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Into the Outdoors: The Mauser Story

For a number of years, I put out the same column at Christmastime. Then, I thought that people had seen enough of it, so I stopped. After that, I received numerous e-mails and personal requests to revive it, so here is, "The Mauser Story."

It was the Christmas season of 1960. John Kennedy had just been elected President. The country stood poised on the edge of the New Frontier. Camelot had arrived.

For me, however, there was one issue that stood head and shoulders above everything else that was going on in the world. I was twelve years old and had just finished my first-ever deer season. I had been forced to use my twenty gauge shotgun, loaded with "punkin, balls," as we called them back then. I knew that my chances of bagging a deer were slim to none. I needed a rifle. It was the only thing I asked for that Christmas.

Times were hard for my family back then. My father was working construction, business was slow, and the holiday season found him on the unemployment line. When I went to bed on Christmas Eve, I didn't really expect to get a rifle but instead expected practical gifts such as clothes.

Unbeknownst to me, huge quantities of military surplus Model 1891 Argentine Mausers had been imported into the country and were being sold at bargain basement prices. My parents purchased one. Each day, while I was at school, they worked on it. My dad took the gun apart and cleaned out all the packing grease and crud, while my mother sanded the rough old military stock. They then put a new finish on the wood, and my dad reassembled the gun.

When I came downstairs on Christmas morning, there, among the other gifts, it was. A rifle! I couldn't believe my eyes. I rushed over and picked it up. Instantly, my young mind was filled with fantasies of the game I would bag and the adventures I would have. I was so excited that, before the day was over, I removed the metal butt plate, carved my initials in the stock, and replaced the plate.

When the next hunting season arrived, however, some of the rifle's shortcomings became apparent. For one thing, since it was in full military wood, it was heavy. The bolt handle was straight, and the cock on closing feature was a bit tough for a thirteen-year-old to handle. The only ammo available was military surplus, with the full metal jacketed bullets replaced with soft points. It was far from surefire. Also, the primers were corrosive, which meant that you had to clean the gun really well after firing it. Apparently, some Argentine soldier had been remiss in this duty, as the bore was badly pitted.

Nevertheless, I hunted with the old warhorse for the next three seasons. Then during the summer after I turned sixteen, I got a job trimming Christmas trees. I saved my money and bought a new 30.06. The old Mauser went to my bedroom closet. It remained there until, while in college, I sold it to a guy for almost nothing. I thought no more of it.

As the years went by, however, I began to regret the sale. My mother had passed away, and my dad was getting old, yet I no longer had that first, and only, centerfire rifle they had ever bought for me. Of course, I entertained little hope of getting it back, as I had lost track of who had it.

Then one day, a buddy told me that he had gotten an Argentine Mauser in a trade, and he wondered if I would be interested in it. I went to his home to have a look. On this gun, the military stock had been cut down, and someone had made a crude attempt at bending the bolt. Nevertheless, I bought it.

On the way home, an idea literally burst into my head. What if...? Could it possibly be my old Mauser? When I got home, the first thing I did was find a screwdriver. I began to remove the butt plate, then hesitated, fearful of the disappointment I felt would follow. At last, with my hands a little shaky, I removed the plate. There were the initials, carved there by an excited twelve-year-old all those years before.

I hope this brings back memories for readers of Christmases past.

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