It’s gun season

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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.

Image borrowed from howstuffworks.com

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changed (we generally don’t load from the muzzle), and the way the powder is ignited has changed (flint-on-steel has been replaced by primer made of pressure-sensitive explosive and triggered by a firing pin).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?

 

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Comments

  1. But don’t be misled; while the bullet from the 30-30 and the 30’06 are the same diameter – the casing of the ’06 is a lot bigger, and so is the bang. Be warned, there is significantly more kick to an ’06.

    In my opinion, and only in my opinion, the 30-30 is a fine gun for quick shots in brushy country, it is commonly found in a short-gun (carbine). It has just enough knock-down to be a good deer rifle. There are thousands of them still in use to prove that.

    But for a longer shot, bigger game, or especially in a sniper/stand hunting mode, it is hard to beat the ’06. It is accurate beyond my capabilities and with good shot placement it will drop any deer very quickly.

    Both however, are commonly used and easy to get ammo for!

  2. As I type this, there are 12 firearms within reach of my right hand (4 shotguns, 7 rifles, 1 pistol) so I guess I’d probably classify as a gun nut. Although in my defense, that just happens to be where the gun rack is, and of those 12 guns, probably 9 of them were inherited from relatives and friends.

    So anyway, I’d say that a good old lever-action .30-30 is just about the best, most reliable all-around rifle anyone could have – and if you end up with 100 guns, you’ll never have one that’s more fun to shoot. Steve is absolutely correct about its uses for deer hunting. At 100 yards or less, a .30-30 is hard to beat.

    He’s also correct that the .30-06 will kick a lot harder, but it shoots flatter and farther, and hits harder on the downstream end. The .30-06 is probably the most popular deer rifle cartidge in the US, although it might be rivaled by the .270 in areas that are flatter and the woods aren’t as thick.

    As a North Carolinian I have to admit I’m a little disappointed to know you were down this way and I didn’t get the chance to buy you lunch – but it looks like you were out near the coast, and I’m up in the mountains on the western side of the state.

    As a southerner, I’m tempted to try to defend boiled peanuts, but the truth is that none of us eat that crap. We just sell it to tourists who already have a low opinion of us anyway. ;-)

    • Oh, and about the smoking thing…

      You have to remember that you were in eastern NC, where tobacco is still the #1 crop, and sustains most of the farms and businesses. In that part of the world, banning smoking is seen as a serious insult to the people who probably make up 90% of that gun shop’s customers.

  3. I totally agree with Steve and Ken. Stick with the .30-30. The .30-06 will remind you of shooting the shotgun with slugs: a great cartridge but it kicks relatively hard. Unless you’re shooting across a field (100+ yards), the .30-30 has plenty of range and power.

    In the woods here in VT and MA, the average shot taken at a deer is under 50 yards. I’ve taken all my deer between 15 and 30 yards. At those ranges, a .30-30, shotgun, or old-fashioned muzzleloader is enough.

  4. Boy am I glad people who read this know more about guns than I do. Steve and Ken, thanks for demystifying the difference between a .30-30 and a .30-06. I looked it up, but I found the explanations a little hard to follow.

    And, Ken, I also appreciate being set straight on boiled peanuts. I had a sneaking suspicion I’d been had. We were on the coast this time, but if I ever find myself in the mountains, I’m going to hold you to that lunch offer. I’d love it.

    Tovar, it’s good to have the vote of confidence from someone who’s hunted the same woods I’ll be in. A lot of people I talked to said that .30-30 was a good woods gun — accurate and deadly within the range you’re likely to have in dense trees or brush.

    Now all I need is a deer!

  5. The slope isn’t THAT slippery. But maybe someday you’ll want more rifles for different situations. As you’re already hearing from other commenters, it’s a little like those golf clubs. (I think that’s what the five-wood thingie must be.) As much as you liked that club, you probably had a couple more in your bag, too. The difference is that most people only carry one rifle out into the woods at any one time. Otherwise… A new use for the golf bag.

