Winchester .44-.40


There has never been a time in my life where I was not around hunting. My grandpa hunted, my dad hunted, I hunt, my middle daughter hunts. It’s simply a part of our family that has always been and will always be. It’s less popular today than it was when I was a kid, but if had that aspect of my life taken away I would strongly consider walking in front of a fast moving bus.

I have owned a great many guns in my life. Of those I have sold only two, and I wish I had those back. That may seem odd to some, but those who have grown up with guns in their hands will understand. For folks like me we don’t feel we have gun problem, we just need another safe in which to store them. Actually it’s a matter of physics in that when you run out of room trying to store mass in a given size container the only logical solution is to obtain more storage.

When my dad passed away several years ago my mom gave me his safe and all of his guns. There were a number of collectibles included but the most prized was the Model 1873 Winchester lever action repeating rifle in .44-.40 caliber. This one wasn’t a replica, it was an original built in 1891. I eventually took that rifle to a gunsmith friend of mine so he could examine it. He carefully went through it and proclaimed it was in excellent condition and could be used. The kicker was that gun was built during the time of black powder and wouldn’t withstand the pressures generated by modern day cartridges. But my gunsmith was also a cowboy action shooter who built his own ammunition, so he loaded me a couple hundred rounds using the proper powder and I was set.

Shooting that old relic is an adventure in itself. The gun is heavy and with the rear folding peep sight you can’t actually wrap your hand around the stock, so you have to lay your thumb along the edge. Turns out that isn’t much of an issue as there is very little recoil. When you touch it off there’s a large cloud of smoke that forms at the end of the barrel, so in subsequent shots you’re trying to see through that to hit your target. Accuracy is somewhat of an issue as well. These old guns weren’t meant to shoot the heads off pins at 200 yards, but under 50 it does fine.

Poking holes in paper is fine, but a gun like that was meant to bring home meat, and that is what I wanted to do with it. I had a friend who lived a few miles out of town, and I knew he had wild pigs on his place. I asked if I could try and get one with the old rifle and he said sure. A date was set and it was pig killing time!

I met Gary in the late afternoon and we walked out across his place to where the pigs were known to frequent. We then moseyed up a small hill where we could see 2 draws and sat to wait. It wasn’t long before we saw a nice boar and a couple sows coming down the left draw. We quietly slipped down into the right draw and started making our way down to intercept them. We snuck and snuck, but when we got to where we thought they might be…there were no pigs. I slowly eased up to look around and snuck forward trying to see where they might be. At that point Gary, who was behind me, whispered and I turned, and there 50 yards behind us were the pigs. They took off running the way they had come, and I started running up the hill at an angle to intercept them. It was apparent I was going to get no closer so I skidded to a stop, raised the rifle, took aim and fired 3 times. The pigs were nearly 60 yards from me when I fired the first round and they were at full speed. I never touched fur with any bullet. Later Gary said it was an amazing sight: watching an old fat guy try and run uphill, then stopping, and every time I pulled the trigger a massive cloud of smoke engulfed me.

Even though there was no pig headed for the freezer that day the experience had made me even more determined to fill my tag with that Winchester, so we set another date. When that time came we walked back out, sat on the same hill and waited again.

After an hour or so 2 sows started down the right draw. This time I moved down that draw to the edge and took up a firing position hoping to ambush them when they crossed under the fence. But, instead of crossing in front of me, they went under the fence 60 yards further out. The only thing I could do at that point was sneak through the draw and start after them.

Upon arriving at the top of the draw I got down on my hands and knees and started crawling forward through the dry start thistle. Every time I moved I got poked and was soon bleeding from multiple punctures. I could see the 2 pigs in front of me, but I needed to get closer. At 40 yards I ran out of start thistle cover. I slowly raised up, and after pulling a broken thistle off the gun barrel, I put the sight on the pig and pulled the trigger. I heard the bullet strike home, but she turned and started to run. I quickly took new aim and pulled the trigger. This time the sow dropped like a rock as the 120 year old gun had done it’s job.

The next day, when I called my mom to tell her all about the adventure she listened and said how great it was that someone in the family had finally used that rifle. Then she said something that brought tears to my eyes. She said, “You know that rifle was given to your dad by my dad. You are the first one to ever fire it, and you killed that pig with it, with your dad’s rifle, on his birthday.”

Friends, I may get old and forget a lot of things, but I’m never going to forget that day.


2 thoughts on “Winchester .44-.40”

  1. What a great post. You didn’t know this, but your mom gave you such a gift with that tell. Wonderful.

    Have a fabulous day and weekend. 🙂

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