The Carpers, John Walker’s ancestors, were building muzzleloading rifles as far back as anyone around these parts can remember. They emigrated from Germany in the 1700s and finally settled in what’s now known as West Virginia. Carper rifles had a reputation of being astoundingly accurate and in fact, the Carper gunshop was burned to the ground during the Civil War by Union soldiers hoping to keep the rifles from Confederate sharpshooters. But none of that was on John Walker’s mind as he set on his deer stand during that last few minutes of a cold and snowy November evening.
Walker was hunting his old home place and he knew there were a few good bucks using the area. He had seen their tracks, their rub lines and the scrapes they had made. Walker also knew that the wise old bucks usually waited until that last rays of sunlight vanished from the sky before they crept out from their day-time hide a-ways. That is unless a hot doe lured them out. But today the deer activity was limited and as darkness consumed the sky Walker was wondering if he would go home empty handed again.
The snow, if you could call it snow, beat down on his hat and the frozen ice balls driven by the forceful wind bounced off his cold cheeks and made it hard for him to look into the timber for any sign of movement. So he used his hat as a shield to block the snow and ice. His eyes were watering, his fingers were cold and on this day time was running out.
Then he caught a movement about 100 yards deep into the trees. First he saw ears and then antlers; long slender tines reaching skyward. The buck’s body was obscured by brush; only his neck and head were visible. Walker raised his rifle, a muzzleloader he had built with his own hands using techniques and tools similar to what his ancestors had used. The front sight, an ivory bead, seemed to glow in the gloom and Walker lined it up with the notch in the rear sight and on the buck. The rifle fired and a cloud of real black powder smoke filled a small section of the timber and obscured the buck from view.
Walker immediately reloaded his rifle. With another 75 grains of FFFg black powder and a 285 grain Hornady Great Plains bullet seated in the breach, Walker took his seat for a few moments letting his adrenalin settle. He thought about the hour after meticulous hour he had spent crafting the curly maple stock, about the tedious task of rifling the barrel by hand and about the hot work of forging the metal. He thought of his great grandfather and the many rifles he had built for hunters that struggled to carve a living out of the Appalachian Mountains. He thought about the buck he had just shot and how a simple hillbilly rifle was capable of providing not only food but a trophy as well.
Walker climbed down from his stand and walked over to the fallen buck. He knelt beside the deer, reached out and grasped and antler in one hand. This was the deer he had been waiting for. This buck was wise and had learned to avoid hunters. He had passed his genetics and undoubtedly his craftiness to younger bucks that Walker and his children would continue to hunt. But Walker had out- foxed him with a rifle he had crafted by hand using what his ancestors had passed on to him.