THE .44/40 WINCHESTER BEFORE THE BUCK LAW
My father shot his first deer at his uncle’s farm/woodlot, when he was thirteen years old. He became a great woodsman and hunter, and did his best to pass on his knowledge and experience to us. He was the teacher, the coach, and the Boss—a true patriarch, until his death in 1979. He never said how many deer he shot in his life, probably because he never counted them.
I know he took a lot of deer with the .44/40. We used that rifle until the Department of Wildlife determined that the caliber was below the minimum acceptable for deer hunting in Quebec. When Dad wasn’t hunting with it, my uncles used it, my brothers used it, and so did I. My cousin Bert, all five of my brothers, and sundry others used the old .44/40 on partridge and rabbits, from the early 1930s to the late 1960s.
I was carrying it one day in the late 1950s, the first time my Dad and I went up Roger Lake Mountain. We had been told there was a lake up there, and very roughly how to find it; we may even have consulted a map, but we didn’t bring it with us. We took separate routes through the bush, figuring that somewhere between the two of us, we would probably find the lake if we walked up over the mountain.
Dad knew how to read the terrain, and he probably remembered the map better than I did. At any rate, he came out at the lake. I was eighteen, unafraid, and didn’t look closely at the map. Always up to a challenge, I decided to climb where there couldn’t possibly be a lake I came out at the top of a high rock cliff, and from the edge of it I saw the lake—it was so far below, that I thought of tea in a teacup.
I didn’t know my Dad was there, and I wanted to beat him to the lake, so I was in a bit of a hurry. I had to work my way down, away from the cliff; but I didn’t want to go so far that I would lose the lake. About halfway down, perhaps 100 yards from the lake, still in a hurry, I came to a spot from which I thought I could jump down about ten feet to a ledge. I could see my way down from that ledge to the lake pretty clearly. As I prepared to make the jump, carrying the .44/40 in my left hand, I steadied myself with my right hand on a huge boulder, about four feet in diameter. As I pushed off with my right hand to jump, the boulder started to come with me. I threw the rifle down to the ledge, then flung my body sideways, grabbing as much air as I could to get away from the rock. I landed ok, but the .44/40 did not. The boulder bounced off the rifle, and then continued down the mountain, taking out trees and sounding like a thunderstorm. It kept picking up speed, and started an avalanche of rocks and trees that finally crashed into the lake.
My fall had knocked the wind out of me, and I was probably slightly concussed. I could hear my dad calling to me, but I couldn’t answer. When I could stand up again, I picked up the pieces of the rifle and staggered down the mountain toward Dad’s voice. When he saw me, and discovered that I wasn’t dead, he just about killed me, himself. He then treated me to the most thorough rant I have ever heard, including every cussword and derogatory term ever applied to any miserable human being. It was a very long walk back to the cottage.
When we got back, and Dad stopped ranting, we took a look at the rifle. The stock was in three pieces and the lever action was bent, but the mosses and leaves on the ledge had probably helped prevent more damage, and Dad said he could fix it. We still have that old rifle: the stock is scratched, chipped, and held together with rivets and carpenters’ glue.