The last rifle

Could you pick one?
65

Duke shooting what he considers would be his last rifle.

When a young fellow was visiting — a distant relative by marriage — he asked a question that caused me great thought. The gent wasn’t a “gun guy” but was working on his PhD in history, so we did have some common ground for discussions. He also wasn’t anti-gun as are so many who make academia their livelihood.

Upon walking into my gun vault for the first time, he was rather amazed by the wide variety of firearms stored there. My rifles range from percussion muzzleloaders to ARs. I should have expected he wouldn’t ask the usual, “Which one is your favorite?” In a more insightful manner he asked, “Which would be the last rifle to go?” I couldn’t really give him a definite answer at the time. If he had asked which Winchester lever gun, or Old West “buffalo rifle,” or World War II submachine gun would be the last sold, I might have had a ready answer. I know I would have if he had asked about handguns.

This is Duke’s Springfield ’03 “last rifle” with the newer
Montana Vintage Arms B5 scope mounted.

Tough Answers

But — last rifle? The young man never got an answer. However, after mulling the matter over on those nights when sleep seems slow to come, I’ve finally decided. It would not be an AR as if I’m preparing for the great apocalypse. Neither would it be one of the Old West lever guns and single shots of which I’m so fond. Initially I thought my last rifle would be a 1952 vintage Winchester Model 70 .308 Featherweight. I’ve had it over 40 years, took it with me to Africa once and have seldom missed a game animal with it.

If I had to depend on a single rifle for bringing home vittles, putting down predators after one of our dogs or cats or cleaning out “gophers” — actually ground squirrels — invading our hayfield, I’d pick one of my U.S. Model 1903 Springfield .30-06s. Actually, it wouldn’t be just any ’03. I have several including 03A3s and even one genuine 03A4 sniper rifle. Those Springfield ’03s are one and all collector’s items.

My keeper ’03 is a “parts” rifle. This means it was put together out of surplus and/or modern-made pieces. The action actually is original Springfield Army with serial number indicating manufacture well into the 1920s, which in turn means it is “safe” as opposed to a lower serial numbered one with perhaps brittle receivers. Its barrel date is 1942 and its stock is obviously of new manufacture.

Duke’s “parts” Springfield ’03 with 3X Leatherwood scope shot this five-shot
group at 300 yards. Note zeroing shot bullet holes at top of target.

A True Mutt

I acquired it at a Montana gun show about 15 years ago from a fellow with whom I was acquainted. He was packing the ’03 around hoping to find it a new home due to his wife about to have their first child. He said he bought the barrel still in cosmoline wrapping and had it installed by a gunsmith of our mutual acquaintance. I forgot to ask about the stock’s heritage. As a project, it wasn’t quite finished because it lacked a barrel band and fore-end cap with bayonet lug and stacking swivel. He had never fired it.

It was mine in one of those New York minutes. Needed parts were quickly found on GunBroker.com. Why did I want such a parts rifle? One reason was it had no collector value. Otherwise, whereas I have no spare parts for the Model 70, I do have plenty of ’03 parts on hand. At the time, new 3X long tube scopes were coming over from China and so I figured this ’03 would make a great facsimile of the U.S. Marine Corps target/sniper rifles of early World War II fame. Those were actually equipped with Winchester A5 or Lyman 5A telescopes of similar length.

The rifle and scope were turned over to Rocky’s Gun Works of Logan, Mont. along with a photo of the USMC rifle I wanted duplicated. Rocky mounted the scope, dishing out the ’03’s forearm just as in the photo. With practically no handload development, this rifle quickly showed it was capable of about one to 1.5 MOA groups out to 300 yards, the longest range on which I can shoot paper targets on my property. Furthermore, it proved a fine cast-bullet rifle both with heavy and light projectiles.

Casting About

Why did I concern myself with cast bullets? Because, as recent shortages have proven, jacketed bullets can become scarce. I will never run out of bullets if I have a bullet mold and a bucket of lead alloy. Perhaps an article on loading a .30-06 for its full spectrum of uses would be good material for a future article.

One snag did develop in my plan. After a few hundred .30-06 loads, the soft Chinese steel in the scope mounts gave way but by that time, my friends at Montana Vintage Arms of Belgrade had introduced their B5 scope. It’s a virtual copy of Winchester A5 or Lyman 5A scopes so one of those fine 5X scopes is what my “last rifle” wears now.

Reality is — I will be probably gone long before my vault’s last rifle.

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