My Daddy gave me my first gun when was 8 or 9 years old. It was a single-shot 12 gauge shotgun that kicked the snot out of me every time I fired it. I spent a lot of time with that gun, hunting squirrels and rabbits. Mostly it was just a companion during time spent in the woods. There wasn’t much else to do in the country back in those days.
We always had guns at home, and I assume most everyone else did too. And they weren’t hidden and locked up. They hung on gun racks where they were easily accessible. That was perfectly normal and never seemed strange to me in any way.
On a farm, guns are tools. And when you need to do a task, it always helps to have the right tool.
A few years ago we were having trouble with coyotes attacking our goats and I didn’t have the right tool for the problem. I needed a varmint rifle, which is a rifle designed for shooting small game at long distances.
So I went to our local Dicks Sporting Goods (a large sporting goods store) to get one. We had a .222 when I was growing up, so that’s what I had planned to buy. But I learned that they aren’t in production anymore, the industry having transitioned to the .223 caliber.
And this is when things got weird. Dicks had plenty of .223’s. Lots of them. But instead of being the kind of varmint rifles I wanted and remembered, they were all tricked out military-style, with pistol grips and high capacity magazines. I explained to the clerk that I didn’t want or need anything like that. I just wanted a sensible bolt-action varmint rifle that could hit a coyote at long distances. As it turned out they only had one gun in the store that was suitable for me (a Remington 700), but even that one had a ridiculous camouflage paint job.
So how did it come to pass that in a rural farming community it was hard to find a basic varmint rifle, but there were GI Joe-style guns galore?
I’d wager that when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s the biggest selling long gun in America would have been a .12 gauge shotgun or maybe a .22 rifle. Today, on the other hand, the best selling long gun by far is the AR-15, which has no sensible homesteading or hunting value.
Just one more example of how separated we’ve become from our agrarian roots.
An interesting side note: I just visited the Dick’s website, as I wanted to link to their .223 options so y’all could see what I’m talking about. But despite the fact that it was just about all they had in the store the day I went, there are none of the military-style guns on the website now. It turns out that they pulled all those guns from their stores following the Sandy Hook massacre. Nevertheless, the AR-15 style rifles are still the best selling rifles in the U.S. today.
By the way, I bought the camouflaged varmint rifle that day, but I never did shoot any coyotes.