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Half-a-Century of Mental Adjustments from My First Rifle

By: Randy Tucker

It shot high and to the right, so at 50 yards, I aimed low and to the, left and it was always on target. I purchased my first rifle a long time ago at a now-defunct Coast to Coast store in Riverton, Wyoming.

The bolt action .22 carried a Coast to Coast label, but I suspected it was just one of many produced by an unnamed manufacturer that was distributed to small and mid-sized regional stores across the west.

I learned of this practice from my dad who always purchased Montgomery Ward tires. When I was old enough to know the difference in brands I asked him why he bought “Monkey Ward” tires (as he called the challenger to Sears and Roebuck).

He replied, “They’re made by Michelin, they just have Montgomery Ward printed on them. They’re the same tires, just half the price.”

Price wasn’t an issue with that bolt action .22. I walked into the store with two crisp Andrew Jacksons in my hands and left with a brand new rifle, a box of .22 shorts, and 26 cents change.

The rifle was $38, the sales tax in those days was only three percent, and a box of shorts was just 60 cents.

Not a bad purchase for a 16-year old in 1973. Yes, I know the laws in those days required you to be 18 to purchase a long gun, but few merchants adhered to the regulation. The statute of limitations has long passed on the crime committed by the man who owned the store in those days. He, too, has passed several years ago.

I took that .22 with me to college, along with my trusted Iver Johnson 12 gauge single shot shotgun.

In another revelation that would have counselors, news crews, and hand wringing do-gooders descending on the university, I kept both guns in the clothes closet in my Laramie, Wyoming door room.

I began to make some serious money as a construction worker during the summer months from 1978 to 1980. Nine dollars an hour with overtime added to it amounted to big bucks in those days.

One of the first things I did with the extra cash was mount a four-power scope on that crooked shooting .22.

It wasn’t a marvel of optical precision, just a cheap Tasco fixed four-power scope, but it straightened out that simple bolt action rifle.

I was able to take rabbits up to 75 yards easily. I know many hunters claim miraculous 200-yard shots with a .22, but that wasn’t the case with mine. I thought a 50 to 75-yard shot was something extraordinary with that rifle.

Somewhere over the intervening years, the thought of shooting shorts, or longs disappeared. The only rimfire rounds you could find without custom ordering were long rifle cartridges. It remains difficult to find shorts or longs outside customized online vendors to this day.

The thin veneer on the .22 stock began to show signs of wear. I took the barrel out, removed the finish with paint stripper, sanded it smooth, and stained it a dark walnut. I finished the stock with a few layers of spar urethane.

At the same time, I tossed the old Tasco scope away. It had become cloudy, hard to see through and not much fun to shoot.

A friend of a friend was a former U.S. Marine who became a gunsmith after his duty in the Corp.

Steve was a champion marksman in the Marines, a testament to his rural upbringing in Northern Idaho.

One day as I picked up a shotgun he was working on, I related the story of “aim low and to the left because it shoots high and to the right” to him.

He told me to bring in the .22.

A few weeks later I handed him the old bolt action beauty, now approaching 45 years of age.

He took a look at it, went outside to rest it on his shooting bench, and locked it into place. He fired a couple of rounds at a target 50 yards away against the side of a sandstone bluff near his house.

Leaving the .22 in the vice, he went back inside and came out with a small ball-peen hammer and a thin straight chisel. Steve tapped the rear sight, then fired another round. He tapped the front sight lightly, then the rear sight again.

He fired another couple of rounds and made one more tap on the rear sight.

“Try it now,” he said.

I took the .22, bolted a round into the chamber, then aimed through the iron sights at the target 50 yards away.

“Snap,” the light barking sound a .22 makes echoed off the walls of the bluff, but the .22 long rifle slug hit dead center on the target.

I walked over, put up a new target paper, and fired a dozen more rounds. The pattern was less than an inch apart at the widest from the shooting bench.

With just a few expert taps of his hammer and chisel, Steve had removed almost half-a-century of mental adjustments from my first rifle with his skilled hands.

A few physical adjustments took away all the thought I wasted as a youth with that rifle.

Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at ratucker@wyoming.com.

 
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