Pride of Ownership

If you have it, you know.

Jack Pender was a very special friend who died of lung cancer in the ’90s when he was much too young. If we are blessed we make a few very close friends as we travel through this life; Jack was such a friend. We “met” when he was in Colorado visiting another friend of mine, the late Deacon Deason of BearHug Grips. He called me from Deac’s place just to say hello and I wound up visiting him in Georgia the following year.

He made arrangements for me to meet all his shooter friends at the Savanna Rifle & Pistol Club and it was a memorable experience. The reason it was so memorable is the fact we were both shooting pop cans offhand at 100 yards with Jack’s 7-1/2″ Freedom Arms .454. We could not miss. The other shooters were very impressed, however the fact is we just happened to be “on” that day and any other time could easily have missed with every shot.

Jack had his own business designing fancy homes for well-to-do customers. He took me to a special section to show me some of the homes he had designed. I felt like I should be trimming the lawn or something not just driving around and looking. I guess I didn’t feel comfortable being surrounded by so much wealth. Jack told me about one of his customers who was a hunter. Every year he took a trip to some exotic location and his house was filled with trophies from all over the world. What was strange was the fact he did not own a single firearm. Before leaving on each trip he would buy a new rifle, sight it in, go on his special safari of choice, gather in his trophies, return home, and sell the rifle. To me that was something so strange it belonged in Ripley’s Believe It or Not. I simply could not understand how anyone would not want to hang onto special rifles which he had shared so many hunting trips with. It wasn’t as if he needed to sell them to get his money back.

I just couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to run his hands over the rifle as he looked at his trophies and recalled the hunting trips. It seemed to me he was just driven to somehow go through the motions without any emotions. Something was surely causing him to hunt every year but for some reason he just saw the rifle as a useful tool which had no use after the trip. I suppose he probably bought a new car every year also. Something is missing without pride of ownership. Even if I could afford it I would not buy a new truck every year. My 4×4 is now 13-years old, with 69,000 miles and still in excellent shape. I take pride in it and care for it. I basically use it only to go shooting. I can’t imagine replacing it just because something is newer.

Taffin is too emotionally involved with his first true hunting handgun to ever sell it.

I know very few shooters who only see firearms as simple tools like a chainsaw or a lawn mower. I’ve been accumulating firearms for 55 years so there is no doubt there are some which are rarely used, if at all. But that does not negate pride of ownership nor personal attachment as there are pleasant memories attached to every one of them. Good times with friends and family, hunting trips, silhouette shoots, cowboy action matches, just plain woods bumming, plinking, long-range shooting at rocks, wandering around sagebrush, foothills, forest, and mountains. Even though they may never be used much anymore, pride of ownership prevents me from selling them, at least at this point of my life, and I hope most of them will someday be enjoyed by my grandsons and their grandsons.

If I were a betting man I would wager most reading this right now still have their first firearm. Acquiring the first gun is almost like a rite of passage, a symbol of growing up. Mine was the Marlin 39A .22 levergun. I learned to shoot with that rifle, my wife learned to shoot with it, all my kids followed suit, and yes my grandkids did the same. I don’t shoot it much anymore, but it has been joined by two more just like it and the grandson trio spent a lot of time, and a lot of ammunition, shooting that nearly 55-year-old Marlin and its partners this summer.

Each grandson gets one and none will ever know which one was the original. Every time someone shows me a firearm and tells me it was grandpa’s gun they get the same advice: “Don’t ever sell grandpa’s gun; someday many years from now some other young boy should be showing his friends his grandpa’s gun and you will be that grandpa.” There is something very special, very emotional, about family firearms.

Sometime in late 1956 or early 1957 I bought my first .44 Magnum which was a 6-1/2″ Ruger Flattop Blackhawk. It was soon cut to 4-5/8″ and logged many miles during Idaho hunting seasons. In the early 1970s it went back to Ruger to be re-barreled to 7-1/2″ and remains so today. About the same time Diamond Dot, even though we couldn’t afford it at the time, insisted I buy the 10″ Flattop .44 Blackhawk we found at the Gunhaus when I returned from my final summer classes for my Masters Degree at the University of Montana.

It was my first dedicated hunting handgun. I was wearing it in a Goerg shoulder holster when I saw the biggest Idaho muley buck ever. It surpassed everything I had ever been seen before or since. I sat there at way too many hundreds of yards in the waning light of the day and simply watched him. I did not feel sorry I could not get on him and that day became a true handgun hunter with all its limitations. How could I sell either one of these sixguns? I haven’t shot either one for several years and I won’t put full-house loads through them anymore. However, I just loaded up some 1,100 fps loads with 200-220-grain bullets and hopefully next spring they will get another workout.

I was deeply involved in long-range silhouetting in the 1980s. I have so many wonderful memories of matches and one thing that stands out is how rivals would help each other by spotting. My first real silhouette sixgun was the Dan Wesson .357 Magnum. Dan Wesson was the first manufacturer to actually listen to competitors and the result was the 10″ Heavy Barrel .357 Magnum with excellent sights. Most of us used 180- or 200-grain bullets loaded to less than 1,000 fps in .38 Special brass. They took forever to get to the rams but they never failed to take them down. It was fun to actually wait for the bullet to hit the target and watch the ram silhouette change color in the sun as it slowly toppled over. I can feel the excitement all over again just typing the words.

Ruger soon joined up and started producing sixguns especially for silhouetters, the first being the 10-1/2″ .44 Magnum Super Black Hawk. The best they ever offered for any kind of long-range shooting was the 10-1/2″ Ruger Blackhawk .357 Maximum. Now we had a sixgun that would deliver those same 200-grain bullets at .357 Magnum velocities. The best shooting I ever did with a revolver in silhouettes was with this Ruger. Neither one of these, I’m sorry to say, has probably been fired within the last 15 years. Still they are not for sale as I’m too emotionally attached to them. Maybe, just maybe I’ll dig them out next spring and warm them up again. I wonder if I’ll be able to shoot them as well as I did way back then? Probably not.

Several others have been fired for too many years. There is the Super 14 Thompson/Center .30-30 which was my Unlimited silhouette pistol and the 10″ .357 Contender which I used in the Production class. Both were superbly accurate and probably still are even if I’m not. My first Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum was an early Model 29 with a 6-1/2″ barrel and I spent too many years shooting nothing but full-house loads in it. Today it never sees anything heavier than Keith’s Heavy .44 Special load and unlike the others mentioned, it did get a workout last summer. I’ve got to spend more time with it.

My old hunting handguns are mostly retired today. The SSK Contenders in 6.5 JDJ and .375 JDJ as well as the 7-1/2″ Freedom Arms .454—all of which went to Africa with me—haven’t been shot for way too long. That 6.5 and my 7-1/2″ Freedom Arms .44 Magnum both have identical records, namely 24 straight 1-shot kills. With the 6.5, it’s all manner of game from Africa to Colorado to Texas to Oregon to Idaho, while the .44 Magnum has been mostly used on Texas Whitetails. I’m tied to these guns as emotionally as it is possible to be. I just hope none of my grandsons ever sell grandpa’s guns, and more importantly, somehow they receive as much pleasure as I have from them and also pass them on to their grandsons.

Some may say I become too attached to what they see simply as working tools. To me they are much more than that. They aren’t simple and they aren’t just tools. They fill me with pride of ownership and also celebration of Freedom.

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