Today marked the end of an era in our household, as an otherwise unassuming little item moved on to a new home, and its legacy and impact on us is now just a memory. Things of this world aren’t really all that trapping to me, but this one has a deep and rich history bringing together numerous friends lives in ways I never imagined. This, then, is a tribute to the little red rifle (it was pink, but became red, as you’ll read), and those who have been a part of its story while it was ours.
It all begins with me wanting to share something I enjoy doing with the wee bugaboo,
Natalie. Around her 5th birthday, Gander Mountain had a sale on a “youth sized rifle,” which happened to come in both black and pink. Given that a pink-stuff theme was alive and well in our lives at that time (little girl and all that), I pounced. Natalie now had her own single-shot, bolt-action 22 Long Rifle chambered rifle. The trigger was not too bad, and the action was pretty easy to operate (it only took her a little while to figure out how and muster the strength to pull the firing-pin plunger back on her own). All was pretty well, but she had trouble seeing through the peep sights, and who really likes iron/peep sights with fancy optics available in spades? So, I decided it needed something, like a small red-dot sight. The problem was that the rifle itself had no clean way to mount such a device, and no sufficient aftermarket accessories were available to help. Cue the man with the means who chose to fill the need.
The Work of a Craftsman
At the time, a coworker of mine had also become a friend—rather a great friend—with which I shared a common passion for shooting sports. We spent many an hour at the range firing a variety of weapons at steel plates, eventually getting around to timed competitions for 6-plate knock-downs with .22s. I think I still hold the record at right around 2 seconds from buzzer to last shot, but needless to say, we had loads of fun over the years. Well, he also was supportive of this new father-daughter venture that I was trying to start, and happened to have both the skills and the tools necessary to hand craft an optic mounting rail that fit the pink rifle. Long story short, several hours of precise measurement, equipment prep and machining later, the pink rifle now had an optic rail capable of supporting commonly available red-dot optics. What is clear now, but was not then, is how far that one act of generosity and kindness would reach dozens (perhaps triple digits) of others. It may not seem like it matters, but having a red-dot on that little rifle lowered the barrier to entry from having to learn how to focus on a front sight while looking through a rear peep sight and aligning all of that on a target, to simply lining up the dot on the target. This, then, enabled many first-time shooters to have successful interactions with a rifle, which typically had the effect of making them smile ear to ear, but more importantly I believe it demystified firearms for them (which is known to reduce the likelihood of a curiosity-induced mishap), gave them a confidence boost (successes do that, and kids need them), created a great memory (think like Pixar’s Inside Out: a fun event with mom and dad [typically] where they did something brand new, that involved shooting stuff, and they did awesome), and through all of that likely made them less apt to mindlessly adopt the opinion of the hordes of influencers that will, for the rest of their lives, try to convince them that guns are evil.
The next several years passed with a dad and a daughter he loves more than life getting an occasional chance to hang out, just the two of them, shooting, collecting missed clay pigeons from the trap range, setting them up and shooting them, rinse, repeat. Our typical hangout was a 300 yard rifle range in Byron, MN where I would do all the necessary preparations for Natalie, but after that hand it over to her, and she ran the rifle like a champ until she either ran out of ammo or targets. In the mean time, I would go about my business planting lead for future generations to harvest. Sometimes we’d stop by the ice cream shop on the way home, and I like to think in the end that she realized I cherish her, am proud of her, and believe in her ability to do anything she sets her mind to. Perhaps, though, she really just remembers the clay pigeons and the Oreo flurries.
Somewhere along the line, two things happened: Cale was born (this one has a definite date associated with it), and Natalie developed a love for the color red. Realizing that it just won’t do to have Cale eventually firing a pink rifle (planning years in advance, I know), but also playing to Natalie’s tastes, I painted the stock of the rifle red. A very shiny and tasty red, in my opinion. This had the side effect of eliminating the hesitation-causing “boys can’t use stuff that’s pink” dilemma for others who crossed our paths. During the time we owned this rifle, I used it as a “shooting station” in a couple of youth-centric events, permitting kids to put it to use (under my tutelage) to shoot some targets in a fashion similar to what Natalie typically did. The color change was a boon for these times for the aforementioned reasons, but it was also something unique… a bit more “ours” and not just an off the shelf product.
Where and when the reach of this little rifle really grew was circa 2009 at a family picnic and shooting extravaganza that I and another fella put on for folks at the home of some good friends. They had the space and safe location for such activities, but more so had (have) hearts that welcomed us like we were their own kids. Age-wise, it’s not quite right, but they could almost be our parents. They sure treated us like family, anyway, and on this day (like many more), they extended that treatment to a host of others. There’s a back-story that fills in more of the motivation for this event, but the pertinent part is that anyone who was willing and able to could choose from a variety of weapons and (again, under supervision) engage targets. The specifics are a bit fuzzy now, but as an example of what transpired, I believe in that one day an entire family of 6 (or at least 5 of the 6) fired a gun for the first time. 3-4 of them used the little red rifle. Many others did the same.
Changing of the Guard
Eventually, we moved from MN to MI and finally had a shooting range of our own (sort of). Natalie had more or less outgrown the little red rifle, but Cale had grown into it. On a cold day in 2012, Cale took up the red rifle and splattered his first “jug” (OJ, in this case). He, too, learned to use the rifle well, though he had less time on the trigger than his sister. He’s a meticulous detail guy, and he is great at getting the gun to rest in the rear bag so that the natural point of aim is on target. I’d like to claim credit for teaching him that, but he really just did it on his own and I had the miraculous burst of wisdom that kept me from getting in the way trying to “improve” on what he was doing. In time, that’ll come, but for now, he’s got it enough to enjoy it.
We used this rifle here and there over the next couple of years, and then finally took it to the Marksmanship Training Center for a “family day” that I and another member put together. The idea was that the range was effectively closed for that day+night so that members and non-members and their kids could shoot together, camp together, etc.. The longer story is still a good one (and it involved ice cream), but the shorter version is that Cale used the little red rifle for approximately the last time then. A good friend was present with his kids, and it turns out that it was just about perfect for them. They used it, loved it, and it really just fit with them given their age and size. Cale, being able to use the rifle that Natalie moved up to (which happens to be “dad’s”), didn’t need to hold on to the red rifle any more, so we made it clear that if they wanted it, we could work out a deal. Well, today, October 11, 2015, that deal transpired. We all fired a few more rounds at some very satisfying-to-hit steel targets, and then sent it home with its new owner(s). In a sense I feel like Frodo Baggins in The Return of the King: handing off the Red Book of the Hobbits to Sam… “The last pages are for you.”
It is just a thing, in the end, and it is part of a world where things deteriorate and are gone, but in the case of this little red rifle, an otherwise unassuming object has been the catalyst for a number of great memories spanning a large number of families. It’s not always been my mindset to consider things as consumable and use them without worrying about scratches, dings, etc., but someone once demonstrated to me that “stuff” isn’t really anything special if it isn’t used to bring people together, build bonds, make memories, etc. Well, it didn’t get scratched or dinged (I am who I am, after all!!), but it did build bonds, make memories, boost confidence, win over the unsure, etc. Perhaps it would have done all of that without that “fancy” red-dot mounted on it… but I honestly don’t think so. The ease of use is what made it approachable. JLF and his work making that special little mount is, therefore, the cornerstone on which nearly 10 years of incredible memories were built, and I am indebted beyond measure.