HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

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JimT
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HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#1 Post by JimT » Wed Oct 02, 2019 7:53 am

The Mulie, the Winchester, and the Wreck

It was close to 40 years ago .... the third day of Mule Deer season ... and I had not shot anything yet - rare in this country. The weather had been fairly warm for the time of year but we had spotted deer every day. I had passed up spikes, forkhorns and even a 3-point buck the previous days. This year I was wanting to do more than just make meat.

The reason for wanting more than just an "eatin' deer" was this year I was hunting with a special rifle. My good friend and fellow-Shootist Robert Smythe had died the previous year. Owner of the Heart Bar Ranch near Saguache, Colorado, Robert had lived most of his life in the mountains and had carried a special gun. A Model 71 Winchester in .348 Winchester caliber. He had purchased the rifle new in the 1930's and had taken game all over Colorado with it. One of the deer he took was a giant Mule Deer that field-dressed weighed 320 pounds. The rack was enormous. Largest I have ever seen.

Winchester had introduced the Model 71 in 1936. It was to replace the 1886 and in reality was an updated '86. The caliber was based on the old .50-110 case which has about the largest rim diameter commercially produced. It was intended to replace the old popular .33 Winchester. Originally the ammunition was offered by the factory in 3 loads: 150 gr. High Velocity, 200 gr. and 250 gr. heavyweight. The original loads were good performers, pushing their bullets to velocities comparable to the .30-06. Handloads can come close to .35 Whelen levels and I have shot them at ranges of 800 yards with good accuracy.

The rifle was available in two configurations, Standard and Deluxe, with either a 20" or 24" barrel. The 20" barrel was discontinued in 1947. The Deluxe model came with sling swivels, a grip cap, checkering on the grip and forearm, and one of the neatest receiver sights ever put out by the factory. Mounted on the bolt, this sight looks as good as it works. Lack of sales however caused the rifle to be dropped from production in 1958.

After Robert's death his widow sold me the rifle, knowing I would treasure it. It was a low serial number gun, the Deluxe model, and was in excellent condition. In fact, it was as good as the one I saw in the Winchester Museum in Cody a year later! Robert had kept it up well and had never abused it. This Deer Season I decided I wanted something more than just an ordinary deer if I was going to shoot it with Robert's gun.

Just before Deer Season I was afraid I was not going to be able to use it. I had not yet received the reloading dies and and I did not have any loaded ammo for the rifle. One afternoon Hal Swiggett called me and told me that he had sent two boxes of factory Winchester Silvertips for the .348! He said that he did not have anything to shoot them in and thought that I could make good use of them. Could I? Wow! When the ammunition arrived I immediately went out and sighted the rifle in with it. Then, on the first day of the season I was up early, tied the rifle on the horse and headed out into the mountains. Now here it was, the third day of the hunt.

About 11 AM I was riding down into a canyon that had some other canyons "fingering" out to the east of it. I had not seen anything I wanted to shoot yet, but I figured the big bucks had to be around someplace close. There just were too many does around along with younger, smaller bucks. In one herd alone I had counted 27 does. The old boys were not going to pass that up. I thought that maybe in the rough country of those finger canyons we might come across something. In past years several big bucks had been pushed out of there.

The guys who were riding with me split up. I went up one ridge while they went up another about 200 yards to the North. The morning was crisp and the horses were working the rough ground just fine. This is hard country for a man on foot. Straight up and down, rocky, with plants that bite and stick you every chance they get. You had to watch and not push the horses too hard for some trails involved climbing hundreds of feet elevation in just a few miles.

I had only climbed the ridge a few hundred yards, riding slow and watching, when the horse and I spotted the deer jumping out of the canyon below me on the right. They broke out of the brush near the bottom and began running up the mountainside toward the top several hundred yards above them. With the naked eye I could see that they were all big bucks and that one had a large rack. At over 150 yards his antlers stood out in the morning sun and as I fell off the horse I decided this was the one!

