Many deer have fallen to the author’s grandfather’s gun. A buck this size was a real trophy 50 years ago, and it’s taken plenty since.

An hour or so before the sun rose on another Missouri opening morning, I found myself standing in front of my gun safe, forced to make a decision. Should I hunt with my new synthetic stock, stainless steel, weather-resistant, ultra-light .300 Winchester Magnum, or should I once again shoulder my grandfather’s trusty old battered and beaten .30-06? It wasn’t hard to decide.

As I ran my fingers over the old wooden stock, tracing long, deep scratches time has turned a darker shade of brown, I dreamed of the journeys this rifle made out west. What was it like riding along with the old man and his crew as they traversed a two-track to the top of some distant Rocky Mountain in a rusted-out old jeep? I’ll never know, but I imagine them laughing and carrying on. Talking about life back home while reveling in their momentary escape. I picture my grandfather smiling, wearing a tattered flannel shirt and worn-out blue jeans. His rifle, now my rifle, gripped tight in his hands. I enjoy taking the old the .30-06 afield because it’s an extension of a man who meant the world to me, and when I hunt with his rifle my fondest memories of him come alive.

A quality firearm is sure to outlive its owner if properly cared for. Therefore, many of us are blessed to own heirlooms passed down through generations. I actually have a number of firearms that once belonged to my father and my grandfathers. In fact, I actually have a rifle that originally belonged to my great-great-grandfather. I wish I knew more about this particular rifle. Understanding its history would surely add to the feeling of ownership, but I never asked my grandpa for the details. One morning, as a child, I went to his closet to grab a .22 and instead returned to the kitchen with the old rifle. He sternly told me to put it back and leave it alone. It was his grandfather’s, he said. I never touched it again until months after his death when grandma told me to come and get “my guns.”

It’s common to take possession of a firearm you know little or nothing about. Whether you inherit a rifle or pick up a shotgun at a random auction, you must approach the firearm cautiously. Since you don’t know about the firearm’s history, you must learn all you can about it to ensure safety in the present and use in the future. Before you ever consider shooting a firearm you know little about, you need to thoroughly clean and inspect it.

Clean Her Up

Cleaning a firearm doesn’t have to be a chore. With the right tools, it’s actually a short, simple process. If you can designate a cleaning station on your workbench, or at least keep your tools organized in an accessible location, the cleaning process will be much smoother and faster.

Before you begin the actual process of cleaning, you must take every precaution to ensure safety. A high percentage of firearm-related accidents occur while cleaning. By following a few simple rules, you can greatly reduce the chances of having an accident. First of all, point the muzzle in a safe direction while making sure the safety is on and the firearm is unloaded. Always remember to keep your finger away from the trigger.
Once you have taken the above precautions, begin the cleaning process by placing your firearm in a solid gun vise. Different styles of firearms require different methods of cleaning. For this article, we are going to use a bolt-action rifle as our example.

Fine checkering on the rifle’s grip may be worn, but it’s passed from generation to generation through the hands of a family.

After your rifle is secure in the vise, prepare it for cleaning by removing the bolt. Look down the barrel to ensure it is clear of any obstructions. Next, you want to insert a bore guide into the rear of the receiver. A bore guide is important to use because cleaning without a bore guide can allow a rod to rub the chamber or bore, which can cause accuracy issues. Also, a bore guide keeps solvents from spilling on your firearm’s finish or into its action.

Once you’re set up and ready to go with your bore guide, select the proper jag, screw it on your rod and place a cotton patch on the end. Insert the jag into the bore guide, and liberally apply a good powder solvent through the port hole. Try to always use cotton patches, as opposed to synthetic patches, because they absorb solvent much better. Now run your rod through the rear of the bore guide all the way down the bore. You’re going to repeat this process at least five times. Next, remove your jag and attach a proper-sized bronze brush. Run it down the bore 10 times, five forward and five back. Now reattach your jag, put on another patch, soak it in powder solvent and repeat the earlier jag and patch process to remove any fouling you may have loosened with the brush.

Once your patches are coming out fairly clean (they’ll never be perfect), it’s time to address copper fouling. Put on a clean patch and soak it in a quality copper solvent. Run at least five patches down the bore, dropping them in the patch trap. Next, run a dry patch down the bore. Repeat until a patch comes out clean. The last step is to lightly oil a patch with gun oil and run it down the bore. You should now have a clean barrel.

