As a fan of the fiberglass fantastics that McMillan stocks puts out, I’m no stranger to the allure of today’s space age wunder guns. Hell, my first rifle was a walnut stocked 10/22 that I promptly hacked, chopped, and rebarreled into a fearsome Rifleman patch-earning Appleseed killer. There isn’t a bit of organic material left on that rifle save for a cotton sling. And most days when I look at it, I regret ever making those decisions. There’s just something about a walnut stock….
There’s been this idea bouncing around inside my head since the very first round I put through my CMP Garand. “I need about ten more of these,” though not out of any hoarder’s sense of collection or arsenal building. At the moment, I’m a (fairly) young guy with a reasonable amount of disposable income, and an understanding wife. We don’t have any kids (yet), but as sure as death, taxes, and cockroaches will inherit the Earth, we’ll have a passel of them someday.
As a guy who didn’t grow up with a solid foundation of firearms, hunting, and marksmanship, I want my kids to have an opportunity I didn’t. And there’s something about about a piece of simple mechanical excellence that conveys more than words ever can.
Forgive me if I’ve discussed this here before, but I think it bears repeating; my father and I never shared guns as a passion. In fact, we didn’t really get friendly on any topics until I left home for college. It wasn’t until years later that I understood that the reason my dad and I never shared a love of guns was because his father never shared it with him.
The reason that they never shared that interest was because my great-grandfather, a cavalry officer from a time when they actually rode horses, had savagely beaten the fundamentals of marksmanship into my grandfather. And when his country called him for the big war, my grandfather scored top marks in marksmanship. The only memory my dad has of his father shooting a gun was when he killed some pesky varmint with a bolt action .22 at a considerable distance. Offhand. They never spoke of it until much much later in life when my grandfather confessed that his father had killed off any love he had for guns, so he’d never had the urge to introduce my father to the ballistic arts.
As such, I don’t have a large firearms inheritance headed my way when my father shuffles off this mortal coil. In fact, the guns I love most I bought with my own money. My Garand is one of them. The first time I shot it was out at the family ranch. As can be expected of the ole gal, she makes a considerable racket – much more than my small bore ARs and .22 rifles. Arriving back at the house covered in the detritus of a day at the range, my dad, cigar in one hand, scotch in the other, asked just what in the hell all that noise was about. I told him about my newly acquired Garand, he came into the garage to look it over, and asked me how it shot. To which I replied, “It is amazing” And he asked why.
I’ve told many people this over the years when asked the same question, but the easiest analogue to shooting a Garand has to do with classic muscle cars – something my dad understood very well. My old man is a gearhead from way back. I grew up riding in the bench seat of a dinette in a Dodge motorhome (no seatbelts!) while my parents towed their racecar to various autocross events across the south.
My parents met each other while racing autocross and decided to get back into it right around the time I started elementary school. My dad, for reasons known only to him, decided that instead of running a very practical euro car or Miata he would attempt to make a 1972 Dodge Challenger do things like turn and stop. The assembled talent in Detroit that brought that car forth unto the world never intended it to do those things.
That task required the considerable catalog of Mopar aftermarket parts and a lot of custom fab. But when the dust settled, my parents owned a stripped down car that would do 1 G in every direction by beating physics into submission. Not too much different from my Garand. As an interesting side note, my parents even installed a smaller race seat and five point harness so I could ride along during qualifiers.
My dad has always had an attraction to cars that wanted to kill him, like the Porsche he owned in the 80’s. Enjoying a scotch of my own on the porch that day, I explained to him that if I had to absolutely hit something, or lay down walls of lead, I’d pick any number of ARs out of the safe without hesitation. But if I wanted to get back to the root of the thing, where marksmanship, and recoil management matter, there’s no other rifle in the world for me than my M1 Garand.
Gripping the walnut stock, stained almost black by years of dirt, grime, sweat, and probably some blood along the way, there’s an energy, a lithe sort of vibrant essence that springs forth. Sometimes, I take it out of the safe to look at it, for no other reason than it’s a joy to behold. Nearly everything else in the safe is a workhorse that I’m comfortable dragging through dirt and mud. But my Garand is to be treated with respect and reverence. Put it this way, I cannot begin to count the number of times that I have indiscriminately hosed down targets with an AR. With confidence, I can say that every shot I’ve taken with my Garand has been considered, thoughtful, and purposeful.
My description over, my dad thoughtfully sipped his scotch, took a puff of his cigar, and told me that he’d driven a friend’s new Porsche a few weeks prior. The model is lost to me at the moment, but he told me that he’d taken the owner along for a hellish ride along a twisty backroad near his shop. The owner was petrified, and shortly thereafter, politely told my dad that he was no longer allowed to drive any more of his vehicles, thank you very much.
There was some sadness there. Not at the loss of future rides, of course. He just hadn’t driven a Porsche in decades, especially a new one. He lamented the fact that the car was so planted. It was effortless to drive fast. Hundreds of gizmos, computers, and various bits of whizbangery made up for any imperfections, real or imagined, in my dad’s driving skill. Simply point and shoot. Sort of like my ARs.
Back in the halcyon days of the mid 80’s, my dad had a brief fling with a Porsche 930. Even though I’ve heard it hundreds of times, I never tire of him telling me about how you had to drive that car with authority, purpose, and perfection, lest it kill you. A great many doctors and lawyers during those days died at their own hand behind the yoke of a V-tail Bonanza or a 930.