  6. Ba ha ha ha haaaaaaaaa. I’m in the middle of that slippery slope, though I actually sold my first shotgun recently. I didn’t think I could offload something that had been altered so much to fit my long neck and left-handed shooting. But someone who’d borrowed it before said she loved the fit, and bam! Now I have a little more room in the safe.

    BTW, I’m really glad you stopped at that store, and I’m really jealous that you could walk out of it with a gun. I hate our 10-day waiting period.

    And boiled peanuts? Don’t be a hater, Tamar. I think they’re awesome!

  7. Yes, now all you need is a deer…with antlers…with at least two points on one side…and the second point has to be at 1.5 inches long, so bring your quick-draw, long-distance tape measure. ;-)

    Good luck!

  8. I’m not sure anyone should be using ‘gun’ and ‘nut’ in the same sentence on the internet. Maybe gun aficionado would be better.

    I once, while living in Florida, tried to pronounce boiled like the locals, and was asked what I wanted a bald penis for. Needless to say, I didn’t try that again, and after trying boiled peanuts themselves once, decided that they weren’t worth trying again either. Why would anyone take a perfectly good peanut and make it taste like an overcooked green bean?

    • Paula, so you tell me I shouldn’t say “gun nut” in the same comment where you say “bald penis,” and get caught in my spam filter. Geez.

      But, yeah, the green bean analogy is apt.

  9. “We should all age as well as firearms.”

    That is an absolutely epic hook to a blog posting. I don’t remember any better in the 10 years that I have been reading blogs regularly. Well done. Well done.

  10. Al — That golf bag crack made me laugh out loud. And, although I don’t have an immediate need for another rifle, I am thinking that a 12-gauge would be better for ducks …

    NorCal — Glad to hear guns are going out, and not just in. You have quite the arsenal. Your taste in peanuts, though, leaves much to be desired.

    Tovar — But Vermont lets you get does, yes? Which is our preferred kind of deer anyway (I’ve heard the meat of testosterone-free deer tastes better). But I did wonder about estimating a 1.50-inch antler at 50 yards … we’ll pick up one of those tape measures when we get there.

    Bobby — Thanks! Always nice to know someones likes my jokes.

    • Joke? Oh, sorry, I didn’t get that at all.

      Your opening sentence works for me because I know of no other machine that lasts for as long as a well-made gun. They are engineering marvels in a lot of ways. After all, it’s not unusual to find 1 and 2 hundred year old specimens that are not only still functional but still in use. Nothing beats that from a mechanical stand-point.

      Plus, old guns are elegant and handsome (assuming they haven’t been destroyed by previous owners, of course). I’m a fan of older bang-sticks.

      • We’re on the same page. ‘Joke’ was probably overstating it. I would love to look as good as our Marlin when I’m 60.

    • Doe-hunting during rifle season is completely illegal in Vermont, I’m afraid to say. Does can only be taken with a bow in bow season; or with a muzzleloader in muzzleloader season if you draw a lottery permit well in advance.

      Spikehorns are illegal in all seasons, except youth weekend.

      • Tovar, I am very glad you cleared that up. We read the regulations and, even after re-reading them knowing what you told me, it’s hard to find the VERY IMPORTANT FACT that you can’t take a doe with a rifle. Here, verbatim, is what the book says about the annual limit: “THREE deer per year — only TWO may be LEGAL BUCKS taken in any combination of seasons (Archery, Youth Weekend, Nov. Rifle, Dec. Muzzleloader).”

        It’s only in the introductory text, that extolls the wonders of Vermont hunting, that it says, “November brings a youth weekend and the traditional 16-day rifle season for bucks with one antler having two or more points one inch or longer.”

        I’m almost sure I would have figured it out — I read regulations very, very carefully before I go out in the woods — but I appreciate the catch.

