Becker County Sportsman - Your .22 rimfire as a hunting rifle
The "twenty two" is everyone's gun. No rifleman worth his salt can say that he didn't get his start with this rimfire cartridge. It is the romance, which lasts a lifetime. It has an irresistible appeal for the very young hunter because it fits their dimensions and abilities better than any centerfire cartridge. It isn't just a boy's gun. It is the steppingstone to bigger and better things. And it provides benefits to every age group.
When a hunter is young, he graduates to a centerfire, often to the ubiquitous .30-06 or the 30-30 or the .270 Winchester. The 22 long rifle is its most commonly used version. But competition requires seeking out lots of specially selected cartridges. But after a young hunter takes to the larger centerfires, he often longs for the lack of loud report and a recoil that he had not noticed previously. In a hunter's middle years, the 22 long rifle and all of the rifles and handguns that are chambered for it will be forgotten, in many instances.
When a hunter becomes a senior citizen, he usually will have a lifetime of deer hunting to reflect upon. Or he may have widened his scope and made westward trips for elk, mule deer, or antelope. Success will seldom be credited, at the time, for lessons in accuracy, holding one's breath and squeezing the shot off with accuracy. Yet, if one truly is ready to admit it, it is those boyhood days with the 22 that taught us everything we know about being a rifleman and success on hunting trips.
Most of us will recall our first rifle. Undoubtedly, it was the 22 long rifle. It may have been a single shot -- mine was a Winchester in Model 67, which required pulling back on an exposed bolt. It was very accurate and cost me $7, and a box of cartridges was $.19 in those days. Today a boy might get his start with a semi-automatic and a brick of 500 cartridges. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but the type of action is still not the best choice in the formative years. And a dad's generous provision of an unlimited supply of rimfire ammunition may lead to habits of ignoring the necessary lessons on accuracy training.
Upon returning from service in the U.S. Army, I was in my early 20's. The Winchester 22 was still in my gun rack, along with a Model 12 shotgun and a Model 70 Winchester rifle. It seemed like a good time to go shopping for a more modern 22 rimfire. There was a semi-automatic, which was prominently displayed in the window of the local Our Own Hardware store.
It too was a Winchester, which seemed to me to be my personal brand. It was the model 63 and cost $32 -- a big sum for me to come up with. Payments were arranged and I took this gleaming beauty home with me.
The rimfire rifle was a leading type of sporting and military cartridge in the l880s when America was moving westwards. Winchester, Browning, Marlin, Remington and Colt were the big names in rifle and ammo manufacturing. John M. Browning's single shot rifle -- with a Winchester name -- was one gun that popularized the diminutive 22 short cartridge, which soon expanded into the popular 22 long rifle we use today. Longer magnums were developed in the past two decades, but the long rifle remains supreme.
A company that manufactured copper radiators and other devices at a factory in Bridgeport, Conn., made a very serviceable semi-automatic. It sold for $l8 retail, and was named the "Hi Standard." I had one of these, using it sensibly, safely and legally when I was l6 years of age. One can't imagine such a situation being considered in today's times.
In 1955, Bill Weaver of El Paso, Texas, marketed a rifle scope, suitable for rimfire or centerfire rifles. He was the Henry Ford of scope-making, and several of the models sold for $10 with the mounts. These low cost rifle scopes introduced the joys of accurate sighting for hunting guns to a whole horde of American hunters.
When I spent an autumn and a winter in Kentucky, it was then that I was aware of the popularity of tree squirrel hunting. Essentially, it's the same gray squirrel of Minnesota. Kentuckians take squirrel hunting seriously. It is the big day for hunting in the southeastern U.S.A., and extends into the Ozark areas as well. Hunting cottontail rabbits is as popular, and many hunters use the 22 rimfire effectively. The skills of woodsmanship, stalking, silence and personal discipline are learned under the tutorship of older seasoned hunters. In the towering heights of the oak woods, it takes skill and marksmanship to kill a squirrel with a head shot. The hardwood forests and the smallbore rifle have an irresistible appeal. A bag of six to ten fat squirrels, in the lands surrounding Lexington would merit a photo on the front page of a local newspaper.
