By PETE THE GUNMAN
ONE of the best rifles I ever shot was a 25-35 half magazine. I was prospecting for fur country, as somebody calls it, down in the central part of Pennsylvania. The country was kind of queer for me to look at. It was covered with scrub oak, not very tall say ten or fifteen feet high, and the place I was looking over was about twenty-five miles across, and probably thirty-five or forty long.
There were two or three ridges running in one direction, sort of north and south, and the highest of these was a fair mountain, broken up with low, limestone cliffs, and a lot of caves in them. When I started off down into this country I thought it was going to be mostly farms and open country, but it was real wilderness, though they had cut almost all the timber out of it.
Luck was" with me. I met an old fellow one afternoon at a house by a pretty good green-water creek, who told me over south of him was trapping country, so I turned south, instead of going on along the stream looking for muskrat and mink trapping. He showed me the road, which was an old mine-brace haul road, where they brought bull-pine out of this country, but it wasn't even a wagon road now, it was so washed out and grown up.
I had a light pack, my 22 automatic pistol, and not much but a little something to eat and a little tent. I looked the country over sharp, and I was surprised by what I found. It was early October, and wherever I went I found deer sign, some bear sign, and plenty of good trapping, wildcats and along the runs quite a few mink, muskrat and I figured there were some otter in those parts, too, but I wouldn't recommend anybody going into Pennsylvania to grow rich trapping otter.
In about ten days, camping where night stopped me, I figured I knew a good deal about that country. I was surprised finding quite a lot of cattle tracks there, and when I met two hunters from over east, they told me it was cattle grazing land. The people around there would mark their young stock with metal tags or something like that and turn them loose in the scrub oak, where the brutes fed up all summer. In the fall the owners would go in and roust out the animals, mostly keeping track of them through big salt licks during the summer.
Nobody had trapped there in quite a while, for there weren't any trap sets, cubbies, or pens or holes, at least not where I figured on using them. It looked real good to me. One thing looked fine, and that was the number of ruffed grouse all through there. I killed all I could eat right along, with my automatic pistol, and didn't have any trouble about it. There had been a lot of flocks of young birds, and they let me pick them off through the back, high up, at ten or fifteen feet. And one night, where I found a roosting tree, I shot two after sunset, and killed two more out of it in the morning, shooting the lower ones first; anybody knows that if you shoot the lower birds first the birds up above won't pay much attention to what's going on.
So, accordingly I went to town, and telegraphed to a friend of mine who had my outfit in his barn, and he shipped it express right away. I had about ten dozen traps, assorted sizes, a pack tent. 8-ounce and waterproofed, and the ruck and truck a man always has when he's trapping light, but fashionable. In about a week I had the stuff, and buying a reliable old horse, which had seen better days, I loaded my outfit on him, and led him back into the scrub oak. Then later I scattered him around some, for bait.
I worked faithful, and covered important places on several little brooks, or runs as they call them down there, and was all ready to begin trapping when the fur would be prime, which I calculated would be in middle November. This left me about ten days with nothing to do but run around, waiting for game to begin to come to my meat-baits, or meat licks, as I call them, not having any fancy names to think of.
It just happened that I wasn't very rich, or feeling so, and all the gun I had was the 22 automatic pistol. I wasn't counting on hunting much, and I've found the 22 would drop a wildcat, at sixty yards, or a fox about the same, all that is necessary being a good aim. And I'd been practicing a good deal with the pistol, shooting from the hip, just pointing it. If anybody wants to know how to shoot from the hip, all he has to do is try it, and after a man has shot a hundred or two hundred times with a pistol or revolver from the hip he'll find how easy it is to hit a tin can, or a partridge at twenty or thirty feet.
It hadn't rained in five or six weeks. The leaves had partly fallen off the scrub oaks and still-hunting was like walking through wadded up newspapers, so far as being still was concerned. I circled off toward the east, about eight miles from my east corner camp, for I had my tent and three line shacks, set four square, in the grazing, and all were nicely hidden.