        • I bet you would have come across the rifle-season listing: “November Rifle Deer Season—Nov. 12–27, 2011 Limit: One legal buck with at least one antler having two or more points may be taken anywhere in the state.”

          If not, your license would have been a dead giveaway. It comes with a clearly marked “Buck Tag.”

  11. Nice work..guns and target shooting are fun..I really like the idea of deer hunting..but only the idea..Having spent every fall as a kid in the woods sitting beside my father I always liked the woods..but I don’t hunt..I am an oddball in my area…I DO bait deer to my property but only to keep them away from other hunters in the area..

    I have a deer stand, a portable deer stand, 303 rifle, ammo, 2 bows powerful enough to do the job too..only the spirit is unwilling..is there a deer hunting version of viagra?

    ..most things boiled don’t taste that good..add peanuts to the list! ;)

    • EGB, I’d never encourage anyone who didn’t want to hunt to go out and hunt. But to have all that equipment … and all those deer …

      • oh I know!..I want to hunt but when I get an animal all lined up I usually think to myself ‘..I wish I had a camera shot of this..’..then I put the gun down and silently try to get my camera out..I am a better hunter with a camera..and it is always in season! I am pro hunting and pro guns for the most part..(there are exceptions to every rule)!

  12. Reading from the UK your description of wandering into a shop to buy a gun like it was a fishing rod is strange but fascinating. I can’t imagine the sale involved much in the way of background checks that I would imagine were part and parcel of selling guns. Especially as you were hundreds of miles from home. Though who am I to question such inalienable constitutional rights.

    • Ivan,

      If I read history correctly, your Great-Grandparents could have done much the same thing in your home country. It really hasn’t been that long ago. And, I sincerely hope that we will some day get back to the days of my Grandparents when she could have had the gun shipped directly to her house complete with a suppressor attached. Now those truly were the good old days ;-).

    • Ivan — I’m in favor of background checks, and stricter gun laws than we have in many states. Particularly for handguns, which scare the bejeezus out of me. It seems strange to me, too, that we can walk into a gun shop hundreds of miles from home and walk out with a deadly weapon. (They did check Kevin’s background with the FBI, though — luckily, that time he crashed a golf cart into a sand trap wasn’t in his dossier.)

  13. I live in just about the only place with tighter restrictions on gun ownership than New England – old england – and we’re not allowed to hunt deer or pigs with shotguns on animal welfare grounds (the exception being humane dispatch after a road accident). Back in the days when I was still thinking of moving to the cape I posted an “I want one” post about a shotgun with a rifled barrel – one reader wrote in from VA saying ‘here we hunt as god intended – with a rifle’ he was right of course they are better in every way so on that slippery slope to ‘gun nut’ you could always turn right to ‘I have an interest in riflery’. One nice thing is that with a lot of rifles Old is Cool AND Old is Cheap.
    Have fun!
    SBW

    • It’s hard to find an iron-clad rationaled for the shotgun rule, SBW. I certainly understand why we don’t want long-range rifles in a densely populated area, but a .30-30 seems to be in the same category, distance-wise, as a 12-gauge with a slug or even a sophisticated muzzleloader.

      Oh, wait — does that mean I have an interest in riflery?

  14. Hoosierbuck says:

    Tamar-
    You can come to Indiana and shoot 8 does in my county. Then go one county over and shoot 8 more, then…well, you can just keep going if inclined. However, you are going to have to leave that Marlin at home, and bring your new Marlin lever action in .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum. Only handgun calibers allowed in rifles, or you could use your 20 gauge. Call before you leave home, and we’ll be ready when you get here.

    • Hoosier, you have no idea just how tempting that is.

      If we keep going to different states that have different gun regulations, we’ll end up with an entire arsenal. But we do want to go where our chances of getting a deer are best — Indiana, unfortunately, is a long drive, and I’m not sure how Kevin and I would get 16 does home on the plane.