I dropped the reins, my horses were trained to stand still even if I was shooting, pulled the rifle out of the scabbard and moved around in front of the mare. Kneeling down on the ground I rested my left arm on my knee and pulled the sights onto the running buck. As he went up the hillside I pulled the trigger, heard a distant WHACK and the deer dropped. Then to my horror he GOT UP! I levered in another shell and as he went uphill I fired again, leading him. The shot went right in front of him raising a large dust cloud and apparently confusing the deer. He whirled around and came downhill directly toward me. I fired again and missed. By now panic was starting to set in. I levered in another shell, fired and missed again! As I worked another shell into the chamber the deer stopped and looked across the canyon. I was shaking a bit by now so I sat down, rested the rifle carefully and fired once more. And missed, the shot going alongside the right front leg. I could see now that it was further than what I had thought and my shots were going low. However another problem now presented itself. The Winchester was empty!

I got up off the ground and walked around to the saddlebags where the ammo was. I remember thinking I only had 20 shells in the box! As I thumbed 2 cartridges into the magazine the buck turned and began running diagonally up the hillside in front of me. I said, "Now settle down Jim. You can do this." and picked the deer up in my sights. As he ran I swung the rifle up his body and when the sights passed his nose I pulled the trigger. This time there was a loud WHOP and the buck plowed into the dirt at the immediately. I watched him for some time to make sure it was over, then got on the horse and began to work my way over to where he lay.

The country is real rough, like I said, and it took me at least 20 minutes or more to go down the hillside, across the wash and make my way up the canyon wall to where the buck was. Most of the way up I was leading the horse as it was too steep to ride her. We both were winded by the time we got there. My partners had a longer way to come, having to cross two canyons to reach me, and it was quite awhile before they got there. I had the buck cleaned by the time they arrived.

The Mule Deer was nice big 4-point and though his antlers were not thick he was one of the best Desert Mule Deer I ever took out of those mountains. The rack was real symmetrical and in good shape. I was really tickled to be able to do it with Robert's rifle. I hope he was not watching my shooting, for I was not real happy about that. Cleaning the deer I found that the first shot had hit it in the right rear knee. The last shot went in the rear ribs on the right side, angling up and forward. The bullet took out about 2" of spine, went out through the ribs on the off side and stopped under the hide behind the shoulder. The last shot was easily 200 yards.

After taking pictures we loaded it on the horse for the trip home. Then my partners took off to hunt some more. I was tired by now, as was the horse, and we had a long way to go to climb out of the canyons. We had gone maybe 2 miles (I was leading the mare) when we came onto a steep rough slope we had to cross. Just above us maybe 400 feet was the ridgeline we could follow on home. As we came across the bad ground the mare lost her footing and started to fall. I tried pulling her head uphill in order to get her butt downhill but she panicked, fought the rope and lost her balance. She tipped over to her left, fell on her side, rolled over to her left on her back with her legs up in the air, rolled on over and back up on her feet and fell over again, rolling sideways down the mountainside. Just below us was a cliff with a sharp drop of maybe 500 - 600 feet and she was rolling over and over sideways toward it.

I was hanging on to the lead rope and yelling "PLEASE GOD! NO!" and was being drug down the mountain with the horse. You cannot hold hundreds of pounds of horse like that, but I was not thinking rationally. I wanted it to STOP! Sometime during this process the lead rope burned through my right thumb, cutting down through the flesh nearly to the bone. In the terrified/excited state I was in I did not notice it.

The horse rolled over, up on her feet and then over again 4 times! Then on the last rollover she slid to a stop on a small shelf that hung out over the really steep part of the mountain. I got up to her and she just lay there, shaking. I was shaking too. And thanking God she had stopped. I figured she was probably gored by the antlers or had a busted leg or.....? as I got up to her. I cut the deer off the saddle and then got the saddle and gear off her. All the time she just laid there. After she was unpacked I checked her legs and none of them seemed injured, so I got her up. I checked her over and all I could find was 3 very small scratches on her rump. Again I thanked God. Then I thought, "Oh no! The rifle!" figuring the stock was busted or the barrel bent or something. I got it out and it was unharmed. In fact later I found that the camera and all the gear in the saddlebags was unharmed. The wreck had not even broken the deer's antlers!

