By Josh Reynolds
My active duty stint in the U.S. Army ended in May of 1999. With a newly minted DD214 in hand, I left Ft. Hood Texas bound for a new job in the civilian world at Twin Pine Camps in Millinocket. I was excited about the new adventure working in the North Woods, and hopeful that I would find the time to rekindle my love of deer hunting, something I had not done much of during the prior eight years of college and Army service.
I grew up hunting with a Marlin model 336 lever chambered in .35 Rem. My dad bought me this gun at the Bangor Gun Show when I turned 13. It saw service with me through my high school years. I missed a couple of nice bucks. I just never had luck with it. My brother even used the .35 while I was away at college and he would come home on leave from the Air Force. The biggest buck of his life made a hasty escape when the .35 failed to fire on a 30 yard, broad side, standing shot. The firing pin broke. I’m not superstitious, but this gun had a curse and this was on my mind as I returned to Maine as an adult.
Enter the Remington Model 7600 chambered in 30-06. While I’m no great deer tracker, I became a much better marksman while in the Army and I wanted a gun that could shoot longer distances accurately. I also grew up bird hunting with a Remington Model 870 pump 20 gauge. I always loved the feel of that gun. It just felt natural in my hands. I could shoot it well without thinking and it never failed. It just so happens that the 7600 is basically a rifle version of the 870. It feels the same, the safety is the same, trigger pull, same, pump action, same. It was kind of a no brainer. The fact that the 7600 was the tool of revered trackers like Hal Blood, Dick Bernier and the Benoits also made it attractive to a young twenty something looking to hit the reset button as a deer hunter.
I found the 7600 on Craig’s list in the late summer of 1999, almost 20 years ago to the day. It was barely used, all shiny and pristine. I promptly mounted an inexpensive Bushnell 1×5 scope on it and began developing a relationship with the gun. I put many rounds through it that fall and carried it dozens of miles through the woods that first November back in Maine. I even took my very first buck with it that same year. My luck was changing. I missed a tremendous bull moose the following year when I was lucky enough to get a moose permit. It wasn’t the gun’s fault. I was just asking too much of the shooter and the gun trying to hit a walking bull at 350 yards across a beaver flowage while I was floating in a canoe. It was a dumb shot to take, but I was young and thought I could do what I used to do with an M-16. Not so much, different gun, different circumstances.
As far as firearms go, I’ve hunted with nothing else since. My 7600 has never failed me. It has never jammed, never miss fired and never broken. I’ve dropped it from a tree stand, submerged it in a swamp, whacked it on rocks and buried it in the snow. It has taken one Colorado cow elk and many deer. It shows its age. The bluing has worn off where my hands hold the receiver and the once shiny stock is bruised and battered, the way it should be on a North Woods deer gun. While it’s not a tack driver (pumps just aren’t), it gets the job done. It’ll shoot four inch groups at 100 yards all day long. When that first shot isn’t the best and more lead is needed, the pump slings bullets like a semi-auto, without the added heft and complexity.
Guns are really just tools. But some tools have a soul, or perhaps they become part of our souls. They connect us to momentous experiences in our lives, times of joy, triumph and failure. They tell a story of our travels and adventures, of times with family, friends and shared outdoor experiences. There are times, when hunting season is barely a glint on the horizon that I will pick up my 7600, pull it to my shoulder and immediately feel the rush of November as all the moments the gun has made flood back into memory. We should love people, not objects, but what I feel for my 7600 can only be described as love.
Josh Reynolds is the Assistant Editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] com.