Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Posts from the Road - Gut Deer??
Why yes. Yes I do.
"Meat gun". I first heard the term from a hunter who had been hunting longer than I had been alive. While I was at his home, dropping off something for my Dad, someone delivered a custom load they had built for one of his many, many guns, delivering the gun and ammunition to his house. This was a house that was like catnip for a young firearm enthusiast like myself. The man had a very large gun collection, able to purchase freely when money and business obliged. Beautiful firearms, many collectibles, the kind that real money or real smarts can buy for a true collector.
The rifle that was worked on? A Winchester model 70 in .300 Win Magnum. It could have been bought at any gun store in the country, or at K-mart. It was utilitarian, plain even. He called it his 'meat gun', and it was the rifle that was always in hand when he was in the field. Hunting all over the country, that rifle was his choice. Back at home, tens of thousands of dollars worth of fancy firearms, but in his hands was a plain old beat up Winchester bolt action.
The man that had delivered the gun that day had built a load for the rifle. Cleaned it well, re-crowned the muzzle, and settled the bedding. It shot straight and true, and above all was dependable. On the barrel, there was a spot where the bluing was worn off, leaving shiny steel. That man offered to touch up the mark with cold blue, and its owner declined.
Seeing my puzzled look, he explained. That worn mark was where the rifle had been clamped in a rifle rack on a jeep. All he had hunted was evident in that mark. To him, anyway.
I have had hunts like that, where I remembered, not the meat I took home for the table, but the very essence of the day.
It was a very cold grey day mid Fall, but only cold due to the thick fog. As I walked into the woods from the ghost town of abandoned old farm buildings, from the fog came the sound of a vehicle. By the time I got to where I could see clearly, it was empty, drawn up against a barn as old and rusty as the jeep, painted with a thin veneer of dark paint, giving it an illusion of ghostliness, as if it had somehow just driven here all by itself, waiting for me to find it. But there was no driver, and no sound of any one walking near.
With no one else around, I headed on in. Deep in. There were 1000 acres I'd been given permission to hunt on, and likely the spectral jeep belonged to one of the sons of the owner. I was told they might be checking on some fence line down, but would stay well clear of where my blind was going to be. This land was extremely isolated and all privately owned and posted. I'd not likely see anyone other than myself today, especially in light of forecast high temperatures that served only as vain instants of clinging summer. With the rut driven sooner than usual by the heat, the landowners had already done their hunting, as the whitetails frolicked early and freely in the faux summer temperatures.
The fog now gone, the sun glinted on the butt of my rifle, a drop of sweat from my brow splashing its surface. It was heavy to carry any distance but from where my blind was situated, I was told that any shot I got could be a very long one. This was the right gun for that. A canteen at my side, I took a big mouthful, spattering liquid on my parched tongue, dropping a few drops, a communion to the earth. "Salut" I said quietly as the water evaporated into the ground and I settled into my stand.
The temperatures were almost that of summer. An "Indian Summer" that any Indians would have been smart to stay inside for. I leaned as far back from the brightness as I could; sun beating on my hands with the slap of a nun's impatient tutoring. The woods trembling through and through, the trees shimmering forms in the heat flashing before my view, then melting into green as the sweat rolled down my forehead. The leaves in the tree a gentle caress against my bare arms, my shirt ditched in the heat, earth rubbed into my skin to mask its color and cool my blood. Embracing boughs expressing a subtle tenderness against my form, shielding me as much as they could from the direct sun.
Even with some semblance of shade, the heat was more than I was used to for that length of time and I was just about ready to pack it up and go in, when I heard it. Off in the distance, a loud musing of noise, bursting into the conversation of the woodlands with no fear of interrupting anyone. From the sound of brush cracking and popping, it was a couple hundred pounds moving through the foliage. It sounded too big for the small bucks I'd seen earlier in this area. It must be the owner of the jeep. I leaned forward, putting my orange cap back on, taken off to wipe my brow, and moved my hand away from the trigger. I scanned the shimmering air for the sight of him, but the only orange glow I saw was the sun at mid day. The air was vivid, filled with a sun that held a quality beyond that of mere heat and light, illuminating everything in vivid dimension. I'd hunted alone for a long time, mostly quiet, grey days of contemplation, cold arms, cold legs, cold but steady heart.