I led the mare up the mountain for about a quarter mile until we got to the flats on top. There I tied her to a tree and let her rest while I packed the deer, then the saddle, then the other gear up the mountain. It took me a while but when I was finished I rested up myself, gave the mare some grain and had something to eat myself. After that I repacked the horse and we came on home without further incident. During the trips up the mountainside moving the gear to the horse my thumb began to ache and I noticed it was wounded. I bandaged it and dressed it myself and it healed up just fine, leaving a nice reminder of the wreck. One of those a lifetime is plenty.

The antlers hang on the wall by my loading bench today. Years ago, after we both got older, I sold the mare to a good friend who used her for a brood mare. She lived a good life. Lord, I tell you boys, sometimes I do miss those days!

You younger guys, let me tell you something I hope sticks with you. GO HAVE AN ADVENTURE! Memories are worth more than money! And when you are old and your grandkids ask you, "Grandpa, what did you do when you were young?" you won't have to sigh and say, "I shoveled pelosi for a large corporation."

(my apologies to General Patton)
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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#2 Post by 2ndovc » Wed Oct 02, 2019 8:30 am

Great story!!

Thanks for sharing that.

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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#3 Post by FWiedner » Wed Oct 02, 2019 8:47 am

That was a great read.

:mrgreen:
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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#4 Post by gamekeeper » Wed Oct 02, 2019 9:10 am

Thanks for sharing, it was almost like being there.... 8)
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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#5 Post by Sixgun Sr » Wed Oct 02, 2019 9:21 am

As always Jim, you are the most consummate of story tellers. Most big game animals we have harvested stay with us for life.....some really stand out....that's what I call a "sporting endeavor". -----6
The Log Floats Down The Stream and Steadily
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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#6 Post by Grizz » Wed Oct 02, 2019 9:23 am

Great vivid memories, thanks . . .

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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#7 Post by piller » Wed Oct 02, 2019 9:35 am

That was great.
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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#8 Post by earlmck » Wed Oct 02, 2019 12:34 pm

Heckuva story Jim. And heckuva rifle! Thanks for sharing the adventure.
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is he who heals the most gullies.
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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#9 Post by TraderVic » Wed Oct 02, 2019 3:07 pm

What an adventure to remember and share!
I enjoyed this very much.

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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#10 Post by HawkCreek » Wed Oct 02, 2019 4:22 pm

Wow, great story!

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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#11 Post by hfcable » Wed Oct 02, 2019 8:13 pm

when I see you have written a post like this, I settle back in my chair ready for a real treat. and I am never disappointed. pretty soon...I feel like I am there and riding along with you !

thanks for these treasures......and you are right, these are things that really matter and will be retold after we are gone on....your stories help me in my resolve to get out and do more.

.....starting next year [ I will be 72 this November 8th ] I have told my associates that I will work 20- 26 weeks a year … I am going to do more of the things I need to do..... outdoorsy things with family and friends...… their first response was 'well, you have said that for several years ' , my reply was you better get planning for it. the time is here. finally, it sunk in and they believe me
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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#12 Post by M. M. Wright » Wed Oct 02, 2019 8:36 pm

Thanks Jim, your storytelling is such that I could smell those desert mountains.
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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#13 Post by buckeyeshooter » Thu Oct 03, 2019 10:47 pm

Thank you for the story. Love that rack and the 71.

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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#14 Post by OldWin » Fri Oct 04, 2019 12:41 am

Great story. Beautiful 71.
An experience like that is priceless.
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Re: HawkCreek's Post "Saddle Gun Woes" brought back memories ...

#15 Post by Bronco » Sat Oct 05, 2019 5:03 am

Would just love to sit around a fire and listen to your stories all night! I can see it now, crackling fire, smell of the smoke, and me listening like a little kid but with an adult beverage in my hand :mrgreen:
Gettin old ain't for sissies!

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