There’s a song by Rhett Akins I really love called “Granddaddy’s Gun.” It’s the ballad of a young man recalling the story of the shotgun his grandfather gifted him on his thirteenth birthday, and the deep meaning the gun holds for him. He reminisces about tales from yesteryear, and shares the hope he has to one day pass it on to his son. To him, no amount of money in the world could buy the memories and tradition that his granddaddy’s gun holds. If we’re lucky enough, I’m sure many of us can point to a certain gun or bow that can unlock the past and show us the treasures they possess for us, even though they may appear worthless to the untrained eye. This is the story of the gun that holds that prestige to me; my father’s rifle, the one he calls “The Warlord.”
Our story begins thirty-five years ago, when my father was just fifteen years old. Many early mornings in the milking parlor and long, hot days on the construction site had finally earned him enough money to buy a brand-new Ruger model 77 rifle, chambered in .300 Winchester mag. The sharp recoil landed hard against his small but wiry frame, but he was determined to conquer this rifle and that’s exactly what he did. His passion for this gun and shooting it well quickly turned into an obsession, which manifested itself in the proficiency and notoriety amongst my dad and the newly minted Warlord would soon gain.
Whitetails would be the first to feel the wrath of the Warlord. As a young man my father would roam the mountains and hills of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia in search of these beautiful deer each autumn, and felled many with quick and deadly precision. One such instance was in the crisp opening morning air early in the 1980s. After an unsuccessful hunt, my father and his companions had gathered around the truck to recount the morning’s misfortune. Suddenly, upon a distant ridge a ten point buck came bounding out of the wood line and began racing across the field. Dad smoothly leveled his rifle across the hood of that old Chevy Cheyenne, settled the crosshairs on the buck’s line of travel, and fired. To the amazement of the onlookers, the buck folded mid stride and crashed to the earth in a tumbling heap some four hundred yards away.
Eventually wanderlust overtook my dad and he, with the Warlord safely in tow, made the journey west to the Rockies and the vast wilderness of central Idaho. Deer and elk were to be his principle quarry, and he would get his first opportunity within days of arrival on the deer of a lifetime. Upon his trusty horse Blue he glassed as dawn broke over the valley below. The spruce and fir trees that lined the landscape created a seemingly endless ocean of green. As he glassed diligently, the familiar gleam of antler and tawny hide rose from the tide and into view. This buck was tall and heavy with split brow tines, exactly what he had traveled west for. As Dad settled behind the scope and prepared for the shot, the buck did an about face and began his ascent up a distant hill. As the buck quickly began to fade over the roll of hill, a shot rent the air and the Warlord claimed its next victim. Three hundred yards away, the split brow eleven point lay dead, having crumpled and succumbed to a perfectly executed “Texas heart shot”. As he held the magnificent antlers of his Idaho trophy, my father wore an unerasable smile, one that signified the fulfillment of a childhood dream, catalyzed by his beloved rifle.
A few years and a bull elk later (a story for another day because I surely can’t divulge everything), dad found himself back in Idaho, this time as a guide. One fateful morning he was accompanied by my grandfather, his client for the week. Pap had been intrigued by dad’s success and stories of the wilderness and the giants that it contained, and decided he wanted a piece of it. After making it to a good spot above the tree line to stop and glass, things took a turn. During the glassing a rock gave way beneath him, sending my father careening down the mountainside, finally coming to rest beneath a log. The log slowly began to crush him and the pain was excruciating. Pap rushed to his aid but was unable to free his son and panic had start to set in. However, in stroke of fate the Warlord had drifted to my father’s side during the fall and it proved to be an excellent lever. Dad let out a sigh as he pushed with all his power to relieve himself of the weight that held him captive, eventually freeing himself while the log disappeared over the edge of the mountain into the valley below. Just this once, the Warlord went from reaper to savior.
With the legend cemented and my mother waiting in the east, the Warlord returned home for the final time. My father continued to dazzle back home in the east, with many deer and a bear or two feeling the wrath of his rifle. One buck in particular fell victim to the Warlord’s kiss of death, even though his vitals were obstructed by the oak board of a split rail fence. This season, I will be carrying the Warlord with me into the woods. My father beamed with pride when I came to him with this proposition, saying only, “Treat her well, and she’ll take care of you just like she took care of me.” This season, I will feel every nick and scratch in the wood of the stock and feel the history come alive beneath my hands. This season, I will hopefully gaze into the scope and draw the crosshairs on the shoulder of a big whitetail buck, just as Dad did all those times. This season, I’ll be walking with the Warlord.