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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: After 45 years, hunter reunites with dad's rifle

by Bryan Hendricks | January 17, 2021 at 2:31 a.m.

I last saw Dad's rifle in November 1975, when I was 12 years old.

And now, after all these years, it is mine.

It is a Remington 742 Woodsmaster, a semi-automatic chambered in 30-06. Any discussion with Dad about rifles began and ended with the 30-06. It was the only cartridge as far as he was concerned. The 30-06 won World War II, vanquishing empires on two continents. It was all the gun the world would ever need.

The rifle stayed in a rack leaning against the wall in Dad's bedroom closet. The bolt was always open. The magazine, loaded with Remington KleenBore ammunition, lay on the bottom rack frame.

When Dad wasn't home, I used to sneak into his bedroom and gaze at the rifle, but I never touched it. That would have violated a strict commandment, but I also was terrified of it. According to Dad, the rifle's prodigious recoil, and that of the "aught-six" at large, was its defining characteristic. His complaints so intimidated me that I was afraid to shoot a 30-06 until I was in my late twenties. The first rifle I ever bought, a Ruger Model 77 Ultralight with a 20-inch barrel, kicked like Chuck Norris, and its muzzle flash obscured the sight picture. I developed some really bad habits because of it.

In 1995, Johnny Acton of Muldrow, Okla., taught me proper shooting technique. Recoil has not been a problem for me since, from any rifle or cartridge, but I always remained a little leery of a 30-06.

In 1973, Dad put a scope on his rifle, but he refused to sight it in. Dad was a brilliant jurist, and according to Judge Bill Wilson, he was the only judge in Arkansas to ever hold a trial by telephone. Yet, he believed that the mere presence of the scope automatically made the rifle accurate. You don't have to sight in a rifle that has a scope, he said.

His first hunt with the scoped rifle was in 1975 at Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area. He fired an entire magazine of ammo at a deer without scoring a hit. He concluded that the rifle was faulty, and he never shot it again.

Dad died in 1998. When my stepmother remarried, I figured her new husband added the rifle to his collection. He died recently, and I met my stepmother last week for lunch. As we parted, she summoned me to her car and gave me the rifle.

It was weird to see it again after all these years. I'm middle-age now, but I felt like a kid holding it. It still felt forbidden, but no longer formidable. Scores of rifles have passed through my hands, including a few 742s. It looked so ordinary.

The years hadn't been kind to it. A fair amount of surface rust was on the receiver, and the bluing is worn from the muzzle, but the crown is in good shape. Some of the bluing had eroded from the left side of the receiver, but the wood is in very good shape. The action rails, which notoriously fail in the 740, 742 and 7400 series, are in immaculate condition. The only real detractor was that its magazine is missing.

The scope was the first thing I noticed. The brand is Foremost - 4x32 - with tiny crosshairs and attached with old Weaver clamp rings. Foremost might have been K-Mart's economy brand, or maybe TG&Y. This made me laugh. Dad had opulent tastes, but he put junk like that on his rifle? As my daughters would say, SMH!

I rubbed a coat of Ballistol on the gun's metalwork and scrubbed it with a special steel pad designed to remove rust without damaging bluing. One pass with a snake left the bore bright and shiny. The rifling is sharp and well defined. I expected that for a gun that hasn't been fired in 45 years.

I took it out back and chambered one of my reloads. Wearing protective eyewear, I held the rifle out and away from my head when I pulled the trigger. It fired and cycled flawlessly. This made me very happy, and I began planning our future.

First, I removed the Foremost scope and replaced it with a 3.5-10X40 Leupold VX-3. The scope's objective bell rested against the rear sight, so I removed the rear and front sights. I must replace the magazine. Gander Mountain used to carry 742 magazines for about $15. Now they cost about $50 used on Ebay.

The rifle is compact and it handles like a dream. It's ideal for box stands, still hunting and backpacking, which covers all of my kinds of hunting. You know what else? It kicks like a kitten.

The old rifle has a lot of seasons left in it, and it shall be a part of my seasons going forward. I intend to kill a deer with it next fall. That's something Dad never did.

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