My Special Rifle

Author’s Weatherby has seen and done it all…

My rifle had misfired six times in a row. I was cold, soaking wet, hungry and just plain bone-tired.

I was a much younger man when I was fortunate enough to draw a coveted Washington State goat tag on my first attempt. I was lucky enough to harvest a goat; matter of fact I was lucky my 7mm Mag Weatherby rifle even fired, but it was downhill after that!

My luck finally expired and ran out.

It was dark when I finished skinning the full body cape of my trophy in the rain. And, to make matters worse, I was by myself on an unfamiliar mountain on my first ever hunt there. After slipping and sliding down the mountain in a futile effort to reach base camp with a flashlight with dead batteries, it was time to find whatever shelter available.

This was my second leg of goat hunting on the same trip. Previously on that trip, I had hunted goats in the Wrangell Mountains of Alaska with Roland Gower, a surgeon from Anchorage. At that time in the early 1980s, it was still possible to hunt the elusive Billys without the services of a guide, which Roland and I dubbed “Rock Monkeys.” The first two days of our five-day hunt were spent trying to find a bush pilot to fly us into a place suitable for a base camp.

At a small airport in Chitna, we were able to hire the services of a pilot who knew a spot with an abandoned miner’s cabin where we would be able to spot and stalk the bearded mammals. Upon approach in the Super Cub along the river between two mountains, we were somewhat white knuckled, spotting some very large boulders along the landing strip. Luckily, we climbed out of the aircraft and made our way into the very small A Frame cabin, which would be our home for the next three days. The boulders were quickly forgotten when we spotted several goats in the mountains around the cabin.

The next morning was spent glassing and figuring out a path to one of the Billys on the mountainside. After a long and arduous climb above a small group, the wind shifted so that show-and-tell consisted of all show and no tell. To make matters worse, I developed a very severe leg cramp and had to go back down the mountain for more water. Goats 1 Visitors 0.

The next day was not a whole lot better as the Billy we spotted on a rock shelf had picked his vantage point well. As we approached, all I had to do was run about 25 feet across a rockslide for an easy shot. Unfortunately, 50 yards down the rockslide was a 1,000-foot drop. I had no intentions of learning to fly without an airplane or wings and becoming a greasy spot on the valley floor below. Goats 2 Visitors 0

The third day was spent trying to find a goat with a death wish, and it was to no avail. It’s amazing how wary wildlife becomes after being hunted for a couple of days.

We were awakened the next morning to the sound of the Super Cub’s approach on final descent. Unfortunately for us, there were two really nice shooter goats about halfway down the mountain. But, it was time to go. When we arrived at Chitna, it was hurry to Anchorage for my flight to Seattle with a 3 a.m. arrival. Because the rental car counter was not open, I joined the ranks of the homeless and slept on the floor with all my gear. My backpack was my pillow.

A friend in Washington was going to go with me and show me where to hunt; however, he backed out and left me to fend for myself. Several times on the way to Cle Ellum area, I had to stop and take cat naps. It was all I could do to stay awake. Finally, I arrived at the parking area, which was about a mile from where the base camp would be and provide a clear view of the mountain.

The fog did not lift until about 10 a.m. the next morning, and it provided me a view of five to six really nice goats near the mountaintop. Hurriedly after a breakfast of oatmeal and the backpack filled with a few essentials, I headed out with high spirits, not knowing what lay ahead. Climbing that mountain was easier said than done. The willows grew downward, arching up towards the sky. One step forward resulted in two steps back. Two words adequately described me at that point: A fool and a glutton for punishment.

Eventually, upon reaching the top and nearly level ground, I sneaked into position for the 125-yard shot. In a prone position with my backpack for a rest, a shot was squeezed off, resulting on only a click. Quickly the shell was ejected and another chambered for a second click. After the fourth click, the goats became nervous and wandered off. Goats 3 Visitors 0

Hurriedly I donned the pack and took off, running to the next vantage point. One had stopped at the edge of a precipice and looked back.

