We should all age as well as firearms.
The basic operation of firearms hasn’t changed in the eight hundred years or so we’ve had them, and the principle is beautifully simple. The pressure created by burning propellant pushes a projectile through a tube. That’s it.
Over those eight hundred years, the propellant has changed (although the black powder of the old days isn’t so far removed from the smokeless powder we use now), the loading method has changed (we generally don’t load from the muzzle), and the way the powder is ignited has changed (flint-on-steel has been replaced by primer made of pressure-sensitive explosive and triggered by a firing pin). The basic idea, though, is the same.
This is why guns that had a career robbing stagecoaches are still in circulation and also why Kevin and I, last week, ended up buying a gun older than we are.
We had three guns already – all shotguns. Kevin owned a .410 Remington and a 12-gauge Browning Citori when I met him, and he bought me a Remington 870 20-gauge for my birthday two years ago. Unfortunately, none of those guns was able to get us a deer last season.
Deer hunting on Cape Cod is difficult, partly because there are many hunters and not many deer, and partly because we’re prohibited from using rifles. Instead, we load shotguns with slugs (preferably using a rifled barrel, which my 20-gauge has), and wait for a close-range opportunity.
This year, we’re going to try our luck in Vermont, in the woods behind our friend Dave’s house. Unlike Massachusetts, Vermont allows rifles, but that’s helpful only if you have one.
Last week found us meandering through the backroads of North Carolina, on our way home from the wedding of our good friend Allison Fishman and our new friend Aaron Task, and we kept seeing billboards for the world’s largest gun store. Mackey’s, it was called. We’d been considering buying a rifle, and we talked about maybe going to find the store. But we had a long drive ahead of us, and neither of us made a move for the GPS.
We continued the meander.
And then we saw a sign we did stop for. “Boiled Peanuts.”
I’d never had a boiled peanut, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. We pulled in and got ourselves a pint.
Now, having tasted them, I have a theory. Boiled peanuts are yet another manifestation of the inferiority complex that the South has had ever since it lost the Civil War. By insisting that a product that is clearly inferior to its roasted Northern counterpart, and arguably inedible, is actually a regional delicacy, the appreciation of which separates the men (that would be them) from the boys (obviously us), they are holding on to their sense of separateness in the feeble hope that, some day, they will rise again.
I’m thinking boiled peanuts should go the way of slavery, although I stop short of supporting a Constitutional amendment.
As we stood in the parking lot, marveling at the watery taste and cardboard texture of this Southern taste treat, we took a moment to look around. Right there, across the street, was the world’s largest gun shop.
I have no idea whether it really is the world’s largest gun shop, not having been in all the others. I can say, though, that it’s definitely a really big gun shop.
When you walk in, the first thing that hits you is the smell of cigarette smoke, which transports you back to about 1978, which was the last time you were in a store where someone was smoking. A very nice woman looked up from her paperwork. “Shotguns to the left,” she said, gesturing to a cavernous room filled with racks, “Rifles to the right.”
The rifle room was as big as the shotgun room, and there were hundreds of guns, new and used. I know next to nothing about rifles and browsed aimlessly, but Kevin looked with a purpose.
He found a gun he liked, and he called me over to show me.
“It’s a Marlin .30-30,” he said. “An old one, but it’s in great condition.”
“How old?” I asked.
“Probably from the sixties.”
He asked to see it, and they unlocked it. He worked the action and mounted it to see how it felt. It felt good, and he decided to buy it. After ascertaining that he wasn’t a felon or a fugitive from justice, they sold it to him.
When we got home, we checked the serial number and found out it was made in 1950. I couldn’t help but be a little leery of a sixty-year-old gun, but Kevin assured me that guns like that get passed down through generations, and that the new ones are almost identical to the one we’d just bought.
Still, when we brought it to the range, I was a little apprehensive. I asked him to shoot it first. Nice, eh?
We put targets at fifty yards, and he shot it. A little low, a little left, but only a couple inches from the bulls-eye. After a couple more shots, he handed it to me.
I was still apprehensive. My experience shooting a slug through my 20-gauge had me braced for a big bang and a strong kick. But this gun was entirely different. It wasn’t nearly as loud or as boisterous, and the sights were such that I felt I could aim it with confidence. At fifty yards, all my shots were in a one-foot circle, which isn’t great but is probably acceptable. At a hundred yards, I had more trouble, but I’ll go back and practice.
Beyond how it feels to hold and to shoot, it’s the action I like. It’s got a lever that ejects the spent cartridge as you pull it out, and loads the new cartridge when you push it back. It has a smooth, solid, mechanical feel, like all the parts mesh together exactly the way they’re supposed to. It feels like a well-made tool.
Before we took the rifle to the range, I was having some trouble mustering enthusiasm for deer-hunting. (I wasn’t the only one – NorCal Cazadora wrote about the self-same problem.) But the rifle makes a difference, and it’s hard to explain why. I’ve practiced with my 20-gauge, and I’m reasonably accurate at fifty yards, the longest shot I’d take. But it feels like the wrong tool for the job. It’s a shotgun that’s been jury-rigged to imitate a rifle. I feel better being in the woods with a firearm that’s designed to do the job at hand, particularly if feels right in my hands and against my shoulder.
Which is a problem, given that the Marlin is Kevin’s gun, and he likes it as much as I do.
Luckily, our friend Tim offered to lend us his Winchester .30-06 (a somewhat more powerful rifle of the same caliber). Maybe we’ll trade off.
I’ve known, in other parts of life, what it feels like to use a tool that suits you. I have a Cleveland five-wood that must have been made for me. My chef’s knife fits in my hand and rocks on the cutting board just the way I want it to. While I’m perfectly capable of using other clubs, and other knives, those are the ones I’m happiest with.
So why do I feel like the Marlin .30-30 is poised atop the slippery slope that has “gun nut” at the bottom?