For those who aren’t familiar, here’s the simple explanation. As a rear engined car with a very short wheelbase, the 930 required a generous amount of downforce to maintain rear end contact with the pavement. Lift off the throttle in a corner, the rear end unloads, and a vicious and unrecoverable spin happens. Add in a healthy dash of turbo lag, the lack of traction afforded by 80’s era tire technology, and it was easy to see how a spirited drive, a goosing of throttle, the boost to accompany it, and the unfortunate lift off could result in the death of the next promising doctor. Traditional wisdom says that if the rear end starts to go under acceleration, to not let off and instead to power through. The early 930’s just ensured that doing that meant you died in a larger cloud of tire smoke.
My dad, in a rather poetic moment, said, “It sounds like your Garand is like those old Porsches. Hell on wheels when you’re doing the right thing, but punishing if you don’t take care.” Now that might be a bit of a liberal stretch, but a steel buttplate connected to a pretty stout full power cartridge does wonders for reminding you that proper positioning is important. In its heyday, I have to imagine that it was a harsh reminder to our doughboys that they only had seven rounds left, and that their families back home had gone without butter or rubber to ensure that he had that round. Better make the next few count.
As I’d said earlier, the first round that left the barrel of that Garand suddenly opened my eyes to the idea of preparing for my legacy. In my mind’s eye, nearly ever time I think of that rifle, I think of each of my children loving their shooting trips with dear old dad so much that they get their very own Garand upon completing some milestone in life. I’m certain that the reality of the situation might be much different. For all I know, we may never have kids and/or the ones we do have may hate guns. Hopefully, not for the same reasons my grandfather hated them.
I’d parked thoughts of children and heirloom rifles until a confluence of several events transpired over the past few weeks. The first was that my sister-in-law seemed to get noticeably more pregnant. She’s due at the end of the year, and I’d be a liar if I said that the prospect of the first grandbaby in the family hasn’t put the screws to us that we’re “next” in line. Naturally, one of my first thoughts was, “Damn, I don’t own enough heirloom rifles to be a dad.”
The second event was that I finally got around to shooting Bergara’s most excellent B-14 Woodsman. It is a walnut stocked, sporter barreled bolt gun that is interesting for no other reason than it is unlike most rifles on the market today. No barrel threading, no Picatinny rail, no oversized bolt knobs, and no detachable bottom metal. Just a good, solid, bolt gun that just so happens to be in 6.5 Creedmoor. And it would be an unremarkable thing to have in my safe, just another rifle to kick out the door to feed the insatiable maw of TTAG. Were it not for the nearly weekly messages of my friend, I wouldn’t have really paid it much mind at all. But each week – “Have you finished the review. When can I purchase it from you?” in my inbox. He’s got a couple kiddos, one of which is just about to be the right age to take to the field. His father took him out hunting with an old walnut stocked bolt gun, and I believe he’s looking to do more of the same for the next generation.
His messages only got more insistent after we both read “My Father’s Rifle” by TTAG’s Tom in Oregon. Tom’s story is equal parts heartbreaking, nostalgic, and uplifting. A finer eulogy I don’t think I’ve ever read. I certainly can’t speak for Tom or his father, but like most, I’m sure neither grasped the gravity of the memories being created forty years prior. It is the sort of thing a young man with a young family tucks away in the memory bank for future consideration at moments down the road.
The last moment in the confluence happened a few weeks ago when my good friend’s father passed away. His father had been battling cancer on and off for the past few years. The state of his condition worsened quite rapidly, and my friend was not able to make it home in time to say goodbye. Somewhat selfishly, I sat in my shop the night his dad passed, drinking too much scotch and smoking too many cigars. I felt helpless as I couldn’t comfort my friend, many states away, as he dealt with the death of his father in the same week he was due to get married. And then I felt silly because I was sad for the death of a man I’d never met, which caused me to wallow and drink a bit more.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I got a picture via text message of an otherwise unremarkable pair of gloves. Written in permanent marker on the gloves were the details of the material (whitetail deer), the shooter (my friend), and the location where the animal was harvested (my family’s ranch). The prior fall, I helped my friend get his first Texas whitetail. As a memento, I’d sent the hide to the Uber glove company to be made into a set of gloves.
Originally, I’d planned on having a set made for him, and a set made for myself – kind of a “Hey, we’re two buddies who shot a deer together,” type of thing. At the last minute, I changed the order, and had a pair of unlined work gloves and a pair of insulated gloves made to my friend’s size. Not long after, they showed up. The unlined gloves fit perfectly, but the insulated ones were a bit tight. My friend sent them to his dad who has smaller hands with a note that he hoped they’d help a bit with the evening chill in the midwest. Several months later, my friend’s dad was gone.
When my friend returned from his father’s funeral, he told me that his dad’s funeral was well attended, and that many of his dad’s neighbors had heard all about his son, the hunter. Unbeknownst to my friend, his dad had proudly showed off those gloves, and pictures from his son’s various shooting competitions – some of which I’ve been present for.
If the day comes where I absolutely must hit what I’m aiming at, I won’t reach for an iron sighted, wood stocked rifle that’s pushing seventy-five years old. I’ll grab one of the space age wunderguns out of the safe. But I’ll be a better shooter if the time ever comes because my Garand taught me a punishing lesson about shooting fundamentals.
Likewise, if I have to hump a rifle miles and miles in inclement weather for a once in a lifetime shot, you can bet it will be a rifle coated in some sort of baked on space age coating nestled in a non organic stock. But if we have kids, and those kids show an interest in hunting, you can bet your bottom dollar that their old man will be carrying a walnut stocked bolt gun into the woods for the first hunt. The whole time, I’ll be hoping that many, many years later they’ll look fondly at that rifle and remember a good moment with their old man. And if we have kids, and if those kids show an interest in hunting, and if they happen to get a deer, I’ll discreetly send the hide off to a little glove shop in Owatonna, MN to have a set of gloves made.