a beautiful day here yesterday in god's country, in a winter not given to many. an entire winter of cold ground fog and lots of rain, our little river up several times, and when not raining it has been cold and cursed with a steady strong wind. not very days conducive to enjoyable shooting, nor very much good for honing skills.
so i was a little disappointed, but not surprised, when i drove to the rifle shooting benches and found them occupied by four or five shooters and a couple hangers on. as it turned out it was carlos and two other guys i didn't know shooting .22's, and a guy shooting a relatively heavy rifle of some sort. i drove by a big yellow lab on a leash to the front bumper of a big 3/4 ton, and it was obvious he was friendly and would take a pet.
the others were deep into their shooting, i didn't want to bother them, so i packed a little bit of stuff to the bench and laid claim, and then ambled over to the lab, and he greeted me with some friendly wags and a friendly expression. i sat down on the gravel next to him and leaned against the front bumper of the pickup, and we made our greetings. i extended a hand for him to sniff, and when he had entered me in the data banks, i reached over, gave him a scratch on the nose, and a couple rubs behind and under his ears. he gave me a nose in the face, and a couple slurps of the tongue on my nose, all the while wiggling from end to end, and i rubbed his shoulders a bit. and then, in the ways of an experienced dog, he walked me down his back until i had my hand over his hips at the root of his tail, and stood there allowing me to rub and scratch his nether end, all the while leaning his weight heavily against my chest.
i like a dog knows what he likes. after a bit, he sat down, contented, and i just idly rubbed his shoulders and chatted with him, and he just smiled. his name was max, stitched on the collar along with his phone number.
a very agreeable big old lab. he was around 8 years old, a replacement the man said for a very well liked irish setter. the man said that he had the setter for a long time, didn't want another dog, because he didn't think any other dog could stand up to the setter's memory. but the big old yellow lab had just snuck up on him the old man said, had caught him off guard and stole his heart, and now he was the constant companion of him and his wife. a smart dog, alert and curious, and very good at supervising the daily activities of the house. the big man said that when he brought tools into the house to work on things, the dog had to come over and sniff and inspect them, see what they were, and when he was working the dog watched his activities.
i'd ambled up to the firing line to see what he was shooting, and when he stood at my approach i asked him if the yellow dog was his. he said yes, and explained that he'd got him as an older puppy. the dog hadn't much of a life until then, chained to a small pen, with no companionship except for a couple of boys who played with him after school afternoons, and then disappeared into a house before dinner .... alone after dinner, and alone all day except for that brief period.
the big man explained that the dog was unruly for a bit, and that he didn't even know his name. he said that with some wonder, a couple three times, as though it was something of a wondrous thing that a young dog would not know his name. i appreciated the way the big man said it. most people would have said the dog would not answer his call, as though it were disobedience. the big man explained very precisely & preciously in those few words that the people who'd owned him hadn't taken the time to bring the dog into the family, to educate him into his place in the world, and to establish his identity.
well, that didn't last long. the dog had been named max, and he was taught his place in the scheme of things, and then he'd worked his way up the ranks until he had become beloved and indispensable at age 8. he had his place in the world, he knew he was with good people, and he knew his identity, name of max. the old man and his wife gave the dog his identify, and the old dog gave them boundless love and affection. an even "exchange," more like a "melding" than anything else. a good deal all around.
as i'd walked over to the bench, the man had stood. it was then i noticed that he was big, and large framed, heavy shouldered, old but still heavily muscled. i glanced at his rifle, and asked him, an 03 or an 03a3. he'd replied that it was an 03a3 and he'd re-barreled it from the original .30-06 to a .300 winchester magnum. we chatted about that, and he'd explained he'd put the front ramp sight on it, a proper one, with a tapered wrap around the end of the barrel, and a nice ramp and a thin post standing proud. and, that he'd acquired the original of an 03a3 rear sight, but had replaced it with a scope for some reason.
he'd built and finished the stock, and it was a pretty stock w/ a bit of a schnabel on the for-end, a slim wrist and a palm swell on the right hand side. i asked him about the palm swell, and he held up a big old monster of a hand, for me to put mine up against it for comparison. his hand dwarfed mine, looked like a very large pair of gloves stuffed like a big baked bell pepper next to my small hand. just dwarfed it, like holding my hand up against the hand of a silver backed gorilla.
we both laughed at it.
he was big and old, 77 years of age, and he'd led a long and hard life, and was proud of it. he'd worked all over, in the construction trades, and he'd worked on the oil rigs in northern alaska. a week on the rig, and a week home, and while he was on the rig he'd had plenty of time to wander the woods and the surrounding areas next to the rigs. that's why he'd built the .300 winchester magnum, to handle anything unfriendly that he might come across. he'd enjoyed it very much, but, the pleasure had not come for free.
