How to create a warm memory: Give a gun for Christmas

If you never received a gun for Christmas as a kid, I am truly sorry.
You missed out on one of the rites of passage of childhood. BB guns are a quality Christmas gift as well (and make a great premise for one of the best X-Mas movies of all time) but nothing beats a REAL gun under the tree.
When I was a kid we never had an over-abundance of cash lying around and gifts between birthdays and Christmas were few and far between. That reality actually made Christmas that much better. My parents always came through with many good gifts every year, but Santa Claus knocked it out of the park virtually every year.
The only firearms I remember the big guy in red and white bringing was two Stevens Model 9478 20 gauge single-shot shotguns for my brother and me. At the time we lived above John Day, in eastern Oregon, and could shoot on our property. There wasn’t enough coin in the coffer to just shoot all of the time, but we spent many afternoons shooting clay “pigeons” thrown off of the cliff behind our house. There were probably a few quail hunts thrown in as well.
I still shoot that one better than any other shotgun I own.
My mom always made Christmas time perfect! Homemade Christmas candy, just the right amount of decorations to remind you of the season. Christmas movies were strategically planned out on TV, as this was pre-VCR/DVR. If you wanted to watch something on TV, you had to actually be there to watch it while it was on the air. Plus, it used to snow on Christmas over there. My mom and I actually used to argue over who liked Christmas more.

THE RIFLE on top is the writer’s Ruger 77R 300 Winchester Magnum. The bottom rifle is Hunter’s Norinco JW-15A with Tasco 4-16x Scope.

Then the teen years came and the seriousness of life started to set in and some of that Christmas Magic disappeared. Mom always said that when you have kids it comes back, and she was right – mostly – but you can never go back again.
That being said, a lot of it came back to me recently.
It was a great Christmas season. It was just one of those years where it didn’t sneak up on you and you’re just in the Christmas spirit. When I was in college I had to sell my Ruger 77R .300 Win. Mag. hunting rifle to get my car fixed so I could still get back and forth to school. It was an emergency. My dad and I could do the work, but parts aren’t free and I needed a lot of parts.
Dad suggested I get hold of our neighbor/family friend, Larry Coulter. He didn’t even hesitate and paid me for the rifle.
I had obviously moved on and acquired many hunting rifles to replace that one lost but I always missed it, for two big reasons. One, I had shot my first deer, with my dad right beside me carrying an identical rifle, with that Ruger. The other was that it is still the most accurate rifle I have ever fired. It puts bullets in the same bullet hole.
For the accuracy nerds out there I have shot two groups with that rifle in the 30-THOUSANDTHS range.
Dad free-floated it with an air die grinder and did a minor trigger job with a knife sharpening stone to smooth it out. It has outstanding accuracy for virtually any rifle and even more so for a hunting rifle.
About this time last year Santa Claus brought me another Christmas gun, about 35 years or so since the last one. This Santa looked a lot like my grandfather-in-law, Larry. I didn’t really know who my wife was at the time I sold Larry my rifle, but later married his granddaughter.
A couple of times I had mentioned to Larry that if that gun ever came up for sale, to let me know. My dad and Uncle Dan had built Larry an indestructible gun safe. Larry had had it custom painted and took us to look at it. My son Hunter was with us and I got to let him handle the .300 that I had always held in such high regard. He “got it,” and understood why the rifle meant something to me. Which makes the rest of the story even better.
It was a busy morning at the gun shop when Larry walked in with the rifle. While he was standing there I noticed it was an older Ruger 77R, but he has a couple of them and I have had to free-float his .338 Win. Mag. a couple of times so I thought it was most likely that rifle which had the stock warp back into contact with the barrel and needed to be re-done for the third or fourth time.
I finally got a chance to break away and acknowledge him so he handed the rifle to me. I quickly recognized it after getting it in my hands. I assumed he wanted some work done to it and was caught off guard when he basically just nodded, waved and started to walk off. Still not realizing what was going on (I’m kinda dense sometimes) I asked him what he wanted done with it.
I don’t remember his exact words but he conveyed that the rifle was now mine again.  This was kind of a dirty trick, since he left me with a shop full of customers, flat footed, stunned and at a loss for words, which is usually not a problem I have. I yelled out a kinda weak “Thanks!” as he hit the exit. He waved again, smiled and left.
I didn’t even realize until later that there was a scope on the rifle; when I sold it to him there was no scope on it. I kept that rifle with me all through the holiday just to remind me how good Christmas can be even when you’re middle-aged. Every time I looked at it my Christmas spirit was rekindled. Plus, I knew a secret about how good someone else’s holiday was going to be as well.
As soon as I got home that night I called Larry to thank him more appropriately and sincerely and to let him know he gave away a scope as well. I had to leave a message but he called me back shortly and he told me to just keep the scope too. That added an even better Christmas twist to the story.
I let Hunter shoot one of my favorite – and accurate – .22 rifles and he fell in love with it. It’s kind of an obscure rifle, a Norinco JW-15 bolt action. I actively seek these rifles out, as they are always great shooters and not expensive. I had bought one from a friend that had a stock that looked like a beaver had been chewing on it but the steel parts and bluing were very good.
Hunter saw the rifle in the shop and asked if it was the same as the rifle of mine that he had fallen for. I answered in the affirmative and he right then and there decided it should be his. This triggered a plan in my head but I couldn’t let him in on that, so I discouraged him from the idea. I told him that finding a stock for it would be likely impossible and the one on it was unusable, which was true.
My plan was to put the stock off of my rifle on it and find a replacement for myself later. Amazingly, that little sucker went home, got on the computer and found replacement stocks in excellent condition for less than 20 bucks!
So then I had to think of and play a bunch of other games and come up with reasons why the rifle just wasn’t for him.
The scope that Larry gave me with the return of my rifle was exactly the same as the one on my JW-15 that Hunter used. This just made for the perfect situation. The rifle Hunter desperately wanted, with the stock off of my rifle and the scope from one my sentimental favorites that Hunter’s great-grandfather had gifted back to us. It simply was meant to be.
YEP… Nothing beats a gun-giving Christmas!
Jeff Hutchins writes regularly about firearms-related topics for Lebanon Local. He operates Rangemaster Gunworks at 1144 Tangent St. in Lebanon.