Often, the pioneer method of preparing this delicious wild game meat would fall back on skinning and de-boning these rodents and cooking the meat in boiling water. Dried and then combined with vegetables, a gravy made of corn starch, tucked between two pastry shells was the meat pie to die for. The highly adaptable gray squirrel fleeing across the top reaches of oak, beech or hickory had to be defeated before this family favorite was put on the table.
Webster defines "predator" as any critter that "preys, devours, or destroys." Predator hunting with the 22 long rifle is practiced everywhere. Raccoons, badgers, bobcats, coyote and lynx have been targets of the past. Many are now scarce or threatened, and some are protected. American Indians revered the canny coyote, crediting it with sagacity, but yet they went afield after it.
Today, coyote in western Minnesota, North or South Dakota aren't shot with a 22 rifle!
We do have a huntable number of gray squirrels in the forest areas of Becker County. The area surrounding Pearl Lake has always produced squirrels, and there have been great days when ruffed grouse were there in good numbers.
If you have your waterfowl and pheasants in the freezer, stuffed to the limit with venison, it may be a good time to get to the .22 rimfire rifle which, with certainty, has a place in your gun rack, get it out, sight it in and resume a hunting tradition that may have been interrupted for a few decades. Good hunting, and take your young boys and girls with you. It will recall the days of your youth.
On a winter day in Jan., 1982, Dennis Anderson crossed the state, to attend a meeting of the Morris, Minnesota gun club. Dennis Anderson was, and is currently, a principal outdoor writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspapers. When meeting at that gathering, the idea of an organization that would see to the ringneck pheasants was born. Along with co-founder Jeff L. Finden, the pair worked until a charter for Pheasants Forever was granted at our capitol city. It was the concern of the co-founders and about three hundred others that chapters, each roughly county-wide would be formed. But unlike the similar concept, Ducks Unlimited, PF chapters would keep every cent the individual chapters might raise by dinners or other fund raising endeavors. The success was not immediate, but in a few years, operations in a dozen states were establishing cover plots and pheasant numbers increased.
Iowa, South Dakota, Montana, Kansas and Nebraska sportsmen grasped the Pheasants Forever concept enthusiastically. PF now has chapters in thirty states. The headquarters are at White Bear Lake Minnesota, and to this day, the idea behind local interests keeping and using their own money continues with unqualified success. We have our own Becker-Mahnomen chapter with Dave McCarthy and Tom Kucera as principal leaders. This group has completed a grassland enhancement project on the Ogema Springs Management Area. McArthur's phone number is (2l8) 985-4268. A chapter banquet is held every spring. Basic membership is $50 a year. PF is an organization that gets things done for this grand upland bird, which has great promise in Minnesota. Winter feeding is a costly but successful venture. Pheasants Forever wants you as a member.
The 25th Anniversary of Pheasants Forever's founding will be convened at the Excel Center in St. Paul, on Jan. 18-20, 2008.
Locally, and statewide, the 2007 waterfowling season has been labeled as successful. We had ducks in good supply on opening day. The weather became clear and brisk a few days later, but the bigger lakes didn't freeze, and the Ottertail and Buffalo Rivers remained open. Some migrants moved in around the Nov. 15, with clear bright skies but temps at about freezing. No large concentrations of ducks were reported, but most waterfowl specialists who had hung up the deer rifle to venture out again were satisfied. Park Rapids had birds, few showed up at Big Detroit, but there were mallards, some wood ducks remained at Abbey Lake, and in the Cormorant chain. The Glenwood areas were best for local hunters and a few did drive the miles to this central Minnesota spot. Southern Minnesota stopped a lot more ducks than our northern tier, and they remained, with some build up of migrants becoming available. Bluebills, scaup, were not around in any numbers.
Bluebills continue to have their problems. About 6,000 scaup were found dead on Big Winniebigosish. The die-off may likely become higher as the intestinal parasite, called trematodes. This parasite is found in the snails, which are abundant in northern Minnesota lakes. The scaup eat the snails vigorously, and this internal parasite is the cause of the die offs. The ducks die within a few days after eating the snails. Big Winnie is a principal area for the problem.
The problems are being studied at the National Wildlife Center at Madison, Wisconsin and at Lacrosse, Wisc.