By Buddy McMillan
The hunting seasons have come upon us, my thoughts turn to discussions, dreams and wishes of my youth. Our society has changed, as every society does over time, but in the mountains of western North Carolina that change seems slower than most places, although still noticeable.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the local affinity for hunting rifles and shotguns, myself included. As much hollering and screaming that goes on in Washington, D.C., and in the press about assault rifles and such, little is said, and often nothing is said, about our traditional hunting arms owned in rural areas.
These days, there is a rifle and shotgun specifically made for every kind of hunting situation you can imagine. But that is not the way it always was. In fact, in my memories, the one and only rifle a man or boy really needed to hunt with in western Carolina was the tried and true .30-30 Winchester lever action.
Some people had rare or super-powered wonder guns, made by people named Weatherby or Browning that fired calibers that sounded like of a math calculation, but the vast majority in of hunters in our area had Winchester or Marlin “thirty-thirtys.”
I have been shooting .30-30 rifles since I was 12. My dad let me carry his classic Model 94 Winchester rifle when my cousins took me on a deer hunt up on the state line above Copper Creek. It was the only centerfire rifle he owned.
On my 14th birthday in 1979, I got my own Marlin Model 336 in .30-30. It is a hunting gun, not a gun-safe queen or a gun cabinet showpiece. In my youth, I used it groundhog hunting and in deer, hog and bear seasons when I had a chance to tag along with my more outdoorsy kin, as sports and education kept me out of the woods far too much. My .30-30 has scratches and dents on it from laying prone on the ground or being pressed against an oak tree to steady my aim.
When I was a kid during the mid- to late 1970s, it was what every boy my age wanted and what most got for their first centerfire rifle. Its power was legendary, especially compared to the .22lrs we all carried squirrel hunting from 7 or 8. It was what we had grown up watching on TV Westerns. The cowboy lever actions.
To this day, I still have mine, with the same leather sling from 1979, and still have some of the same Remington Core-lokt hunting shells from the first box I ever bought. In fact, it was the only centerfire rifle I owned from 14 until I turned 37 and bought a .300 Winchester magnum bolt-action rifle to go elk hunting in Colorado.
I couldn’t hit anything with that gun, even with its big fancy scope whose name had more numbers than my driver’s license, and I sold it 10 years later. But I still have my Marlin Cowboy style .30-30 that hits where I shoot and looks as good as it shoots. It doesn’t scare the bejeebies out of the non-hunters if they see it, unlike the various military-style guns being sold by the millions. It denotes comfort, tradition, style and competency. It feels good in your hands. It looks like a character from a classic Hollywood Western.
Nobody “sprays and prays” with a .30-30. A .30-30 hunter is calm, careful, traditional and hunts for the table, not for the wall. The .30-30 hunters remember a time of hunting in blue jeans while wearing a red-checked jacket and maybe a red hat to match. He lived in an area where his three-on-the-tree two-wheel drive pickup had a gun rack in the back window, where his .30-30 laid with its single shot 12-gauge partner, and nobody called the law on him for scaring the public.
No, the days of the .30-30 are not gone, but they do seem to be leaving. A younger generation of today disdains the .30-30 as under powered, old fashioned and outclassed by the modern hunting rifles of today.
It may be under powered in comparison to modern wonder calibers, maybe a little old fashioned in style, but it will never be outclassed as long as there are boys like me who still like to spend a cold morning during deer season, sitting leaned back against a white oak tree overlooking a deer trail, a blued lever action .30-30 across my lap or leaning on my knee, hoping I can still see good enough to use those old-fashioned buckhorn sights should dinner cross my trail.
The writer is a resident of Unaka.