Old, single-shot .22s have many lessons to teach
Most times when I go “on patrol” in my creek bottom to check on my trailcam, I carry an 81-year-old rifle.
It is a Remington 510 single-shot .22 Long Rifle, which came out of the famous Ilion, New York, factory in 1939, the product of veteran gunsmiths, machinists, and tool-and-die makers who took great pride in their trades.
I bought the near-relic in near-abused condition a few years back, mainly because in a former life it had belonged to a junior rifle club and was equipped with a set of fine old Lyman target sites that alone were worth as much as the rifle. I refinished the stock and polished and cold-blued the metal, and replaced a worn safety (had to search hard on-line for it). I also fashioned an extension of the too-short forearm, fitted a spare recoil pad to extend the length of pull from youth-size, and replaced the original butt-ugly stamped trigger guard with a classier looking Marlin-style after-market unit.
It turned out handsome-looking, and boy can it shoot. It is slender and light and reliable and accurate. No wonder it is a go-to rifle, a field companion as much as anything.
All of which led to think recently about how the single-shot .22 is a universal firearm, especially among backcountry and backwater folks of few means but with lots of pluck.
I once was on a tarpon and snook fishing trip on a Mosquito Coast river in Honduras when our local guide stopped our boat a few miles upstream from the Gulf of Mexico to pick up an indigenous family. They were friends of his and headed down to the mouth to trade for supplies from a local tramp steamer, and as he got aboard the head of the family handed me a battered, rusty single-shot bolt-action Savage .22. I could only wonder about that rifle’s history, and how it had provided for the man’s family. It was all he had, and could afford, so that is what he used.
Coincidentally, I am just finishing an interesting book, Monster of God, by David Quammen, a well-known writer, in which he spins tales of large predators around the world. In a series of chapters on saltwater crocodiles of northern Australia, Quammen describes croc-searching by boat with local aboriginal hunters, one of whom carried on board a rusted old single-shot .22 bolt action rifle made in the Philippines. It was for the coup de grace shot on captured salties.
Of course, most single-shot .22s do not have such checkered histories. But they used to be the standard starter-rifle for young guns. The bolt-action was the standard, though over the years all manner of single-shots have been made. Ithaca once made a nifty model that looked like a classic western cowboy lever-action, except it actually was a Martini-style drop-block. Always wanted one of those but it didn’t happen, and those available are steeply priced. Thompson-Center also once made a dandy synthetic-stocked single-shot on their Contender pattern, equipped with stock spacers to add length-of-pull as a young shooter grew up.
So many of these arms end up collecting dust in a corner. But they are worth a cleanup and refreshening. The single shot .22 represents not only a safety lesson but also emphasizes good form and good marksmanship – great lessons for beginners, and we all are beginners when it comes to remembering those sound basic lessons.
One shot at a time runs so counter to today’s bang-bang, noisemaking, spray-and-pray attitudes. If you disagree, just listen around your countryside neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon and say it isn’t so. In the end, there is a lot more to a single-shot .22 rifle that meets the eye. We all should own, and use, one. They have good lessons to teach.