      But don’t be surprised if your phone rings.

  15. Growing up in MI … I was probably in second grade before I learned that all those “hamburgers” and “steaks” we ate at home, were actually venison and other people ate them as beef.

    My Dad hunted during all the regular seasons (come to MI .. you can hunt Does here and I would love to host you guys!) but it was only after our family attended a steak cook-out at church; where I blurted out, “This meat tastes really funny!” that my parents took me into their confidence and I learned that most other people ate hamburger and steaks made from cows.

    • Pam, I love that story. My family was weird in so many ways, but not that particular one.

      I also love that I’m getting invitations to places where deer are abundant. But let me warn all potential invitors — I’m keeping a list, and I most definitely will, some day, take some of you up on it.

  16. Bibliotecaria says:

    Ahem, I love boiled peanuts.

    Please note, they are seasonal. If you were having boiled peanuts in October, I would question whether they had been made with green peanuts? Made properly, I assure you they are quite good. Cardboard? You didn’t get good ones. They should NOT taste like cardboard.

  17. In some cases, that 1950’s gun will be much better than the new ones. Firearms are one product where most brands don’t skimp on quality, but a few of the old classics have definitely gone downhill over the years.

    When some of my family moved out to Oregon from Indiana a few years ago, they were all excited to starting using their (nearly unfired) ,30-06 rifles only to discover that the locals much preferred .30-.30. Not only are the deer smaller in Oregon, but the thick forests and hills keeps most shots well under 100 yards.

  18. Speaking of “the right tool for the job” and chef’s knives… That might make for an interesting post or two some day. If I’m not a real foodie and somehow never got to using a proper chef’s knife for cooking, how would I get started, and what would be good starter knives? Basic technique tips to keep in mind, etc???

    I don’t want to follow a foodie fad, it just looks like it would be a good tool for the job. I’ve seen on cooking shows how you can kind of rock the knife back and forth, and it looks pretty efficient. Somehow, I’ve just always used “regular” knives. I already appreciate quality knives and a good edge. Next, maybe it’s time to try that chef’s knife thing????

  19. Hoosier Girl says:

    In defense of boiled peanuts….perhaps you just need to try them kicked up with some Cajun spices. On a trip to Florida last October, we escaped our “luxury” confines in St. Pete Beach in search of some “Old School Florida.” We started with the roadside attractions of Weeki Wachi Springs (mermaids!) and then had someone recommend the manatees in Homasassa Springs….after viewing the manatees, we noted an “Old Homasassa” marked on the map, and of COURSE we ended up there, well off the beaten path, eating Cajun boiled peanuts in a roadside part across the road from the ruins of an old sugar mill, under trees draped with Spanish moss and everything all sleepy, golden and mysterious in the slanting sunlight.

    Maybe I’ve just read too much Faulkner and Rawlings, and season my Southern delicacies with too much Romanticism, but the peanuts were piping hot and perfectly delicious.

    I think you are somewhat unkind in ascribing the love for boiled peanuts to some sort of Southern inferiority complex. From Low County cooking to soul food to BBQ to Austin Tex-Mex, the South as a whole dominates traditional American cuisine, the crown jewel of which may be found in the culinary treasures of New Orleans.

    Rather, I would trace the fondness for boiled peanuts to the tastes of childhood….much like Gefilte fish or Manischewitz wine at Passover, it may be baffling to outsiders, but if that is what you grew up with….well….you’ll go to the mat for it, out of love and not because you have an inferiority complex. (As a Midwesterner, I will go to the mat for my mom’s home-grown canned green beans).

    • I can see it now, with the Spanish moss and the slanting light. And I can well imagine enjoying boiled peanuts in a setting like that.

      You are, of course, right about the food of the South, and you won’t catch me giving it short shrift, except in fun. And I’m guessing your mom’s green beans are probably worth going to the mat for.

      Thanks for stopping in!