside Durkee, Ore, where Elmer Keith sat in the shade experimenting with long-range sixgunning. After that first hunt I acquired my own rifle, a sporterized 1917 Enfield. That rifle was terribly heavily, especially by today’s standards, and after a day walking the mountains of Idaho felt like I was carrying a telephone pole. That rifle was a major factor in my becoming a handgun hunter.
We had spent a long time working our way to the top and as I looked across the canyon there was the largest mule deer buck I had ever seen before or since. I could plainly see his antlers with the naked eye and he had no inkling, at least from the way he acted, we were even there. It was a long shot but certainly possible with my Enfield .30-06 Sporter. We were beside a pile of downed timber, which would make an excellent rest. All I would have to do is remove my down vest, fold it into a pad, place my ’06 on the padded log, get a solid rest, and squeeze off a shot as I lined up the crosshairs on the buck. Easy. But there was one problem. The .30-06 was back home.
The hike to the top was made much easier by the fact both arms were free and I wasn’t burdened down with that 10-pound rifle. Instead I was packing a Ruger .44 Magnum Flat-Top Blackhawk with a 10-inch barrel and carried in a Goerg shoulder holster. Even if I got down on the log, even if I got a steady rest, even if the buck stood absolutely still, the shot was still totally out of the question. All I could do was sit there and enjoy the sight of such a magnificent Idaho mule deer. I could’ve been upset with myself for not having the rifle along; I wasn’t. I could’ve second-guessed bringing the iron-sighted .44 Magnum; I didn’t. This was the defining moment for me to decide whether I would be a handgun hunter or not. No regrets, from that moment on I would be a confirmed handgun hunter.
How do I explain such a choice?
The answer is simply it can’t be explained. This is one of those situations if understood, no explanation is necessary; if not understood, no explanation is possible. One of the major reasons given by those who hunt with the handgun is a simply they did not want to carry that heavy rifle all day, or perhaps, they will say rifle hunting had become too easy. Maybe. But more likely the reason goes much deeper. There is something in our soul, something in our spirit that makes us want to hunt with a sixgun, semi-automatic pistol, or single-shot pistol. When looked at matter-of-factly this does not make much sense if the only goal in hunting is totally wrapped up in the animal taken. I can’t explain my obsession with handguns, however, I am sure it is something which was inside of me at birth.
Since making what for me was a monumental decision to hunt with handguns I have been blessed with many opportunities. Not only have I hunted in my home state but also several others with many good friends and was also privileged to hunt Africa. My house is filled with game trophies and great memories and it is a rare room that doesn’t exhibit something of my handgun hunting experiences. There are trophy heads in both of my offices, the family room, the living room, my gunroom, one bedroom, and my reloading room. I would have a hard time finding someplace to hang my last two trophies if my granddaughter had not asked for something she could hang in her house to complete her décor.
My two most used hunting handguns have been a custom Thompson/Center Contender in 6.5 JDJ built by my good friend J.D. Jones. I have the utmost confidence in this single-shot which only knows how to perform 1-shot kills. It has taken mule deer, whitetail deer, Catalina goats, turkeys, mouflon, Barbary sheep, zebra, waterbuck, gemsbok, impala, oryx, black buck, and probably some I have forgotten all with one shot. My other favorite is a 7-1/2-inch Freedom Arms .44 Magnum, which has taken 24 whitetails, and was also used on my last hunt. It was also a Freedom Arms .44 Magnum with a shorter barrel carried in a shoulder holster which I used on one of my most memorable hunts after mountain lion.
The 6.5 JDJ uses only one load with AA2520 powder underneath a 120-grain Speer SP. It has never been cleaned nor has there ever been so much as a brush run down its barrel. I am a firm believer in don’t fix what ain’t broke. The .44 Magnum has also been used with only one load, namely the Black Hills 240-grain JHP. It also holds a record of perfect 1-shot kills. Its barrel has also never seen a brush and only the cylinder has been cleaned enough to keep it operating smoothly.
Over the years in addition to these two I have also hunted with Ruger .44 Magnums, the Flat-Top Blackhawk, Super Blackhawk, and Super Redhawk, Smith & Wesson .41 and .44 Magnums, Freedom Arms single actions in .357 and .41 Magnums, .480/.475, and .50AE, both Ruger and Colt Single Actions in .45 Colt and, of course, .44 Special Single Actions. The only time I have used rifles in the past more than 4 decades has been when I needed to test them for articles.
Over the years I racked up a lot of miles flying to various hunting destinations. These were mostly quite enjoyable until the changes, which have caused me to refuse to fly at all. So my three friends, Rick, Roger, Cactus and I discovered a private ranch within a half-day’s drive. These were most enjoyable times over the past 10 years as we were always allowed to hunt on our own. With the coming of a new owner to the ranch everything has changed. A lot of positive things happened including improving the roads, cleaning up and repairing, however, when we went this year we found a new rule. We were no longer allowed to hunt on our own but were required to have a guide. That changed everything. Now we were split into two groups and the close camaraderie we had shared in the past was now greatly lessened. Add to this the fact I no longer have the energy I once had, it is terribly difficult to get down and even harder to get back up again, (hopefully knee surgery will help solve that this fall) and as my friend Hal Swiggett said when he decided it was time to quit hunting, I’m no longer as mad at those critters as I used to be. Much more could be said but I’m running out of space.
In 1986 I founded the group called The Shootists. Every year they gather in Raton, New Mexico, for a time of shooting and sharing. Now I find the altitude there bothers me physically and since I won’t fly the 2,000-mile round trip, driving takes a tremendous toll on my body, so I have probably made my Last Trip to meet with these fellows. My Last Hunt has in all probability occurred. Someday there will be a Last Campfire Tales. I hope that Someday takes a while longer to get here.
By John Taffin