The pitted steel of an heirloom rifle, like a weathered face, tells the tale of time gone by. This Woodsmaster Model 742 may be old, but it has a rich heritage and is still fit for days afield.

You should also take the time to clean your bolt and action. Scrub the bolt with a quality nylon brush. Wipe it off with a common shop towel and brush the bolt lightly with gun lubricant in three places—the breech side of the locking lugs, cocking cam and the engagement surface of the cocking piece. Next, use an action tool with a powder solvent-soaked cotton swab to clean the raceway and chamber. Reinstall your bolt, and that’s it, you’re done.

If the firearm appears to be in good shape, and you’re confident it is in working order, then you should be ready to fire it. If, however, you have any apprehension as to its operating ability, allow a professional gunsmith to examine the rifle. They can critique the firearm and let you know if it’s safe to fire.

Heirloom Hunt

Opening morning of firearms season. For passionate rifle hunters, no other day compares. I have been through enough of them now to understand that opening days worth remembering have some sort of underlying issue or meaning, like a much awaited first hunt with a child, the tagging of a monster buck, or a distant adventure years in the making. Yet sometimes, the forgettable days are the most enjoyable. The ones where nothing extraordinary happens, yet all is right in the world as you sit patiently, awaiting the arrival of a deer.

A lot of people hunt in my area, especially on opening day. In fact, nearly 25 percent of the entire firearms harvest takes place during the first day of the season. If a buck survives the onslaught of hunters simply giving it a shot on the first day of the season, then his chance of making it through the year increases exponentially. Makes sense to plan for this unique day.

Personally, I’m a hardwoods hunter. About 99 percent of the time, my game plan revolves around locating the thickest, nastiest cover I can find and holding tight in it under the expectation of a buck retreating to seclusion. The “almost” is attributed to opening day.

When the blaze orange army rolls out, I seat myself in the most likely position to intercept deer on the move. I want to be in a pinch point that connects as many large areas of habitat as possible. This last opening morning, with the old .30-06 slung over my shoulder, I made my way through the predawn darkness to such an area.

About an hour before the sun would crest the horizon, I stood at the base of a great maple, tying my grandfather’s gun to the end of a rope. I carefully ascended to my elevated point of interception, and then raised my firearm from the ground below.

The stand overlooks two large agricultural fields. With the rut in full swing, I believed I would see a number of bucks chasing does through the picked beans and corn. Before legal shooting light, I did observe a significant amount of deer activity. Aided by the power of light-gathering optics and a big, bright full moon, I watched two different bucks chase does before giving up on the unreceptive ladies.

When legal shooting light finally arrived, the deer retreated to the woods and movement slowed to next to nothing. I began to lose faith. I hung my grandfather’s rifle from a sawed-off tree branch and buried my hands into pockets with the hope of returning feeling to my half frozen fingers. Of course, it’s usually during these moments of undermined attention that opportunity rears it’s head.

The author poses with an opening-day buck he busted in deer-rich Missouri. Make sure you visit a local gunsmith if you plan on hunting with an heirloom

I saw the doe first. She broke from the cover at a hurried pace. Experience told me to reach for my rifle; a buck must surely be on her tail. And he was—a solid nine-pointer with nothing on his mind but breeding the female in front of him. All the caution he would have proceeded with just days before was now cast to the wind as he jumped from cover into an open field 125 yards in front of my stand. I raised my grandfather’s gun. The crosshairs of my scope centered on the buck’s chest. I paused to pick a spot, then slowly and deliberately pulled the trigger. The buck was dead before he hit the ground.

Coming Full Circle
In my hands I held the same rifle my grandfather had held many times over deer of his own. Many times, I had sat at his table and eaten the venison this rifle had procured. Now I am the provider. The buck’s antlers were far from record book caliber, but the enormity of the moment, complimented by a rifle passed from loving hands, far exceeds any gratification I could find in numbers. As a hunter, I found success. And I did it with Grandpa’s gun. An inherited firearm is a true treasure, a tool that should last beyond your lifetime, passing through generations as an heirloom. Knowing the history of a firearm adds a special dimension to owning it. Be sure to ask questions of guns you may one day own, and tell stories of adventures with favorite firearms you expect one day will belong to your heirs.

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Many deer have fallen to the author’s grandfather’s gun. A buck this size was…