A couple of springs ago, after I finished sporterizing the Mauser, my wife, Linda, and I got to spend a few days on a ranch in Colorado where our friends, Ken and Susan Swick, and their two children, Brandon and Hannah, were working and living. Of course, I had taken the 7mm/08 with me; I had hopes that a coyote might show himself. During that visit, both Ken and Brandon fired some rounds from my newly-finished rifle, and each boosted my ego somewhat when they offered some favorable comments on its balance and appearance.
As it turned out, I didn’t see a single coyote during our visit, but Brandon (age 15) and I did spend a couple of hours one day thinning out a colony of rockchucks that were posing some problems on the ranch. (By the way, those rockchucks were fairly large, easily the size of the groundhogs we have back in Kentucky.) Most of my shots were from the standing and sitting positions, without a rest of any kind, and, of course, I was using just the rifle’s iron sights. I was delighted at the way the rifle handled in the field. Its comparatively mild recoil seemed out of place, however, considering the terrific power the 139-gr. Hornady bullets displayed on those rockchucks. That experience certainly made me look forward to using the rifle as it was intended on an open-country hunt for something bigger.
Well, when looking for “open country” and the game that inhabits it, one could not go wrong choosing an antelope hunt in Wyoming. I thought the plains-dwelling pronghorns would offer the perfect hunting challenge for my 7-08. So, in October of 2008, my converted Mauser and I – along with my friend and hunting buddy, Steve Geurin – wound up near Newcastle, Wyoming, for the beginning of antelope season.
On the day before the season was to open, we set up a tent camp on some public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management. After the tent was erected, we relaxed in a couple of lawn chairs and looked over the country around us. Basically, the view revealed a lot of sagebrush and many low-lying, prickly-pear cactus plants, along with a few small hills and some coulees that led toward a small valley with a nearly-dry creek running the length of it. On the far side of the creek was a lone, healthy-looking tree, the only one in sight.
Using our binoculars in the fading light, we could make out a little bunch of antelope milling around. They were on our side of the creek, nearly in line with the tree, and possibly a mile away. Hunting, it seemed, would be interesting here.
The following morning, we left the tent just after dawn and walked toward the area where we had seen the antelope the previous evening. The sun was not yet above the horizon when two doe antelope and one buck appeared just at the edge of a coulee directly in front of me. They ran away from me on a slight downhill grade in the general direction of the little creek in the valley. As they did so, I got in a sitting position and placed the brass post of my front sight on the buck, hoping he would stop within range. When the three antelope had gotten about 150 yards between us, they made a slight left turn and stopped in a rather open area in the sagebrush.
The buck was to the just to the right of the does. He had turned perfectly broadside to me; and, by that time, I had already taken the slack out of the trigger. After making sure that the sights were aligned properly, I put the last bit of pressure on the trigger and the rifle fired. The wide, gold-colored post of my front sight had been easy to see, even in the low light of the early dawn, and I knew instantly that the hold had been a good one. There was an audible “thunk” when the bullet struck. The buck ran in a tight circle and fell, only three or four seconds after being hit. The bullet had struck just above the heart and exited the chest on the far side, leaving a sizeable exit wound.
The buck was a young one, probably two or three years old, but I was a happy hunter. I have enough horns and antlers at home. After all, to me it is the meat that is most important, and a good shot on a smaller buck is better than a risky shot on a larger one. My homemade custom Mauser conversion – a sporting-rifle project that I had planned for over forty years, which finally made it to completion in my basement workshop – had performed its job perfectly. It had provided a quick, clean kill, and, in the process, had helped to put some fine meat on our family table.
In closing, I would like it to be noted that I must not be the only one who thinks my converted Mauser has the looks of a nice old sporter from the first part of the 1900’s. I can say this because of something that happened when I had finished the rifle and took it in to my local gun store to let the fellows look it over. As I handed the rifle to Jeff Furnish, the owner of the store, one of those who happened to be in the store that day, a rifle-lover by the name of Dave Robinson, was standing just a few feet away from Jeff. He looked at my rifle and said, “Hey, what is that—a Westley Richards?”
Well, if my rifle had been in Dave’s hands at the time he spoke, instead of being a few feet away, I’m sure he would have quickly noticed that my rifle fell far short of having the quality and workmanship of a Westley Richards-customized Mauser. But, nevertheless, when Dave asked that question, I’ve got to admit that I couldn’t have been prouder. With that one comment, he had recognized, at least from a distance, that there was a strong similarity between the rifle I had built and those classic bolt-actioned sporters of the first part of the 20th century.
And, after all, that was exactly the goal I had in mind for this project—a project that I had planned for over forty years.
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