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Wisconsin buck

My very first Wisconsin buck taken with Old Reliable at the bottom of the rack.

Have you and your family, friends or hunting and fishing companions ever thrown out a sentence during a conversation with the words, “Hey, if you could only choose one (fill in the blank with fishing lure, rod and reel, boat, bow and arrows) to use for all your particular sporting interest, which one would it be”? In our family, this usually occurs around Christmas when the Knoble clan (now 80 people strong in just my immediate family) gathers at my sister’s place in Janesville, Wisconsin, for our annual holiday gathering. Conversations at some point usually veer from the Packers, Badgers and Brewers chances for a successful sports season and lead to hunting stories. Imagine that.

One question that has come up in the past is about hunting rifles, and which one you would choose if you could only use one for the rest of your days. Opinions on hunting rifles and calibers are as varied as the plants found in the forests of southwest Wisconsin, but you have to explain your decision in any conversation like this. Correct? You can't just throw out an answer and let everyone decide your reasoning themselves, you have to sell your response.

My answer to this question (if it was posed) is simple: my Remington 788 bolt action in .243 caliber with a beat-up old LM Dickinson 3x9 scope on it. OK, you serious gun folk can stop chuckling now. Of the hundreds of makes, models, and calibers of rifles and scopes, few would pick this somewhat archaic, simplistic, light-ballistic but heavy, old, mostly wooden gun that leaves a lot to be desired in the looks category. But let me make my case.

I bought this rifle practically new in 1980 from Pat Brockway in Gays Mills, Wisconsin. He bought the package and just did not like it. Some guns are like cars; they just work well and feel comfortable, others don’t. His was not a match, so for a whopping $100, I got the gun that fit me like a glove and still does today.

The model 788 does not have a smooth bolt action. The safety mechanism on it is not located properly for the safest of handling. It is heavy for a smaller caliber rifle. It is not particularly pretty. I know what you are saying: so why do you like it if it has all these flaws? For one reason, it shoots like no other gun I have ever used. As a hunter, a clean and ethical dispatch of your prey is what hunting is about. No animal should have to suffer in order for you to put food on the table or to rid your property of a nuisance animal or to go after a trophy of a lifetime. This gun assures me that this (along with restraint, patience and practice) will always be the case. Of course, there are stories that endear this gun to me on top of all these claims, allow me to elaborate.

Hanging on my man cave wall is the only whitetail I have ever had mounted, and it was my first. A perfect 10 pointer, not huge, but harvested by my new rifle in an open field at 100 yards in a foot of fresh Wisconsin snow. Later that season, I shot a red fox on a walking deer drive that was sneaking past our standers. I received $60 for that fox pelt, more than half of what I spent on the gun itself. My brother Bill borrowed my rifle (even though he shoots left handed) and took it to Wyoming where he harvested the only mule deer he has hanging on his wall with a 300 yard clean shot. Since then, this gun has harvested many whitetail deer, and I am not sure who has harvested more deer with it, me or my brother Tom. When hunting the big hills of southwest Wisconsin, you can hunt two ways -- sit and let deer come to you, or push them out of hiding in the thick forests toward waiting standers. It is this last method that my brother Tom and I had a system.

My brother carried a .30-.30 lever action rifle when deer hunting, the kind you see in old movie Westerns on television. Lightweight, short, yet with enough “brush power” to work at closer range. No scope needed, just open sights. Great in the woods, not so much when out in the open. When Tom walked, he used his .30-.30. When I walked, I used his brush rifle and he used my rifle. “Just put it right on 'em” was the only advice I ever gave to anyone using my rifle, out to about 300 yards, which is the maximum I would shoot at any deer, coyote, or elk. Yes, all of you calling me names right now I said elk. Some of the biggest elk taken by my brother-in-law John Iverson’s hunting group on annual trips out West for many, many years have been taken with perfectly placed shots from a .243 caliber rifle. Shot placement, it’s all about shot placement. Now back to my one and only rifle.

Among the personal qualities describing the four of us Knoble boys, patience is not near the top of the list. For a couple of us, sometimes it never even makes the list. Such was the case on a particular day on a Richland County, Wisconsin, hunt on a farm where the owner wanted some herd control as they had too many deer for their liking. So our group included a couple uncles and cousins headed there for a big drive to fill our remaining three tags. My brother Tom orchestrated the drive and us standers took up our places. Soon, the deer came pouring out of the woods. To the delight of the Ammunition Companies, many shells were spent on a futile effort by some of the standers to fill our tags, and not a hide nor hair on any of the dozen or more deer was touched. Several retreated into the woods we had just pushed them out of.

As my brother descended from the steep ridge to help with what he figured was the end of the hunt, well, let’s just say he was not pleased. He gave me his .30-.30, took my rifle and one clip with three shells in it, and said to me, “Let's run it again.” I offered him more shells, he said he did not need them. As I crested the ridge for a second drive after a tough climb, I heard three shots in the valley spaced out about 15 seconds apart. The next thing I heard was my brother’s voice yelling, “We are done. Let's go.” As I reached the standers, Tom handed me back my rifle with an empty clip. That is a true story, and that, my friends, is why the answer to this question when posed, is an easy answer for me.

I hope you all have similar stories and memories with whatever type of outdoor activities you enjoy. Share them with family and friends at your next gathering. As always, thanks for reading and enjoy the great outdoors.

John F. Knoble is a retired Natural Resource Specialist. He lives in rural Goose Lake, Iowa, with his wife Tina of 34 years, and their two dogs.


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