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Throwback Thursday: The "Magic Rifle"

Throwback Thursday: The

Editor’s note: For today’s #ThrowbackThursday, we’re going back to April 2010, when Tim Roberts told us about a little .22 that has become a family heirloom.

It was a hot day in the summer of 1981. I was a Detective Sergeant with the Police Department. I had been out on a call, and when I returned I went into my Captain’s office, Captain John Drook was sitting behind his desk. We talked briefly, then I spotted a rifle over in the corner. When I asked about it, John said an elderly lady had come into the department a few minutes before. Her husband had died, leaving her a list of all his guns with instructions to take them to the Police Department and sell them to the officers. John told me the paper her husband had written out for her had each gun listed with the price she was supposed to sell it for. He had tried to tell the woman that it was worth more than the $15 that she was asking and offered to pay her more, but she insisted that she was going to do as her husband had directed, and would only take what was written on the paper. 

I picked it up and checked it out. It was a J.C. Higgins .22 bolt-action single-shot that had been well-used, but not abused. It had a round knob on the back of the bolt that had to be pulled back to cock the action after you put your single round in. Every farm kid I knew growing up had one just like it. It was one of the safest rifles ever made and just right for a kid’s first gun. I told John I wished I could find one like it for my son, Cory, who was eight at that time. John said, “I’ll tell you what, just give me my $15 back and take it home.” I didn’t know then that there was magic in that rifle. 

A couple of months later, Cory turned nine and I took him to the range for his birthday. He was really excited to see his present. He took to the .22 right off and was hitting half-dollar-sized targets in a few minutes. There was only one rule: I had to be with him whenever he shot it.   

By the time he was 14 or 15, he was allowed to take it out by himself. I knew he was going to be a hunter when I saw him sit for three hours waiting on a marauding groundhog to enter his grandpa’s garden. Cory learned marksmanship with that rifle. Cans, empty shotgun shells and even empty .22 rimfire casings weren’t safe when Cory and his rifle were about. He didn’t have time for alcohol, drugs or crime. There were too many targets to shoot and critters to hunt. That magic rifle transformed my son into an outdoorsmen and a hunter.

Years later Cory joined the Army Reserve, attending boot camp in the summer after his junior year of high school. He had no problem qualifying with his rifle. In 1994 he was hired by the Police Bureau in Portland, Ore. For several years he was the lead firearms instructor for the entire department. Cory taught a lot of cops to shoot and probably saved some of their lives.

Cory called a couple of days ago and asked his mom if she remembered what he got for his ninth birthday present. She said she couldn’t possibly remember that long ago. He reminded us of the .22, and said he was taking his son—our grandson, Ian—to the range on his ninth birthday just two days away. He was going to give him the same .22 that he got some 28 years before, along with a shooting lesson.

It’s too bad more youngsters don’t have the benefit of learning the simple lessons of responsibility that come along with the fun of hunting and shooting. With a little luck that .22 will work its spell on yet another kid. It’s hard to tell how many generations that may continue; several perhaps. That rifle is magic, after all. 

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