I found another tent that day, off east. It was a party of deer hunters, and they were using dogs. Dogs and deer weren't legal, but I wasn't any game protector, so I didn't snoop any. I just went on. Well, a nice buck came bounding along when I was north of their camp, just at a sort of gap in a ridge there. The deer came down into the gap off the ridge, and the fellow who was waiting there began to shoot and bang away, real industriously, and I sat down in a sort of hollow, waiting for the procession and celebration to be over with.
The deer ran out into a bull-pine park. There were probably two hundred of the bull pines standing, scattered all round, and the deer went among them, turned round three or four times, and then flopped down, dead. It was right in my sight. About two minutes later the dog came romping in, and the hunter was right at his heels, stepping high, and keeping up. It was one of those old, slow, long-eared hounds, probably a foxhound, from the way he snuffled along to every track, instead of cutting across where the deer had circled around blind hurt.
I noticed the man hadn't any rifle with him, and that he was mighty excited. He was short, round fat. It was the deer's funeral, not mine. So I backed out, and started on ten miles for my own country, as it was getting toward II o'clock. I had to cross the runway, which was over the ridge gap, and I looked down into the park, and saw three other men come in, for they had been watching all around the basin wonder I didn't run into them on their stands. They dragged the deer quick over into some brush. I knew there were only four in the gang, having seen their camp, bunks, and such. So I had open country ahead of me.
Well, I went through the gap, for luck, and about a hundred yards from the stand, on the runway; I found a 25-35 carbine rifle lying half-covered in the leaves. It was bright, new and had ivory bead front sight, stock peep sight and straight bar barrel rear sight. The bar had a nick in it just deep enough to see it plain. The lever was wide open, and the works were full of loam, woods' dust and twigs. It was bright, new and a beauty four shot.
I stood it up against a tree, and went on home. That fool hunter had just naturally left his gun there, too excited to talk, but as the tree was right beside the runway, I supposed, of course, they'd find it. A week later, I was over that same country, with some fox traps, and I found the camp they made was broke they had gone. I laid my traps where I aimed to take on a fox or two, and left them to season a while, before stringing my medicine and baits in those parts.
The rifle was still standing against the side of the tree. There was a spot or two on it, just frost color. I carried the rifle home with me, washed it all out with boiling water, and cleaned the barrel, till it shone as good as new not a spot inside, for it was dry weather, except the light frost. I bought three boxes of 25-35, and shot thirty of them, getting used to the rifle. I bought three supplemental cartridges, too, for 25-20 cartridges, and then I bought a hundred 25-20, empty, and loaded them to suit myself, to use in my supplementals. I used six, ten and fifteen grains of semi-smokeless, trying them out, and then I used the standard factory shells, which are wonders at ordinary ranges, and lots cheaper, coming 50 in a box, than the 25-35.
Luck favored me a whole lot with this little rifle. It weighed about six pounds, and it handled like a 22 single shot. With the low-grain powder load I shot two wildcats one morning when I was looking among the limestone cave country knobs and cliffs, which was mighty interesting. Up to about fifty yards, I couldn't see any difference between these powder loads and the 25-35 regular, which was lucky and unusual. Generally the sights have to be changed or held different for supplemental loads. Of course, I didn't use them more than thirty yards, average, and after I had shot up most of my fancy loads, and the factory 25-20 loads, I used the 25-10 all the while for light shooting, except I never left my 22 automatic at home, and killed birds, rabbits and close-up game with it.
I couldn't charge anything against the rifle, except about $10 worth of ammunition, for I always shoot an awful lot of ammunition learning with a gun I like a good deal. With the regular load I did two or three pretty stunts, dropping a big red fox the 23rd of November at 113 good paces from where I stood to where he sat, like a dog, with his tail around over his forepaws, the hard-nosed factory-loaded bullet cutting the top of his breast bone, and going out lengthwise of the hair through the backbone. I sold that skin for more than all the ammunition I bought.
