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Be mindful when lending guns

It was about this time of year one winter in the early 1970s when my Uncle Em came to visit us in Jamestown. He was my mother’s favorite brother, the only surviving sibling of her family today, and is in his 90s.

Uncle Em grew up in Solen, a small town south of Mandan, but other than a stint in the Navy, spent his adult life on the coast of Oregon. He missed North Dakota and wanted me to take him hunting.

I still have a picture of him somewhere in the white suit I gave him, a ragged wool cap and carrying my Belgian-made Browning .22 rimfire semi-auto. I don’t think we got any jackrabbits or foxes that day, but Uncle Em had a fine time shooting dirt clods in a frozen field.

It wasn’t until later when I wiped down the Browning that I gasped. I don’t know how he did it, but Uncle Em put more scratches on the stock of that rifle in half a day than I have in the 40-plus years since then. I didn’t say a word though. I should have loaned him a cheaper gun.

That’s what can happen when you lend people firearms. They might not take care of them the way you do.

About 20 years ago John Thorp, Dad and I were hunting on the Crow Reservation with a young rancher who was taking us around the country as we hunted pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse. At one point we decided to push a shelterbelt. The rancher, who didn’t have a shotgun of his own along that day, agreed to block if I loaned him a gun. So I gave him my old Model 870 Wingmaster in 16 gauge.

The drive took half an hour, but during that time the fellow managed to inflict a deep gouge in the pistol grip area of the 16’s stock. I grimaced but said nothing. Some people simply don’t care for firearms like I would expect, and the young rancher was a prime example.

I remember my last Stone sheep hunt in the Pelly Mountains of the Yukon in 2002. I took a nice ram after a week of hunting and when my young Indian guide and I returned to our spike camp, he yanked a rifle from his scabbard and tossed it into the mud near the tent. I was astonished! The rifle was a Remington Model 700 in .300 Win. Magnum, blued steel and synthetic stock. The rifle had no sights … no iron sights, no scope. James said he carried the rifle in case of a grizzly bear attack. When I pointed out there were no sights on the rifle he said, “You gotta let ‘em get close.”

I wiped down the rifle for him that evening while he worked on my sheep cape. He said it was his uncle’s rifle and “he treats his guns like crap too.” Oh, well.

I have loaned my .338 to John Thorp. He shot a cow elk with it and returned it unblemished.

“I know how fussy you are with your guns,” John says. “I pay particular attention to how I handle them.”

I let my friend Greg Bos use the .338 for a day’s elk hunting one time when he was down from Alaska.  He lost the scope caps but replaced them.

Here are a few simple tips to keep guns looking well for decades: Don’t lend them out. Never lay guns side-by-side in a vehicle where they can bump into one another. Such is a sure way to put all sorts of dings, dents and scratches in a gun. I like to keep a gun between my knees in a vehicle, chamber empty, soft case partially unzipped for quick access.

If you are on a horseback hunt, always remove your rifle from the scabbard, even if you stop for 10 minutes to eat a sandwich. Horses love to roll and to rub against trees. If your rifle is in the scabbard when the horse performs these antics, it is sure to be damaged.

Pay attention to moisture. Wipe your rifle or shotgun down at least once a day with light oil or something like Hoppe’s MDL (moisture displacing lubricant). Don’t be afraid to run a patch through the bore. This is particularly crucial if you are hunting in rainy weather, or heaven forbid, near salt water. The latter will cause any metal to rust — even stainless steel. In warm weather the perspiration from your hands can create rust spots on metal.

Never store a gun in a soft case for any length of time as it is a sure way to gather moisture and rust your firearm.

If someone hands you one of his firearms to examine, take it by the stock — not the barrel, scope or receiver — open the action to make sure it is unloaded.

Treat other people’s firearms as you would your own, unless you are the type who regards a firearm as nothing more than a garden rake. If you are like that I can’t help you.

Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been                             an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974