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Shevlin 93-year-old takes doe with grandfather’s 146-year-old rifle

Ken Felt, of rural Shevlin, Minn., proudly holds his grandfather’s black-powder Husqvarna Model 1867 rolling block rifle, which he successfully used to shoot a deer from 100 yards away on his first shot. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Monte Draper

A 93-year-old rural Shelvin man had a successful hunt a couple of weeks ago.

And while his age certainly is notable, it’s not the most significant part of the story.

It’s the age of his gun.

Ken Felt was out with his 146-year-old Husqvarna Model 1867 .50-caliber rolling block, single-shot rifle using black powder cartridges.

Out along one of the many trails traversing his 260-plus acre lot, Ken spotted a big doe, standing broadside, off in the reachable distance.

Intent on a buck, Ken shrugged it off and moved on.

But when he came over a hill and saw yet another large doe, again broadside, he accepted it as a sign. He took aim, fired, and took her down.

Not bad for an antique rifle.

“Not bad for either of us,” Ken quipped.

As the white cloud of smoke cleared from the shot — a product of the black powder — Ken saw her head twitch and a second shot completed the kill.

The successful hunt, which occurred Nov. 13, marked the gun’s first kill on American soil.

A gun without ammo

The gun came to America with Richard Felt Sr., Ken’s grandfather, who immigrated along with his wife and eight children in 1885 on the S.S. Britannic.

“Our grandfather, he never told many stories, but there was one. In Sweden for a couple winters, he provided meat for a couple lumber camps, moose, deer, elk and bear, for their food supply,” Ken said. “There was a bear — not a very large one — standing on his hind legs facing him. So he shot it right through the brisket (chest) and he said the cook then bawled him out for spoiling so much meat.”

Richard Sr. brought the gun with him to America, but he didn’t bring ammunition.

When Ken was 10, his grandfather gifted him the rifle.

It never was fired on American soil until about five years ago.

Just a thrill

As Ken grew up, married and had children of his own, the rifle was always there.

Randy, one of Ken’s four sons, described it as a kind of safe toy, noting it never had ammunition so there was no risk. In fact, one year, one of his brothers played the role of a Confederate soldier at school during the 100-year anniversary of the Civil War.

“He took that rifle to school, as a part of his costume,” Randy said. “We always just loved the fact that it was such an old rifle, and the history of it.”

But as everyone grew older, the family more frequently talked about how neat it would be to actually fire the gun. Randy said there never seemed to be much doubt it would work — “It looks pretty sound and solid” — but tracking down ammunition proved somewhat difficult.

His brother Rodney — a Becker County instructor for the licensed-to-carry courses and a former part-time sheriff’s deputy — was the one who actually located a place in Texas that still carried the ammo.

They ordered about 30 rounds, went out and back and did some target-shooting.

“I held it off to the side because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Ken, a former Clearwater County sheriff, on whether he was nervous about that first shot.

“We all had our chance to shoot it, which was just a thrill,” Randy said. “The black powder creates a big old cloud of white smoke.”

Get some game

In the last few years, though, the idea of having Ken, and his rifle, bring down some game grew increasingly important.

“As he progressed in age, and once we had the ammunition it was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could actually take it out hunting?’” Randy said.

“The kids have been after me for years, saying it was something I had to do,” Ken said. “Get some game, carry on the tradition.”

It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon that Wednesday when Ken took the rifle out with him, wrapping it up in a rug, secured with a bungee cord, and placing it in the back of the four-wheeler.

“I don’t know if it’s hunting, but I do go out there, out in the woods,” Ken said. “I’m always legal … We have numerous trails, for logging, gathering firewood, we have beautiful trials. It’s hilly and in the fall, it’s just beautiful out there.”

He likes to go out, to enjoy the scenery.

“I went out in the fields, just to look around,” he said. “There was a nice big doe standing there, broadside, and so I stopped, looked at it and I said, ‘No, I want a buck.’

“So I turned around and took the trail and went down a ways and the deer ran off the field.

“When I came up a little hill, in the woods on the trail, there’s a doe standing about a 100 or so yards, down on the trail, broadside, and I said, ‘I must be supposed to get one...’

“So I get off the machine, unstrap the rifle, aim it and look up and she’s still standing there, so I know, ‘That’s got to be my deer.’”

Donna, Ken’s wife of 18 years, was on the phone with Ginny, Ken’s daughter, when Donna heard some tapping on the window, indicating that Ken had taken a deer with the old rifle.

“My sister was going crazy,” Randy said, happily recalling how he found out. “She called me and said, ‘You won’t believe this…’”

But sure enough, Dad — and the rifle — they’d gotten their kill.

A historical connection?

The rifle, much heavier than a modern-day rifle, lays claim to an interesting historical factoid: It’s incredibly similar to the gun last used by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

“That’s what he was using when he got killed,” Ken said.

Randy, who has researched the rifle, provided information from the Little Bighorn Museum, including a letter sent by Custer to Remington, the manufacturer of his Remington Rolling Block No. 1 Sporting Rifle .50/70. The gun was taken by a victorious warrior following Custer’s death in 1876 in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

In an Oct. 5, 1873, letter displayed at the museum, Custer wrote to Remington to praise his rifle for its success during the Yellowstone Expedition.

“During this period of three months I carried the rifle referred to on every occasion and the following list exhibits but a portion of the game killed by me: Antelope, 41; buffalo, 4; elk, 4; blacktail deer, 4; American deer, 3; white wolf, 2; geese, prairie chickens, and other feathered game in large numbers,” he wrote. “The number of animals killed is not so remarkable as the distance at which the shots were executed. The average distance at which the for-one antelope were brought down exceeded 250 yards by actual measurement.”