Despite being a complete neophyte, after six months of working at the gun store and shooting range, I felt pretty at home. Sure, I was still in the middle of a crash course on all things firearms—prior to the store hiring me, I’d done nothing more than admire my grandfather’s rifles hanging in their rack—but like a dog who gets his first morsel of steak snuck to him under the dinner table, I couldn’t get enough.
Hunting, too, had ignited something in me, a wonton desire kindred to the one lit in me by the first French kiss our high school’s marching band drum leader sweetly planted on me in the drum storage room one sunny afternoon. Now, my pining for the drumming Casanova didn’t last more than a few weeks, bright at its start, pin-prick sharp at its end, when I caught him wandering out of the drum room with a clarinet player. But hunting—now there was a lover who promised to be all mine for as long as I wished. Truthfully, I don’t really know where hunting’s “kiss” had come from, but with every issue of
Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, and the others that graced my mailbox, I wanted more. Remington 700 Mountain RifleNow, greenhorns are an annoying lot. They question anyone who might know more than they do about their new interest, just like the preschooler who has figured out there’s more to life than “Because I said so.” “Why? Why? Why?” is what happens then. I think that’s just how I was, during those early months in the gun store, and, after what was undoubtedly my umpteenth round of “20 Questions” about shot placement, caliber choice, and deer habits, one of my coworkers took pity and offered to take me hunting.John Sucher was a good guy, with a rotund and jovial wife he adored, a couple chubby, good-natured kids, and two part-time jobs to go with his full-time gig as a school teacher. John and his family were as all-American a family as you can get, strong and happy in the simple values of work hard and live right. I liked that, liked them. They lived the way my parents taught me.John hatched a plan to hunt with me on some property our store’s owner had purchased outside the suburbs. John had hunted the 20 acres of “wildness” before and, on occasion, killed a deer there. He figured it was a good place for a beginner. The property wasn’t too big, and there wasn’t much around except other undeveloped same-sized parcels, some sprouting the occasional pull-along trailer, the dwellings of weekend deer hunters. Property lines were well-marked, so there wasn’t much opportunity for getting in trouble, lost, or hurt. Plus, there was actually the chance of shooting something. And, so, with the plan in place, a hunter’s safety certificate in hand, and my first hunting license in the hip pocket of my Levi’s, I did what any woman would do when a major event is in the planning—I went shopping.I headed first for a .30-06 Browning BAR that had been sitting for some time, in all its glossy sleekness, amongst the store’s other long guns. I stroked the high-polished wood, worked back the heavy bolt of the semi-automatic receiver, and shouldered the gun a couple times, punched the bolt-release button. The heavy clerthunk of the bolt rocketing home had the solid sound of a Mercedes S-class door closing. The thought of getting a finger caught in it scared me a little. The price tag scared me worse. I fingered it where it hung from the trigger guard, hoping it had somehow magically changed from what it had read for the past six months, now that I had an actual reason to own it. It hadn’t, of course. I eased the gun back into the rack.I repeated the process with several others that stood rank-and-file along the store’s back wall. A Winchester Model 70 was the next to be hefted, but it seemed too plain after the thrill of the Browning BAR. There were several slender Browning A-Bolts in a variety of calibers standing at attention on the rack, but I’d never gotten a warm-fuzzy for their actions; the more I showed them to customers, the more I felt the bolt throws were too stiff and lacked a smoothness others had. I put each rifle back in the rack, wishing that one felt as good as it looked.Next I picked up a Sako wearing a hand-rubbed and un-lacquered Mannlicher stock. It looked thick and foreign, kind of awkward even, and indeed it was, when I put its overly long stock on my shoulder. Of course, I was also still wishing I had the blonde-stocked Ruger No. 1 in a Mannlicher that I’d owned for a while before it had been absconded by a recently ex’d fiancé. At the