The old .22
By Craig Owensby
Way in the back of my gun safe, behind a shotgun I don’t use any more and several bricks of .22 rimfire that I bought during the last shortage, there’s a rifle that hasn’t been fired in close to 50 years. Nothing really special about it, just another bolt-action single-shot beginner’s .22, but I value it over any other firearm I own, because it’s my first gun and the one I learned to shoot on.
It’s a Springfield 120A, bought in a country general store years ago, and I see from looking around online that it’s not exactly rare. As far as I can tell, this model was made from the late 1940s to the early 70s, sometimes under other names. There’s no telling how many tin cans have met their end at the hands of a kid with one.
That was how we did it. Anyway, my brother and I each got one for Christmas in, if I’m figuring it right, 1966. We spent a lot of time at the edge of the woods behind the house with a pile of dirt for a backstop, prone on the grass and lining up our shots ever so carefully. Fifty cents was a lot of money to us back then, and that’s what a box of .22 shorts cost at the Western Auto, so we had to make each shot count. And it was serious business. Our ex-Marine dad made sure all the safety rules were drilled into us before we could even think about shooting, and to this day I can’t pick up a gun of any kind without checking the action to make sure it’s clear.
Later on, I hunted rabbits and squirrel with that rifle, and dispatched a few groundhogs that had gotten into the garden, but eventually the little .22 got put away. I did a lot of shooting in a lot of places after that, everything from a competition air rifle to a Civil War cannon, but the Springfield stayed in my parents’ shed. When it came time to teach my own son, we were two states away and the gun I learned on was in no shape to use.
It came back to me a few years ago, with the butt plate broken and the rear sight missing and the bore nearly shot out, a little surface rust and all around worn and tired. I meant to clean it up and never did. There were no kids coming up in the family and a lot else to do rather than work on a beat-up old gun I wasn’t going to shoot much anyway.
Finally, early this spring, motivation arrived. An old friend who doesn’t shoot has 11-year-old twins, and they’re interested in learning. Their mother wants to wait until they turn 12, so I have all summer to get the old bolt-action back into working condition and maybe get it out to the range for a little practice. A lot of years have passed since I’ve shot it, but I’m pretty sure I’ll remember what to do.