I visit gun shows. Gun store owners groan about this, but I give them enough of my business that they have no reason to. The best practice is to go without any expectations (sounds Buddhist, no?). I never find what I’m looking for, or I find a desired weapon, but it’s price is far above reason or what I can afford. These days, for example, even Mosin Nagants run in the several hundred dollar range–thanks, Mr. President. (Under a hundred is a rational price for that rifle.) But when I plunk down my $5 for a few hours in heaven and just wander the streets of lead and blued steel, something I didn’t expect always pokes its muzzle crown above the others.
Last weekend (2 July 2011), I did my duty as a rebellious colonial and went to the convention center in Springdale to tempt myself into commerce. A friend had to tell me about it (thanks, Duke), since there weren’t the usual billboards up, and I really wasn’t planning to buy anything. There was the usual plethora of overpriced and overhyped whizzbangs (can anyone tell me what the purpose of a Taurus Judge is [and don't say snakes, 'cause that ain't it!]?) and reasonably priced, but out of my financial reach beauties. Someday, I’m going to have a flintlock rifle and a Mauser Broomhandle, but not today, alas. Still, as is the way of things, in my sweep through the aisles, a lonesome little belle waited coyly in a rack until I was close enough to see her batting her scope at me.
Oh, dear me, what was this thing of aesthetic pleasure? A Marlin 60W, semiautomatic, fourteen plus one shot (see end note for a tangent), .22 LR rifle with a Tasco 3-7 x 20 scope. $150, and she was mine.
There are two points here that must be explained. I tend to approach things in my own unique, individual, special (and bassackward) manner. My first rifle was an aforementioned Mosin Nagant, and I’ve been working upward from there. My reasoning was that I had no interest in hunting squirrels, so I ought to go for full power. The problem with this is that full power means full recoil, and that means flinch. To this date, I’m not much good at shooting for groups (the goal being to put many rounds through as small a circle as possible from a great distance away). I can hit a two liter soda bottle at a hundred yards when I have time to practice (as long as the bottle sits really still. . .). Well, perhaps I’m just hitting near it and scaring the poor thing into jumping.
I always excused this by saying that I can put a round into the kill zone of an evil Coke or an offensive Dr. Pepper, and that certainly would meet the requirements for minute of deer. But bad guy holding a hostage? Myeh, how likely is that? But none of this felt satisfying, since perfection is the goal, and we all must work ourselves as close to it as we can get.
The other point is that Tasco scopes may be derided as cheap. That I can dismiss easily. Cheap is good enough for me at my current level of expertise. I’ll go for Leupold when I’m good enough to use it. But more than that, a .22 Long Rifle weapon isn’t going to rattle the optics all that much. One characteristic that makes the expensive scopes cost so much is their ability to take abuse from powerful cartridges, but .22 rimfire is a different order of business.
Now that I’ve given the background, let’s talk about why I love this rifle. For one thing, the .22 Long Rifle cartridge has much to recommend it. A box of 550 costs around $15. Compared to fifty rounds of .303 British surplus that go for $30, you can see the advantage. The .22 is also the gentlest round in common use today. It’s quiet, and the recoil is a feathery plink, instead of a punch to the shoulder. This means that shooting it just involves basic technique–breathing, trigger squeeze, sights on target, hold. This is the rifle with which to learn how to be good.
After setting up at the range, I loaded the tubular magazine (no thumb-busting spring-loaded floor plate to push down) and took aim on a bench rest. The first rounds were off, as I expected from an unzeroed scope, so I sighted in and then settled in to see what could happen. Pop. . . pop. . . pop. . . pop. . . pop straight into a group that I could cover with a quarter at twenty-five and fifty yards. In rapid fire, the group opened up a little, but each round was still within an inch or two of my point of aim. Was it the .22 cartridge? The microgroove barrel (sixteen shallow grooves, instead of two to six or so deep ones)? I can’t credit myself for shooting that well.
So much for paper. My next targets were my favorite bottles. Now, as I said, I’m much better with those than with flat bulls eye sheets, but this sweet little Marlin let me shoot better than just the bottle. At fifty yards from offhand (unsupported, without a sling), I was hitting bottle caps!
That whole day, I was giddy. Townsend Whelen once said that only accurate rifles are interesting, and my Marlin 60 is mighty interesting. She was also cheap to buy and is cheap to feed. In that, she sounds like me. If you want to find us, check the local range first.
The Marlin company originally made the 60 rifle with a seventeen round tubular magazine (seventeen in the tube and one in the chamber), but the pissant legislature in the People’s Republic of New Jersey decided that semiautomatic weapons that could hold more than fifteen rounds were assault weapons. Uh huh. The Mujahideen and your neighborhood crack dealer both carry .22 rimfire rifles when they want to bust a cap on a squirrel. So Marlin reduced the capacity to fourteen in the tube in the 1980s to comply with the new law.
If I had been a Marlin executive at the time, I’d have looked into just how many rifles we were selling in New Jersey (seriously, could the numbers have been above two digits?) and told the whole state to get down on its belly and beg for forgiveness, something like what Ronnie Barrett did to the People’s Republic of California. But I was just a teenager then, living with anti-gun parents.