memory, I thought about crying for the lost guy, but then shed a tear for the lost gun.At last I turned to the gathering of a half-dozen new Remington 700s. I shucked the silky bolts I’d come to admire, viced the guns between my shoulder and fore-hand to test the comfortable balance I already knew was there. But, as with the others, the price tags deterred me. What was this freshly minted hunter to do?The answer appeared—if not by divine intervention then at least by the graces of the Hunting Gods—two days later. I’d been cramping my brain and weighing the sum in my savings account against the left-shouldered devil of my parents’ voices admonishing, “That’s for emergencies only,” wondering if I dared pay for the Browning BAR. I was rather aimlessly dusting the top of the circular used long-gun rack in the middle of the store and staring wistfully over at the BAR, when in my lackadaisical cleaning efforts I almost knocked a rifle off the stand. I grabbed it before it could hit the floor.The Remington 700 Mountain rifle wore a 3-9X Vari-X II Leupold scope and a leather sling. It hadn’t been there the day before, which meant it must have come in that morning before my afternoon shift started. I picked up the dangling price tag, almost not daring to hope: $450. I grabbed a bore light and hurried over to the store’s big plate-glass window.Dropping the bolt back and out (oh, it resisted me not at all!), I stuck one end of the little clear-plastic “L” into the receiver, aimed the other end at the sunlit window, and peered into the rifle’s muzzle. Clean. Rifling sharp. No rust. The muzzle’s crown was undamaged and unworn.I scrutinized the rest of the gun, turning it over in the bright sunlight streaming through the window. The stock was fairly new looking, except for a bit of blistering of the lacquer finish that covered the black tip of the fore-end and the black cap of the pistol grip. The scope was completely unmarred and sat prettily, proportionally, atop the gun in its polished blue rings. I slid the bolt back home, satisfied with the smooth snick I heard when I turned the bolt handle to lock it. I glanced at the price tag once more to make sure I hadn’t read it wrong. I hadn’t. I swung the gun up to my shoulder.I’m a firm believer that some guns speak to you, call on you to take them home. With long guns, it’s about the way the stock presses into your shoulder pocket, the way the comb greets your face. When it’s wrong, the stock will crack your jaw or bark your cheekbone, and you will twist your neck and hunch your shoulders and wring the gun between your hands like a wet towel to make the sight line straight. It will feel like walking in shoes that are on the wrong feet. When a gun is right, though, the stock will kiss your cheek as lovingly as that high school drummer first did mine, and you will cradle the stock as naturally as you would your firstborn. You will see straight down perfectly lined-up sights or a runway-like rib. Those guns, the right ones, become steel-and-wood extensions of the flesh and blood. That was how it was with that Remington—and that left only one other thing to consider.Now, I’ve always believed myself to be a little unique (no, not weird, not short-school bus “special,” and not talking-to-myself-as-I-walk-down-the-street crazy, just “unique”—look it up). I try to express that bit of quirkiness, sometimes, through my possessions, wanting those things that are dear to me be just a little different than anyone else’s. To that end, it was the Remington’s caliber that made the decision for me..280 Remington rifle ammunition
All the other guns in the store’s racks were rather commonplace. Naturally, it was the .270s, .243s, .30-06s, and .300 Win. Mags. customers wanted, for these were the cartridges that both did their intended jobs and were easy to find on even Wal-Mart sporting goods shelf. Fine enough, but I wanted something different.
I turned the rifle over in my hands to look at what was cut into the barrel’s left side: .280 Remington.
I didn’t know anyone who had a rifle in that caliber. And in my “vast” six months working in the store, I’d never had a customer ask for either of the two dust-covered boxes of .280 ammo shelved behind the glass display counters.
Ten minutes later, I was $450 cash poorer—and, at least in my own mind, inestimably gun richer.
Looking for your own next “priceless” gun? The author suggests:
2011 Standard Catalog of Firearms, 21 st Edition
Gun Digest 1944-2009 3-DVD set
American Rifle: A Biography, by Alexander Rose