Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Cousin Justin

I've embarked on a journey to write some stories of the outdoors. I've got a supply of stories from my childhood as well as my current hunting and fishing life.  I hope you can enjoy these stories whether you grew up hunting and fishing or not. I know that I have enjoyed living them and I am starting to enjoy telling about them.

Some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Others have been left in order to reveal the guilty. You'll have to guess which is which.

Brother Larry and Cousin Justin
Stories From the Great Outdoors

Chapter 1
Cousin Justin Cleans My Muzzleloader

I’m not sure Cousin Justin was really anyone’s cousin.  But the name seemed to fit and everybody I knew always called him Cousin Justin.  Where I come from, Cousin, is a term of endearment and Justin was loved by all far and near. Well maybe his cousin Buford wasn’t so fond of him but that was all envy and no fault of Justin’s.
I first met Cousin Justin when I joined a hunt club in Amherst County.  I didn’t know quite what to expect but I was not displeased. Where I grew up, in Idaho, hunting and fishing included the realm of the socially advanced as well as the redneck. Maybe fishing, especially fly fishing, a bit more so than hunting but the Western man had developed a great appreciation for the manliness of being an outdoorsman.  Here in the South it is a bit different. Hunters are mostly rednecks and the upwardly mobile are a bit surprised to find you out in the woods with your Master’s degree.
Well, as I said, I didn’t know quite what to expect. When I visited the club, the folks were as nice as could be expected in a land known for Southern hospitality. They held a picnic and grilled burgers and brats for the visitors. They were in recruiting mode and you’d think we were royalty the way they treated us. But I’ve since learned that our treatment was not because they wanted to get something out of us, a membership, but because they wanted to give something to us, their friendship.
No doubt, there was a bit of surprise when I showed up with my wife and five of our six kids in tow.  The membership is a family one and with my gang, I get a value for the dollar. But they were not put off in the least. To the contrary, it was clear that they really wanted me and my gang of miscreants (that’s a joke) to join the Future Sportsmen of America; a pretty grandiose title for a group of obscure hunters in a backwoods county in Virginia. But we felt welcome and I was pleased.
After our fill of burgers, brats and beer, we headed out to check out the property. We first visited the campground. There was a large tent, probably thirty feet by twelve feet. I thought the tent was grand. Westvaco, the large timber company that owned the property, had cleared a section in the trees about 200 yards long for a shooting range to site in our rifles.
I had an old Civil War sniper replica muzzleloader and was intent on shooting it and seeing if I could get on the target. My dad had given me the gun way back in 1998. He passed away in 1999. I remember when he gave me the gun and that he told me it was loaded. The gun was a gift to him from my Uncle Sterling.
Sterling was a piece of work. He was from Southern California but about as far from a California sophisticate as one can get. He was from the mountains and if there a hillbillies in Southern California, Uncle Sterling was the hillbilliest. He was a gun enthusiast and even ran an old west show that included a shoot out with a band of wild Indians. My Uncle Frank played the Indian. He really thought he was a real live Indian. He wore a lot of turquoise jewelry. But his last name was Trajillo and my dad always insisted he was a Southern California Mexican.
Anyway, I shot the old Civil War replica in 2010 and like to tore my arm off.  It has a brass butt plate and my dad, or more likely Uncle Sterling, had loaded it with a powerful load all those years ago. It took me a couple of tries to get it to fire but when it did, it bruised my shoulder fairly severely. It was nice to have my dad reach out and touch me after being gone for eleven years. I phoned my mom and brother and told them dad had hurt me today, eleven years after his passing. They were confused. It was a good time to remember my father.
Well, that old gun is the one I was trying out on the shooting range at the Future Sportsman of America siting range. I don’t know much about muzzleloaders and I let that be known to the men at the range. It didn’t take any more than that for Cousin Justin to make his presence known.  I’m glad he did. I brought a cleaning kit to swab out the barrel. Those muzzleloaders get caked up with powder pretty quickly. I was about to shove a brass wire brush into my gun when Justin and Billy took over. Billy told me not to scratch the barrel. If I did, he said, the bullet would tumble end over end instead of spinning properly towards the target. Although I think a bullet tumbling head over heals is a virtual impossibility, I didn’t say anything to brother Billy.  It was clear that he knew more than me even if he was confused on this particular topic.
