Then And Now

Were The Old Days Actually Better?
37

Dave loves this Kimber Adirondack in 6.5 Creedmoor for still-hunting.
Under a yard long and 6 lbs. field-ready, it will handle any need from
six yards to six hundred.

For rifle enthusiasts, these are the best of times as we have an amazing array of rifles, scopes, cartridges and bullets. The first deer hunting I did was in 1961 at age 12 with a borrowed .30-30 Winchester 94. Two years later I bought my first centerfire rifle, a “sporterized” Lee Enfield .303 British. I sometimes wonder if it was better being a rifle enthusiast then or now?

A compact, accurate, reliable rifle doesn’t have to cost a fortune:
The Ruger American Predator in 6mm Creedmoor. Dave admits the
Nightforce NXS scope is a bit much if weight-saving is a priority.

Answers

It depends. Purchasing a rifle back then was easier, at least from a legal aspect. Maybe other countries had more regulation but in most of the U.S. and Canada, the process of buying a rifle was simple — hand the seller money and he’d hand you the rifle. The transaction could take place in person or by mail. Of course, no retailer would knowingly sell to a minor. I recall one dealer who insisted buyers provide a signed statement saying they were “of the full age of seventeen (17) years”.

Flying with guns was easier. Actually, flying was easier. You could buy a ticket half an hour before departure time, walk out on the tarmac and board your plane. I can recall articles suggesting the best way to transport a hunting rifle was to carry it aboard in a soft case. Then you would request the stewardess (not “flight attendant”) to store the case along with the flight crew’s jackets and coats.

Carry a handgun? No one would know or ask. Jack O’Connor once wrote about sharing a flight to an industry event with Elmer Keith when they both lived in Idaho. He said Elmer carried a .44 Magnum in a shoulder holster and if anyone noticed, they didn’t raise objections.

Surplus military firearms, often of high quality and in excellent condition, were widely available and inexpensive, at least compared to most factory firearms. Ads from the early ’60s showed Mauser, Springfield, Lee-Enfield and other bolt-action military rifles at prices from $15 to $40. An M1 carbine in as-new condition listed at under $70, a Garand for $80 to $90. “Sporterizing” military rifles was a big business. Mauser G33/40 rifles were much in demand just for the action, used for making light hunting rifles.

Mid-1950s Winchester 94 .30-30. Dave borrowed one just
like this for his first deer hunt and later bought his own and
added a receiver sight.

Share The Land

Finding a place to hunt was much easier. The saying was “fences are for cattle; signs are for people.” Much private land was unposted and the practice of charging access fees unknown in many places. Even if land was posted, a courteous and respectful request often resulted in permission to hunt. Anti-gun and anti-hunting sentiment were present, to be sure, but not the major concern they would later become.

It wasn’t all sweetness and light. The selection of new factory hunting firearms was limited and firearms were not cheap relative to wages. In 1962, a Savage 110 was $112.50 while a 99F was $126.50. A Winchester 70 was about $125 depending on the model, a Winchester 12 shotgun $109.95, a Browning Auto 5 shotgun $134.50. Sounds cheap but in 1962 the average annual wage in the U.S. was $3,712 or about $71/week. In 2022, the average wage is reported to be $1,037/week.

In 1962 the average wage earner had to work 8.8 days to earn the price of a Winchester 70. Sixty years later I see Winchester 70 Featherweights priced at around $1,000. It takes the average worker just 4.8 days to earn the price of a new Model 70. Or the same worker could get a Ruger American for about $500 (2.4 days wages) or a Tikka T3 for about $680 (3.3 days wages). Compared to 60 years ago, we have a far greater selection of rifles requiring far less work to purchase.

Dave bought this Winchester 70A .270 in 1973, the first centerfire
rifle he ever used with a scope. It’s still one of the most accurate
rifles he owns: 1 ½" at 300 yards using Sierra bullets!

Dave’s first centerfire was a sporterized Lee-Enfield costing $17.88,
financed with a 4H calf! The sporran was his grandfather’s, part of his
uniform in the 48th Canadian Highland regiment in WWI.

Round The World

Commercial flying, with or without guns, is more burdensome than it was in 1962. On the other hand, in 1962 flying was very expensive and not something undertaken lightly. Anyone who had actually flown was a minor celebrity and could enthrall listeners by recounting the experience. Actually, we seem to have come full circle. I’ve noticed in later years those who feel entitled to fly, such as business types and government bureaucrats, resent the peasants sharing the experience and seem only too glad to put a stop to it.

In 1962 it was easy to find a place to hunt, but in many places there wasn’t much game. My father-in-law who lived all his life on a farm, once mentioned he was in his 30s, around 1950, before he ever saw a deer. By the ’60s whitetail numbers had increased but not remotely to the population levels of today. Not all species have done as well. Most seem fairly stable, although increased demand makes hunting opportunities available only by limited-draw access.

Today we have a far wider choice of rifles. Moreover rifles, scopes and bullets are undeniably better. I suppose as rifle enthusiasts we are better off today. I do miss the freedoms we had, but who knows, maybe we’ll take them back one day.

None of which explains why these days I do most of my hunting with rifles from the ’50s and ’60s. Some of them don’t even have scopes!

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