Hunting with a Classic Rifle
By Ed Turner
The more time I spend pursuing the great white tail and muley bucks that we are so lucky to have in abundance, the more I have begun to enjoy a "retro" hunt every now and then. I have found that by going back to a simpler time, even if only for a day, it can be very rewarding and relaxing. Of course, I like a new magnum rifle as much as the next nimrod, but I also have grown to enjoy the allure of hunting with a classic too.
There is simply something wonderful about slipping through the woods or sitting in a stand with, say, an old Model 99 Savage that makes one feel more "attached" to the woods and the animals around us. Somehow the idea that possibly a whole slew of bucks were taken with the old firearm that you are carrying, by someone who has long since passed to the great hunting grounds in the sky, seems to make the day even brighter and better. I simply cannot handle the Winchester Model 70 that I own (made in '52) without thoughts of who may have shot their trophy of a lifetime with that very gun. I still wish I had asked the fella I bought it from a little about its history.
Several years ago I put a period scope, a Lyman "All American," on that old Model 70 and collected a respectable whitetail buck with it. It felt absolutely invigorating to accomplish that simple feat, which of course has been duplicated millions of times with just that type of setup. That experience made me think about expanding my selection of classic deer hunting rigs.
Some of the additional classic arms I have collected with the thought of collecting venison with them include a pair of .30-06 Remington 740's, one a beautifully stocked BDL Deluxe model and the other a plain Jane standard version. One wears a very nice old 4X Redfield and the other an even older 2.5X Busnell with a post and crosshair reticle. They certainly look the part, and I am thinking one may travel to Georgia with me late this winter on a wild hog hunt. A similar addition is a Fine old Remington 760 in .35 Remington, made in the early 50's, that I had to have to round out my "action" collection. It is my only pump action rifle.
There are two more pre-64 Model 70's, one in .243 that wears a Weaver K4 scope and the other a .308 with an altogether too modern Tasco (we need some work there). I am very determined to work on the abundance of does here in north central Tennessee with that 243 this very autumn.
Long ago I took a strong liking to two of Winchester's best, but unfortunately discontinued, models. These are the wonderful Model 88 lever gun and companion Model 100 semi-auto. These Winchesters are superbly efficient deer rifles for the Eastern U.S.
It still amazes me that my two largest whitetail bucks to date were both taken with Model 100s in .308. One is a carbine model, the other a standard rifle. Neither of these handsome rifles will win any bench rest competitions, but each did its job with a one-shot, drop in their tracks kill. Both are absolutely great guns to carry and shoulder, if you ever have a chance, try one. The lever action Model 88 is so similar in design and balance as to feel identical in the field.
The previously mentioned Model 99 Savage happens to be chambered in an equally classic caliber, .300 Savage. It may also travel to Georgia this December, as it seems an equally fine tool to use to collect some bacon. It is topped with an older Japanese scope [Jana] that now seems clear as a bell once I refocused and cleaned the lenses.
I'll admit it took years for me to warm to the Model 99's lines, just about the same time they became a "hot" and increasingly valuable item. This is an early "E" economy model which had a patently ugly finish on it's economical hardwood stock. I refinished the buttstock and forearm in a light colored, almost clear, finish. Much nicer now.
I also refinished the stocks on my Model 100's, and after I removed the stain applied at the factory their beautifully grained wood is now easily appreciated. Before you write to me, I know I have ruined any collector value. But, playing with my classics is my personal pleasure.
There are a few more, let's call them semi-classics, that I think are worth mentioning. One is a very nice Marlin 336C (ER) in .356 Winchester that looks and feels like a real deer gun should. It balances very nicely and wears a low power 1-3.5x scope. I would like to find a nice old steel-tube Wideview of similar power.
I have an older Browning lever rifle that, while not truly a classic, has been around a long time. And it's caliber, .358Winchester, makes it somehow seem even older. Browning has, of course, recently reintroduced the BLR Lightweight in .358 Win.
Both of these lever guns handle and carry very well in the woods. And they are very much at home when you are perched in a tree stand.
A final rifle I'd like to mention here is actually my newest "old" rifle. It's a Model 98 Mauser of unknown age (likely 1930s or 1940s) that has been sporterized. I love it, absolutely love it. I found it online and decided to buy it as a stable mate to the 8x57mm Remington Model 700C I had gotten at a huge discount several months ago.
This old Mauser can outshoot my Model 700, as it did in my first big comparo test. I have sighted it in for use during this year's deer season using under powered U.S. manufactured loads, while the Model 700 is zeroed with a hopped up Sellier & Bellot load. Either way the 8x57 it is a fine deer cartridge, and I hope to see if I can compare the killing power of the two loads before season's end. The sporterized Mauser's stock also happens to be possibly the nicest piece of walnut on any of my rifles, and is shaped in the classic style.
It seems to me that I do occasionally get wrapped around the axle about what new firearm I need to improve my chances for "Mr. Big Buck." I have found that by stepping back, actually stepping back in time and temperament when hunting, is a much simpler pastime that allows me to regain the true enjoyment of being in the woods.
Maybe you'd enjoy hunting with a classic old deer-getter that could help you find the simpler hunting enjoyments of earlier years. You know, before everyone knew the "Milo Hanson" name and buck. Perhaps even back when the Jordan buck was only about 20 or 30 years into its tour as our top whitetail.
Heck while you are at it, drag out those old boots and that plaid hunting coat you can't bear to throw out. You'll likely enjoy your day even more thinking of all the "good old days" represented by that coat, those boots, and that classic rifle.
Copyright 2006 by Ed Turner. All rights reserved.