After that Justin took over and the reverence of the other men to Justin was immediately recognizable. It seems that Cousin Justin is a deer master. In this group of men, deer master is the lord of the woods. Cousin Justin is that, no doubt, and my reverence for him is growing up into its proper place.  I’ll have more to say about that later. Suffice to say, for now, that Cousin Justin is wonder at cleaning a muzzleloader.
I fired the gun once at a target about 100 yards away. I missed. This old gun has a sight with three levels. The first is for shooting at 100 yards. The second is for shooting at 200 yards and the third is for shooting at 400 yards. Since I cannot get on the target at 100 yards, I find it truly amazing that anyone could hit anything with this gun at 400 yards. But they can and I have proof. You see, this gun was made as a Civil War era sniper gun. So, it was meant to shoot at long distances. You can go on UTube and find a man that shoots this gun at a target at 400 yards. He misses a couple of times, measuring up his shots by the dirt that flies.  Then he hits the target, at 400 yards, four times in a row! Amazing even with a modern weapon. Almost unbelievable with a gun that is using 150 year old technology.
Did I mention that my gun is a .58 caliber? It is. The slug is massive. Everyone really wants me to shoot a deer with this gun just so they can see what it does to the deer.  I imagine it would do some damage.  I haven’t yet but I will.
When I pulled the gun out, Justin was interested right away. He was impressed with the gun and wanted to get his hands on it one way or the other. After I fired it, he asked what I was doing to clean the gun. Once I pulled out the brass brush, both Justin and Billy looked at me in disdain. I was not sure what I had done but I knew it was not the right thing. Justin then went to work.
He took the gun and started working it over.  First, he put a patch over the brass brush so as not to scratch the barrel. Then he applied some gun solvent to loosen up the powder and burn in the barrel. He passed these through the barrel several times with a great deal of vigor. He propped the gun between his legs with the butt of the gun between his boots. He swabbed with the gun solvent aggressively for several minutes. He did this two or three times until the white swabs were relatively clean. I just watched. He didn’t offer to have me do it and I didn’t protest against his expertise.
He then shot off a few caps without a load. He said this was to dry the barrel from the lubricant. Then he put some powder down the gun but stuffed one of my lube rags down the barrel. He shot this off and we saw the little white rag go flying. I’m glad Cousin Justin was around because I had never seen anything like this before. Probably brother Billy had not either but was silent not wanting to let Cousin Justin know that he was learning anything. By the way, Billy is not my brother and brother is actually a bit removed from cousin but he’s a pleasant fellow nonetheless.
Once the gun was thoroughly clean and thus safe in Cousin Justin’s eyes, he handed it back to me and invited me to shoot it close to get on the target. I did so, shooting my .58 caliber bullet with 100 grains of powder at 25 yards. The shot was about 8 inches high, which might be right at 100 yards. I’m still not sure how fast this bullet drops but it is a big slug.
By the way, did I mention that my Uncle Sterling made the bullets?  He did. They are a big hunk of lead. Cousin Justin informed me that the lead bullets are toxic. I’m not sure of that. I know they are lead but I have no intention of sucking on them anytime soon. But Cousin Justin warned me quite sternly not to let my children handle these slugs. It appears that these corroded slugs might do a great deal of damage to my esteemed progeny. I’m not that worried but Cousin Justin is convinced that Uncle Sterling’s bullets are a great danger.
The Hunt Club has exceeded my expectations. I scored a shootable muzzleloader on my first visit, immediately after I forked over the five hundred bucks for the membership. Barry Siblet saw my ancient buffalo gun and offered a modern improvement. After knowing me for about thirty seconds, he went to his pickup and brought back a scoped and camoed modern muzzle loading firearm. He said I could keep it for the entire season. He had a new one he had just ordered. Hunt Club membership has its privileges.
I shot a deer with that gun that very same night. My buddy had shot a very nice 8 point and was not able to get it into his Jeep by himself. He called and asked if I would come up to his property to load in the trophy. When I arrived, it was about ten minutes to sunset, prime time. I walked up the road and around the corner while Jason got my Suburban ready to load his buck. Inside of five minutes, I came upon a hefty doe. She was cooperative and I inaugurated my new muzzleloader. It’s not exactly mine but Gary says he’ll sell it to me for a good price, throwing in a package of primers and bullets. Sounds like a great deal to me.
Where are we? Oh yeah, Cousin Justin. Boy am I glad to have met Cousin Justin. Everyone should know one. But he’s not coming to your city anytime soon. You’ll have to come out into the country and into the woods to meet him.  He’s just not coming into town.

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