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home : columns : ron kuecker
January 17, 2018

12/20/2017 9:57:00 AM
The Christmas single shot .22 caliber rifle

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

It was just a single-shot, bolt action, Remington Model 514. It shot 22 short, long or long-rifle cartridges. It wasn't intended to take anything away from the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Nor was it intended to be a bird shooter like a shotgun, a big game hunting center fire rifle or a military look-alike. It was simply a starter firearm to follow up on an air rifle BB gun or maybe even a deadly slingshot like the ones we fashioned from an ash tree growing on the farm.
But it was my first rifle that I saw laying beneath the decorated tree on Christmas morning. It was chosen for the safety of a single-shot and reliance on one well-placed bullet by my German father, with approval from my Norwegian mother. No doubt, it would be a rabbit killer.
That was the way most of us got started hunting, a teenager with a twenty-two. Then we progressed into bigger things while learning all the secondary lessons of wildlife and their need for suitable habitat to survive.
I remember even more than that Christmas morning my first hunt with that extremely well-made little Remington. It was after several days of practice shooting when a beautiful white snow fell. No wind, no dirt. I walked the mile west of our Hadley farm home to a "brushy" spot along Beaver Creek.
There the weeds grew thick-stemmed, tall and straight. It allowed the warmth of the sun to penetrate while providing protection and safety from hawks and red fox, rabbits number one and number two fears. Most had no innate fear of a teenager with a small caliber rifle.
I walked off the gravel road and entered the weed patch along the 25-foot-wide creek that flowed with water from the drained Great Oasis Lake to the north. It was laced with rabbit trails running in two directions, parallel to and perpendicular to the stream.
Shortly, a cottontail rabbit crossed in front of me and stopped. Not a good idea, Br'er Rabbit. It paused long enough that I could take a shot. Then it bounced away into thick cover.
How could that be? It was a perfect setup. I thought I had made the kill. Then on approaching the shot site I saw the rabbit laying stone dead with a spot of blood outside its heart where it had been hit.
The lesson of the day was that game can go a short distance even with a heart shot. I ended the hunt and walked home to show the rest of the family. I was as proud as a mother cat dragging home a striped gopher to her kittens.
Kinda funny sometimes, the details you can remember of an event when it means a lot to us.
Wars at Christmas time
Not as pleasant as those thoughts, I was once again reminded of past events at Christmas time when I read Brian Kilmeade's excellent book about General Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. It happened between Christmas of 1814 and ended January, 1815.
Most of us can remember the story of George Washington's Christmas at Valley Forge after the British took over our then capital in Philadelphia. It was widely told to us even in grade school.
Some of us can also recall the history of the massacre of 150 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee between Christmas and New Year's Eve 1890. It is considered to be the end of the Western War with the Indians.
The battle of New Orleans was probably the most important of the War of 1812. It followed the burning of Washington DC and was in response to a huge planned invasion of the city that was the gateway to the entire Mississippi Valley.
General Jackson, not the Stonewall of yet to come Civil War fame, but the Old Hickory, who would later become a U.S. President. He was appointed to lead the Western War against England by President Madison.
Old Hickory led his Tennessee volunteers to Pensacola and Mobile, Ala. Then on to New Orleans where it was decided the Brits would strike. There a huge naval force could send their artillery and infantries across a small open area of land into New Orleans.
It was at precisely that spot that Jackson set up his defense. He attacked a few days before Christmas against an encamped army of English, then backed off and set up a well-planned defense. He had his army of Cajuns, Creoles, pirates, Indians, blacks and the Kentucky and Tennessee riflemen dig out an old canal and build ramparts by hand.
There he set up his artillery and riflemen and waited. As the British attacked he rode up and down the ramparts yelling, "Stand your guns, don't waste your ammunition, then give it to them, boys, let us finish this business today."
And they did, as they won the Battle of New Orleans. Dead after the gun powder cleared were three English generals, seven colonels, 75 junior officers and nearly 2,000 troops. Old Hickory lost but a dozen of his ragtag army in the most important battle of the oft forgotten War of 1812.
Sadly, the violence of war has yet to cease even at Christmas. Hopefully, we will always have defenders like Old Hickory.

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