and, he was selling some of his guns. he was at the range because he was shooting up his supply of reloaded ammunition, ammunition that he'd crafted for the gun by his own hands. he said he had no problem with selling the gun, but that he would not foist his ammunition onto another person who did not know the care that had gone into it. i asked him why he was selling such a rifle, why he'd part with it. it was the usual story. he had kids, but, they were scattered to the four winds all over the united states, and none of them wanted his guns nor were they even particularly interested in them. when i first talked to him, and before he knew me a bit, he'd talked as though this were his only gun, but, he allowed that when he'd sold this one, he might be a bit short of firearms. as we talked a little more, it became obvious he did not need a house gun.
but, he had no need of the big .300 winchester. he said that he'd had back surgery, a couple rods down his spine to hold the vertebrae in place, and some this and that, and that he was no longer up to stomping all over the hills, nor was he capable of hauling out the critters if he shot one. he also allowed that the cold of the winter hunts pressed on him. there are, after all, limits on what one can impose on a 77 year old body, even if it was a big and powerful one, even yet. he did not want to see the rifle go unused, and he had no more use for it, so he was hoping to sell it, and realize a fair return.
we talked about the features ... a modified safety, a bolt handle turned down to clear the scope he'd mounted directly to the old 03a3 mounts, the front sight, ... , features added when he'd put the .300 winchester barrel on it, years ago.
about this time a younger fellow, maybe early 40's walked over from his bench, and joined the conversation. he was just finishing up shooting a couple ar-15's. he asked about the old fellow's rifle, and when it was explained to him that it was an 03a3, it was evident that he'd had no idea what it was. the old man and i looked at each other, two old men who were sort of incredulous that someone not know about the 1903 springfield in .30-06 caliber, a rifle used by the united states to wage two world wars after its adoption in 1903. a storied bolt action, favored by the united states marines even as it was replaced during the course of world war ii by the m1 semi auto rifle, because though the m1 had more firepower, the marines appreciated that if the old springfield were skillfully aimed, it hit what it was aimed at. and, the old dear was rugged, and dependable, and not prone to being finicky about a little bit of mud, guts and tears. it just soldiered on.
well, the old man described the old rifle for the "youngster," i'd place him at late 30's to early 40's. we all admired the wood, which though not fancy was nicely grained, with good color.
the "youngster" was not without tools. he had two ar-15's, both sig sauers, one in .308 and one in .223. (no, sig sauer does not give the damn things away, they ask a very pretty penny for parting with one, let alonge two of 'em.) i've seen him before, and talked to him before, and he is knew to the guns, but, learning how to shoot them, and getting more skills all the time. they are nice rifles, and he is well equipped to handle anything that happens out the front of his house. the "youngster" is a fine addition to the shooting fraternity, ... , it is not his fault, that he will never have the old man's life under his belt.
but, he is not an old man. and, he hasn't an old man's experience. and, he is not looking and preparing for the other side of things, a side of things well contemplated by old men who know that this side of things doesn't run on forever. (let's just say we've received "intimations" of how it all works.) he is not looking at "divestment" and "downsizing," and he is not wondering whether it will be him or max who departs this vale of sin and tears first. the old man is strong, and straight, and clear eyed and strong of voice, and when he grips you hand in that great old paw of his, there is no doubt but he yet retains the power to grind your hand to splinters as he grips you. but, max's muzzle is turning white, and so is the old man's, and he thinks of these things. he knows what is to come.
and, he has concluded that it is time to sell the magnificent rifle he built years ago, and time to shoot up all the ammo. so, we shot side by side, him with his old springfield, me with an ar-15, and then he allowed as he'd shot enough rounds this day. i asked him how many rounds he'd put down range, and he replied that he'd shot 18 rounds. time to quit.
we started packing our gear, and he shot another 3 shots or so, and stopped, stood, and looked down at the old rifle fondly, and then sort of shrugged his shoulders and got about his business. when he was done, max waiting patiently, he unleashed the old dog, walked him over to the passenger side of the truck, opened the door for him, and gave him a couple scratches over the ear after the dog had clambered aboard. they drove off, the old man big behind the wheel, the old man proud, the dog proud of the old man & watching the world come to him through the windshield.
a formidable old man, even yet, but, clearly looking beyond the horizon. an old dog, his enjoyment of the world undiminished, full of life.
a nice day for shooting.
john jay @ 02.19.2015