There he was, at well over 100 yards and moving quickly away. It was not another hunter, though the form held the same weight and then some. It was a buck, antler spread two and a half feet across, shoulders strong from 4 or 5 years defending his realm. Out on the edge of a cornfield gone swampy with recent flooding. As clear as he was in view, he was so far away, that had I had my shotgun, the shot would have been lost. He moved so quickly with such strength of form that my thought of him was not fully formed even as my hands were already obeying the need.
For he was still in range with my rifle and in the open. As I raised my gun up, identifying him clearly, assuring a clean shot could go the distance, I felt every muscle in my body. I was acutely aware of the heat, on my head, on my chest. Heat in areas that had been cold for so long. My hands raised up, slippery with sweat, my heart pounding. My finger instinctively curved. Pulling intensity, need personified. Life fought and won, pleasure and pain. Buried treasures unearthed in the heart of the forest.
I took the shot.
That deer is long gone, repasts of tables long dusty. I don't remember the particulars of getting him field dressed, getting that massive form back to the barn. But I recall the walk from my stand to where he fell, time seeming to slow, just as he did, only the soft crunch of leaves underfoot telling me I was in motion at all. I could see the spoor on the ground, a map of blood and earth that propelled me even as it wished to hold me back, movement and sight that teased me with hesitant touch.
But mostly, I recall the sun on the barrel of that rifle like it was this very day, the way the light glanced off the small defects of age and life in its form as I raised it up, tucked it into my body and sighted him in. I can hear the echo of that powerful bullet off the walls of my sleep. I can still feel that heat within.
I think of that hunt, and feel the sweat and thrill of life oozing from my pores, heart pounding in my chest at the sheer bulk of him. On nights when dark and isolation only seek to hone those feelings within, I seek that whitetail in the paths of my sleep. That hunt was more than food, and that labored breath as I drew up, more than a breath, but a memory of life's pleasures long forgotten. I just touch that gun and the hunt is there, behind stick and stone, within heart and bone, in every sharp intake of air.
Such hunts are like that brief burst of sound as the trigger is squeezed. Not long drawn out memory of days in the woods, but snippets of sound and feeling, cold and heat. A series of fleeting glances in which instantaneous and without planning or approach, there stands in our sight the portent and threat of what is in all of us. There in the form of the biggest whitetail you have ever seen, all that we are and can bear, heat, blood, need; there in that instant between pull and sound.
That is what that old hunter meant. A gun with the marks of the hunt on it. A gun with the marks of the man on it. A meat rifle, but oh so much more. Its dependability in a world not so dependable, confidence in a world gone wild. It always works, and always works right, it's as steady as the blind in which I sit, it's as old as I may be. Not new, not shiny, but a steady, dependable beat of excitement that echoes the beat of my heart.
It's an Interarms Mark X Mauser action with a sporter weight barrel in .300 Winchester Magnum. It's glass bedded in a Bell and Carlson synthetic stock, ithas a Timney Sportsman trigger installed, but outside of that, is as simple as when it was purchased. A simple 6x scope is mounted in solid steel rings on a heavy steel one piece base. It will shoot 1.5" groups all day long, given a little cooling between rounds. It will win no beauty contests but that it is not what it was made for. It's there strong and dependable, as I have learned to be, as hunting has taught me to be.
Would most people set this gun aside for the newest high tech cartridge screaming out of the latest stainless steel lightweight hunting rifle with optional cup holder and GPS guided dog biscuit distribution device? No, the new stuff is fun do play with and we do so with glee. But when it comes time to test one's mettle against the real world of the woods, with game that often outweighs me by a hundred pounds or more, I'll take the heavy plain, "meat gun". It's there when I need it, strong and quietly efficient, and oh so true to the wildness within me.
Posted by Brigid at 6:40 PM