Part I: Hunting Rifles.
Just a few days ago I was listening to the song, “I’m a Keeper” by the young folks that make up The Band Perry. It’s a good song performed with lots of enthusiasm. Naturally my mind then turned to my favorite subject—guns—and I thought, “What are my keepers?”
First let me say this: I’ve made no secret that at this age I’d like to slow down a bit. Not fully retire, just slow down some, have more time to cast bullets, handload and go to more shooting events instead of staring at this computer screen nigh on every day. After all, I’ve had over 1,800 magazine articles and columns published and written or co-authored 7 books.
Trying to pin down all “keepers” in a column like this would be impossible, so I’m going to break it down into genres. The first will be hunting rifles because it is the easiest, as I’ve already whittled down my assortment to the two I’ll keep forever. One is for big game and the other is for varmints.
Now let me say up-front that my last big game hunting was in ’05. I have no desire to shoot another deer, elk, antelope or whatever. That fact was proven to me (and Yvonne) just a couple of days ago on the opening day of Montana’s big game season. Towards evening, Yvonne said, “Look out the window.” I did and beheld a very handsome 4×4 mule deer buck standing not 20 yards from the house accompanied by three does. I said aloud, “You guys stay close for the next few weeks. You’ll be safe here.”
Don’t misunderstand: I’m not anti-hunting. I’ve enjoyed the big-game hunting I’ve done in my life but overall health and a severely damaged knee preclude it now. Yvonne and I see deer around our place almost every day year round. We consider it one of the perks of living in the country in Montana.
That said, I never want to be without a dedicated big-game rifle—just in case. My pick is a 1952 vintage Winchester Model 70 Featherweight .308 that a former owner fitted with a Mannlicher-style stock cut from rather plain walnut. It was already well worn in November 1980 when I bought it off a used gun rack in a store in Bozeman, Mont. In the past 33 years, much more wear has been inflicted on it both in the United States and Africa. The only change I’ve made on it has been switching its old Weaver K4 scope for a Leupold 2-7X.
A couple of times readers have dropped me notes saying they didn’t share my enthusiasm for this rifle because it was “homely.” Homely is as homely does, and I’ve not missed many shots with that .308. It has taken mule deer, pronghorns, coyotes and elk for me, plus a few head of African antelope. I can hear some readers thinking, “Elk? Isn’t .308 kind of small for elk?” I’ve never bought into the magnum craze and know for sure that a well-aimed shot with a good .308 load inside a couple hundred yards does just fine for elk. I’ll not blow smoke and call this Model 70 a minute-of-angle shooter, but it darn sure will keep three shots inside 1.5 MOA with my handloads and many factory loads.
My second keeper is a varmint rifle. And again let me clarify something: I have no interest at all in sitting out in a blazing Montana summer sun potting away at prairie dogs and/or ground squirrels. (The latter are commonly but wrongly called gophers around here.) I’ve done that to the tune of many thousands of rounds through a myriad of rifles starting in the mid 1970’s. As I said, I’d rather be home casting bullets or otherwise preparing for a shooting event.
Although Duke doesn’t actively hunt varmints anymore, he keeps his .222 Remington Magnum
close by his door to discourage predators from coming around his home looking for an easy meal.
And again with all that said, a varmint rifle is needed because we do live out in the country in Montana. Yvonne and I never had children, so we have lavished our affections on a continuing assortment of dogs and cats. (Besides being my photographer, Yvonne is a part-time employee of the local animal shelter.) I don’t go coyote hunting like in the old days, but more than once I’ve shot them from our front porch when they come lurking about looking for an easy meal.
For a varmint rifle I’ve coincidentally kept one also purchased back in 1980. It is a plain-Jane Remington Model 700 ADL in the now discontinued .222 Remington Magnum caliber. That round will easily reach out to 200 to 250 yards with pinpoint precision. That is a fact: This old Model 700 certainly is a minute-of-angle rifle with my handloads. I bought it 33 years ago without a scope and fitted it with a Weaver KT-10. It wore that scope until a few months back when I switched it for one of the new Weaver Tactical 4-15X scopes.
A logical reader at this point might say, “But what about brass. They don’t make it anymore, do they?” The answer to that I’m not sure of but it’s a nevermind. About the time I got down to 200 good cases, a friend showed up with a large plastic bag of brand new ones. I’m set for life with .222 Remington Magnum cases.
Those are my hunting rifle keepers. They’ll surely be up for sale someday, but it will be after I’m gone. Whoever ends up with them will be lucky. As I determine what other “keepers” are in my vault I’ll let you know—genre by genre.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino