Submitted by Roy Hawkins
Deer tracks crisscrossed the snow-covered ground that morning as Charles Peeples and I began our hunt in Big Black swamp. It was Christmas break 1963, and neither of us had ever taken a whitetail, a deficiency we were eager to correct. At that time people in our area were still gearing up to hunt deer after their successful reintroduction. As a result hunters were using an unbelievable array of firearms that included both old and modern shotguns, ancient Winchesters from grandpa’s attic, and military rifles in various stages of repair. My own “deer gun” definitely belonged in the last category, for I was carrying a 7×57 Mauser in its original military issue. I’d bought the old rifle at an army surplus store in Jackson for $10.00. Nevertheless, with the Mauser in my possession, I thought I’d arrived, for the 7mm as it was known in those days was highly regarded by both hunters and gun writers.
I practiced with the old gun, using the 175-grain bullet until I could hit a pie plate at thirty yards, and felt I was ready to hunt deer. After all I’d shot squirrels at that distance with my .22 and concluded that with the Mauser, I should be able to hit something as big as a buck at the same range. On the day of our hunt, Charles was carrying an equally decrepit military rifle, a 303 British, and although our hopes were high, neither of us saw a deer, much less had a shot at one. In hindsight, that’s not at all surprising since at the time we knew only slightly more about deer hunting that we did about initiating a nuclear explosion.
The summer after the Christmas hunt, I shot my Mauser as often as I could. Unfortunately, feeding the rifle was expensive for a college student and I thought I’d done well one day when I bought some Argentine military ammunition at a very affordable price. After shooting a few of these rounds, I put my rifle away for a couple of weeks since I could not afford daily firing sessions under any circumstances. However, the next time I shot the 7×57, the bullet missed the target by a good two feet. Every shot that followed did likewise. Grabbing a shovel, I dug one of the projectiles from the bank I’d been using as a bullet trap, and discovered it had turned completely around in flight with its nose facing back directly toward me. Despite its ten-dollar price tag and marginal accuracy, the rifle had never shot that erratically before! Something was definitely wrong, and upon examining the barrel, I discovered its interior was as smooth as a shotgun. There was absolutely no trace of rifling. With a sinking feeling, I picked up the Argentine ammo box, and immediately learned why that was the case. The fine writing on the cover indicated the rounds were loaded with corrosive primers, and that, combined with my failure to clean the rifle had done the dirty work. The 7×57 was a total loss.
Fortunately there are countless rifles of all designs and calibers on the market, all looking for an owner. So, after a brief flirtation with another military type, an eight millimeter, I eventually settled down with the .243 Winchester, and hunted deer with it for 35 years. Yet, the wise say one never forgets their first love. In my case that proved true, for the 7×57 was often in my thoughts during the half century that followed the devastating loss of the Mauser. I read everything I could find about the round and continued to be intrigued with stories of those who hunted with it. Eleanor O’Conner, wife of the great Jack O’Conner, for example, was known worldwide for her efficiency with the caliber. In fact her accurate shooting with the 7×57 on various game animals was legendary. I was also fascinated with the much-publicized exploits of the Scottish born African ivory hunter W.D.M. “Karamojo” Bell who, incredibly, took nearly a THOUSAND ELEPHANTS with the 7×57. (He referred to the cartridge by its English name rather than its metric designation, calling it the “. 275 Rigby.”) Then too, from time to time, when browsing in a gun store, I’d pick up and admire a sleek little Winchester model 70 Featherweight in 7×57. However, with a family to feed, and educate, I knew it was completely beyond my reach. Still, during all those years, I could not forget my first love.
Inevitably, for good or ill, life brings continuing change and all too soon our children were gone, and on their own. Almost before we could have imagined it, my wife Patsy and I were living in retirement on our farm at French Camp. Perhaps then, it WAS a love meant to be renewed, for after our returning home, I found the 7×57 Mauser of my dreams. The dream materialized in the form of a Ruger Number 1 International. It was on display at a store in Columbus, and for months, I admired the beautiful rifle without coming up with a plausible reason for buying it. Then I thought of one……… one that need not be divulged here, and for once my wife was in complete agreement! So, we brought the little 7×57 home. Needless to say, I was as excited as when I bought my first Mauser in 1963. Soon after acquiring the rifle, I fitted it with a Leopold scope, and was ready to take it hunting.
Thus opening day of deer season found me on hallowed ground in Black Jack Hollow. I wanted to blood my new rifle there on the old home place at Mt. Moriah. Happily, that desire was realized for this hunt could not have been more different from my Big Black hunt with Charlie. Now I was hunting alone, and instead of snow and bitter cold, the weather was warm, beautiful, and clear. Most of the leaves, in their full fall splendor, were still on the trees.
Perhaps the morning unfolded much as I had hoped because I know a tad more about deer hunting now than I did on that long ago hunt. Possibly it was pure luck. Maybe it was the smile of God as He and Charlie looked down from Heaven, and together decided how they should best handle my hunt. I really don’t know. Anyway, I climbed into my fifteen-foot high stand and settled into my seat. Ten minutes later two deer appeared. The range was very close to the 30 yards I’d set for myself and my first Mauser in 1963, but the angle of the shot was very difficult. I had to turn to my extreme right, twist into an exceedingly awkward position and then bring the scope’s crosshairs to rest on the shoulder of the nearest deer. I pressed the trigger and the bullet left the barrel at 2760 feet per second. At its impact, the animal ran from view with its tail clamped to its body, the sure sign of a hit. I heard the deer fall a few yards away.
Climbing down, I stood by my “trophy” and wished Charlie was there to share the moment with me, for after more than half a century, I had finally taken a deer with my first love, the 7×57 Mauser.