It pays to be precise with old firearms
Between the holidays, just before Ohio’s muzzleloader season, I hauled old First Blood down from its rack of prominence in my man-cave, and endeavored to check-sight it on my “back 40” range, a 50-yard benchrest affair.
The rifle is a 1980s vintage Thompson-Center .54 Hawken, a then-modern iteration of the classic, rugged, twin-trigger muzzleloader favored heavily by mountain-man trappers and wanderers of the Old West in the first half of the 19th century. They, like the original rifles built more than 200 years ago by the Hawken Brothers, of St. Louis, mostly have passed from the outdoors hunting scene, replaced by modern plastic and stainless steel and optics-equipped arms.
First Blood (the moniker is another story) has killed a lot of deer in nearly 40 years, and, being old and old-fashioned, I cannot let it go. It now wears a fine Lyman peep sight on the tang, an acknowledgment of my aging eyes, I won’t even take a shot much over 50 yards any more, though 50 yards covers a lot of deer-killing territory, truth be told. The classic smokepole is finicky, as I have learned over many years. It wants to be used, and shot. But every year, I find, it changes point-of-impact enough for me to attend and correct. Like the piece wants attention. But me, I love to shoot, so a range session is a great entree to the hunt.
But my range session included a little diversion, one worth mentioning. My “patrol rifle” in Froggy Bottom is a beautiful, well-kept Ruger No. 3 single-shot in .22 Hornet. I love the Hornet; my Dad had a now long-gone Winchester 43 in Hornet when I was growing up, and I always wanted one. I paid a premium for a near-new, hardly fired No. 3 – the rare Ruger No. 1 variant – a few years ago. It was a thing.
The No. 3 has not disappointed. A perfect patrol rifle for me. But, I bumped it at rest about a month back, propped against a man-cave cabinet, and it slapped to the floor. Crikey, I thought. But all looked well, rifle unmarked and scope – a vintage but optically crisp and tough Bushnell Scopechief VI – seemed OK.
Heck, I thought, as long as I have set up the range, I will check-sight the Hornet along with the Hawken. A fine diversion on a still but murky late December afternoon. Well…
The first three shots from the Hornet, secured benchrest at 50 yards, never even punched a 2-by-3-foot cardboard frame, let alone the bull’s-eye. Uh-oh. I closed the distance to just 20 yards and the rounds were printing a foot to the right! Crikey. Everything seemed fine with the scope, visually, but clearly the fall had disturbed the reticle settings.
So, I made adjustments, big ones, correcting the foot-wide-right to center, then an 8-inches-high elevation correction. After about 20 rounds, with three different kinds of ammo, the Hornet was back in business. Lesson: Just because it looks OK, does not mean it is OK. Had I not paid attention, and just assumed, I never would kill the next coyote, nuisance raccoon, or woodchuck.
So, back to First Blood. The first shot was six inches high, four inches right. OK, I thought, up to your old tricks. Shifting point of impact during the year. This has been a traditional problem with wood-stocked rifles from the first; some are more particular than others. First Blood is one of the latter.
I am very particular abut loading protocol when sighting in my Hawken, doing all I can to assure uniformity between shots. I swab the bore, use a wire to clean the flash-hole in the nipple, fire a cap to assure the flashhole is clear. I do not get misfires, and rarely hangfires.
In any case, within six shots, First Blood was back to normal, 2 inches high, dead center, 50 yards. I was pleased, and confident.
Now if I can just get that buck I have been watching for two months to show up during legal hours.