Then there was a buck in those parts, which was real fancy in his horns. This buck stood a lot of hunting from everybody who came in there which wasn't very many people, because it was such hard hunting, unless one used dogs and took a chance with the game wardens. As I voted, establishing residence, I was in on a citizen's license, and I needed some meat.
Not like the violators, I waited for the open season, and circled around while I watched my traps. One morning, with a light snow, I headed for the sunny slopes of the ridge south of my main camp, and I hunted along with the sunshine, which was behind me. I ran into a little herd of four deer, and one of these was Uncle Pine Root, the big buck that was always just being missed by hunters. He was about forty-five yards away, across a ravine rooting around for chestnuts which had fallen from a little grove of these trees. He was one of the prettiest pictures I ever spoiled in the woods, I think.
I pulled up, leveled my beautiful little carbine, aimed at his head, but was afraid it was a pretty small mark to be fooling with, and so I pulled down on his shoulders and let go. All he did was just about twenty-six feet, straight away down the grade, and romp away through the scrub oak the most unwounded buck I had seen in many a day. I had undershot on a pretty steep upgrade.
But as he went, another buck, a two year-old with bootjacks, ran up the grade and stopped within ten or fifteen feet of where I had missed the big one. My second shot, not three seconds after the miss stripped the bootjack forward from the short ribs through lungs and heart, and he jumped up and down three or four times, and fell dead.
I followed the big fellow's track half a mile; to be sure I hadn't touched him, and found the lost bullet mark beyond where he had stood. From where I aimed to that long, black streak in the snow, I could tell I had shot under the brute about three inches at least. It was* one of those things that happens sometimes.
I carried my bootjack to camp, and five days later, a man down town asked me to take him hunting. He was a businessman, with a local deal on something to do with waterpower and he had to wait over a few days. He took out a non-resident's license, for two days' hunt, and he borrowed my 25-35. He wore a pair of grey-soled rubbers, with five or six pairs of socks, the same as mine, and we left our camp just at the grey of day.
I hadn't seen a fresh track of the big buck anywhere around, but this morning I took a chance. I went exactly the same course as I'd gone five days before. The morning was cloudy, and the sun just showed a little here and there in the east. The snow was gone, and the ground was wet, soft and walking was good. The man was a good hunter, stepping good, breaking few twigs, working his toes down into the hardpan through the leaves, and easing back the branches so they wouldn't swish lots of things you can tell an old hunter by!
We came to the sort of back and as I stopped, he moved on till he could look over the top. I hadn't told him anything about the hunting, except there were deer around. He'd picked up some of the tracks as he walked along, but only tracks of two or three does and a fawn that were in those parts.
I saw the back of his neck swell up, as he looked over. Then he lifted the 25-35 calm and collected as could be. He leveled it, aimed and pulled. I couldn't see from where I stood what he was shooting at, but the way his shoulders squared and" bent, and the way his flanks sank in, and his legs stiffened I knew it was something mighty satisfying to him.
He fired bing bing bing, one right after another. Then he turned and looked at me.
"Pete," he said, "You say there are deer around here?
"Yes," I nodded.
"Any nice ones?"
"Whyfair!" I answered.
"Pete," he said, "you're a liar when you say they are fair!"
I followed him up over the top, but couldn't see anything. We dipped down into the hollow and then up under the chestnuts on the point. There I saw the fresh tracks, and they were the big tracks of Uncle Pine Root. I looked around, and there he had gone, right around the point and into the next hollow. He "was sprawling along with his fore hoofs two feet apart.
He went about a hundred yards. There was a bullet through shoulder to shoulder, right where I'd aimed the sport's first shot. Then next one was just like the bullet I'd put through the bootjack. The last one missed.
It was all we could do to get him to camp. He sent me out to hire two husky young lads, who carried the buck out for him. He handed me a $50 bill when we reached town and I'd met him less than twcntv-four hours before.
Hunter-Trader-Trapper. October: 1921,
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