This time there was another click as I tried to shoot. Refusing to believe all the shells were bad, I leveled the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger, which sent a booming shot that knocked the goat off the cliff. After an hour and half of looking in the jungle of trees and bushes, he was found at the base of a tree that kept him from rolling farther down the valley.

By now, darkness was falling and the rain now had become a downpour. I quickly skinned the animal, stuffed the cape and head into my backpack and started down the mountain, slipping and sliding in the dark. When I reached a stream that would lead me back to base camp, I spotted a shallow overhang in the side of the mountain. A fire was built and supper consisted of a granola bar. Sleep came easy with a rock as my pillow and my wet feet still in my boots by the fire. Upon awakening, I found that the glue holding the soles to my boots had gotten hot and melted, allowing the soles to flop as I walked.

It required me to stand in the stream and allow the glue to cool and reattach the soles to the boots for my final descent to base camp.

Later I examined the cartridges and found small dents in the primers. The firing pin had not struck the primer with enough force to allow the bullets to fire. I dissembled the bolt back at camp, cleaned the dirt from the climb, and it was good as new. It has worked perfectly ever since. The visitor finally scored: Visitors 1 Goats 3.

Ordered in 1971 for a moose hunting trip to Canada, this 7mm Remington Mag Weatherby Vanguard has a totally different bolt configuration than the current production models. The side of the bolt has an extractor that swivels around the bolt similar to a Model 70. Ole Sweet Lips was a constant companion on many hunting trips for many years. I was fortunate to harvest Dall sheep, moose, caribou, and brown bear in Alaska; elk, mule deer and black bear in Idaho; red deer in Scotland; red stag, fallow deer, tahr and chamois in New Zealand and in Hawaii, using the exact handloads used for the goat hunting trip. My first thought while on the mountain in Washington was that the primers were not properly seated. My real thought should have been that I never dissembled the bolt and cleaned it after carrying it on countless hunting trips.

Worst of all was a 1972 axis deer hunting trip to Hawaii where we went across the channel from Maui to Lanai in a 32-foot boat. Upon getting about 100 yards from shore, the boat captain lowered a small dingy for the trip to the beach. With another hunter and one guide, it only took one wave to swamp the boat and have us swimming with boots, holding the rifles above our heads until we reached dry ground. The return trip was even worse since we had to float the deer carcasses behind us while swimming. Upon returning to the dock in Maui, we oiled the rifles, placed his and mine in a hard case and set the case on the dock. He backed up and knocked the case into the water. When we got to the hotel in Honolulu, I opened a case full of rusted rifles. Since he was a Weatherby dealer, he dropped the rifles off in California on the way home and had the factory re-blue them (maybe I should have had Weatherby clean the bolt also).–Bill Swan


3 thoughts on “My Special Rifle”

  1. Maybe I’m lucky…never have I had an ammo failure, factory or handload. I load for every centerfire in the safe. As a safeguard, I chamber check my brass before loading & after seating the bullets, especially for bolt guns. These days most of my hunting is done with single shot rifles and I like that ammo to seat completely with no assist from the block as it closes. So far, so good & I’ve been @ this for 63+ years.

  2. My 340 weatherly also went through this same scenario of primers just being nicked. I was on safari in Zimbabwe when my troubles happened. 7 bullets on my kudu. Missed a waterbuck because rifle didn’t fire, then did. I was fortunate to get my leopard. My guide thought head-spacing issue. After trip I took bolt apart and had pieces of carbon jamming firing pin. I blame it on shooting school. Recommend bolt cleaning after years of shooting or shooting school. I believe carbon broke loose during high altitude overseas flight.

  3. A rifle is a precision piece of machinery and requires regular maintenance so it will perform at it’s highest level. Any hunter that would set out on a trip without a cleaned firearm deserves the problems they encounter.

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