Bucket List has become a trendy term since the 2007 movie of the same name. For non-movie going readers it means things one would like to do before “kicking the bucket” or in plain terms: before dying. Recently Yvonne was talking about something on her Bucket List when she stopped and looked at me oddly for a minute before saying, “You don’t have a Bucket List, do you?”
Just about everything I wanted out of life, just about every realistic dream I entertained has come about. While still in my teens I discovered Montana while on a camping trip from my birth state of West Virginia and vowed to make it my lifelong home. It has been for nigh on 40 years now.
Horses were pretty rare in the part of West Virginia where I grew up. No matter what I was doing if the chance to see one arose I stopped and watched it. A couple of times as a youth I actually got to sit atop one. It was scary. Fate saw to it that by age 20 I was getting paid to ride other peoples’ horses. After several thousand miles on horseback in the states of Montana, Wyo. and Idaho my butt polished the seat of my handmade saddle till it shone. The finest horse I ever rode was named Duke, wherefrom I gained my nickname. He’s buried here on our property. Age and health problems put a stop to my riding 20 years ago but we still have four horses and Yvonne rides a bit.
Speaking of property, when Yvonne and I married in 1978 we were just a step above the proverbial poor church mice. Therefore, it was a source of great satisfaction that only 8 years later we had prospered enough to buy this piece of Montana, the center of which is laid out almost perfectly for a shooting range to 300 yards. Along the way I’ve also had a very nice, heated shooting house built. Everything I need is always there at hand, from cleaning patches to chronographs. Having a private shooting range was one of the biggest items scratched off of my Bucket List.
There was one downside to finding this piece of land. We had to move from the small Montana town where another of my life’s dreams had come true. That was owning and operating my own movie theater. Growing up in Williamson, W. Va., in the ’50s and ’60s one of my fondest memories is of the Cinderella Theater. Anyway, Yvonne and I ran our small movie house for 6 years and I still kid her about being the best “popcorn girl” I ever had. Even in those days a small town movie theater wouldn’t make anyone rich but it was a most pleasant way of making money.
As a lifelong serious student of World War II history some of my Bucket List dreams were to fly in a B-17, visit the D-Day beaches in France, and stand atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. I’ve done all of that. Additionally I’ve visited the area of Belgium where the Battle of the Bulge occurred and walked on the Guam beach where my uncle, James Virse landed as part of the US Marines’ invasion forces in 1944. (He was 18 years old at the time.) At Pearl Harbor at different times I’ve stood on the Arizona Memorial and on the battleship Missouri where the Japanese surrender was signed in 1945.
My Bucket List item as regards a career was to be a full-time gun’riter, which I’ve been now for over 31 years. Coincidentally with that I’ve been able to own and shoot an amazing variety of firearms, most of which I only fantasized about someday encountering. Dozens and scores of Old West guns such as virtually every type of single-action Colt revolver, Smith & Wesson Model No. 3s, Winchester lever guns, Sharps and Remington buffalo rifles and most of the modern replicas of those historical guns have resided here at one time or the other. Quite a few still do. I handload ammunition for all.
Back at the turn of the century I attended a local gun show where after a single pass through it I stopped at a friend’s table and said, “I’ve got all the Old West guns in here already so my money is safe.” About then I looked down at his table to see a WWII vintage K98k 8mm Mauser. “How much is something like that?” I asked. What he told me was a mere fraction of what I was used to paying for Old West guns. I bought it. It’s still here and in the ensuing 12 years another 75 or so WWII firearms have joined it. American, British, Russian, German, Japanese: most of their significant rifles, pistols, carbines and even submachine guns from 1939-1945 are in my vault. I handload ammunition for all of them too.
My greatest dream was to meet the perfect girl for me. That happened in 1977 and I credit her with giving me the sort of life where an empty bucket list is possible. Certainly there will be more guns bought in the future and perhaps even a tour to the Pacific Battlefields of Guadalcanal and Tarawa if I can get my bum knee lined out. Still, as things are now, my bucket list is vacant.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino
From a pre-teen it was on Duke’s Bucket List to fly in a World War II B-17
bomber (above). He flew on this one in 2007.
One item that was high on Duke’s lifelong Bucket List was having his own private
shooting range. He does; it goes out to 300 yards and he has a heated house to
shoot from during those long, cold Montana winters.
It was on Duke’s Bucket List to shoot as many different guns as possible in his lifetime.
He has done so to the tune of many hundreds. This photo is just a part of the ones
residing in his gun vault currently. Duke is standing in front of one of the invasion
beaches used by the USMC when taking the island of Guam back from the Japanese
(below). His uncle landed in the first wave somewhere behind him.