When contemplating the format and content for the CLASSIC ARMS JOURNAL, I had envisioned four recurring feature subjects: classic arms, custom guns, ammunition and handguns. However, since so much of the shooting life of the shooting fraternity is inextricably intertwined with rimfires, a fifth regular feature and occasional column on the subject seemed appropriate.
It is hard to imagine a shooter, however experienced, who didn’t cut his teeth on a .22 rimfire of some sort or other. For most of us, a father or uncle or family friend provided our first shooting experience with one. For a modest expenditure of time, ammo and encouragement, these elders could detect any nascent interest and cultivate it. The unwitting trainees got a comfortable introduction to guns without getting beaten half to death by some centerfire bazooka. If the gunbug bite proved infectious, the investment paid huge returns in lives richer in sport, camaraderie, citizenship, constructive leisure, quiet contemplation and general well-being.
Much of my enduring satisfaction in life came from mentoring my own two daughters and encouraging their favorable disposition to guns and shooting. Then there were battalions of their school friends, assorted nieces and nephews and family friends. Many had never handled guns of any sort, let alone actually fired one. All were eager at least for the experience and all left with at least a respect and tolerance for guns they might not have had otherwise. Several will become True Believers. All thanks to the .22 rimfire.
I purchased my first .22 (perched atop a 20-gauge shotgun tube) at age ten or twelve with money earned bucking hay for a neighbor and picking up pop bottles along the local country roads to redeem for a the deposit of a few cents each. Occasionally, my mom would donate a brick of ammo, which helped keep my brother and me out of her hair. By the happiest accident of birth, I grew up on an old farm so I could range far and wide with my Savage Model 24, bane of beer cans, pine cones and the occasional crow or rabbit that strayed into the family garden patch. At that point, one .22 was as good as another and I could only shoot one at a time anyway. Happily, this innocence didn’t persist and I was eventually immersed in sin.
It is certainly true that centerfire disease follows a rimfire infection as surely as night follows day and about as soon. While these bigger, louder guns were always a major distraction, it didn’t take long to figure out there were about as many wonderful .22 rifles and handguns in the world as centerfire ones. Over time, without any particular rhyme or reason, nice .22s accumulated around the place. Some were taken in from family. Simple nostalgia accounted for others. Some had historic significance. Others possessed some feature or other I found interesting. Still others for no other reason than the quality they exhibited. In time, I started actively collecting .22s, filling in the gaps in the line-up as I saw it. Most were older pieces and of premium quality for their time.
Picking favorites is always a happy if fruitless enterprise since the favorite varies from time to time. A long-time fan of the great Winchester .22s, the feature article on the Model 62 is a good place to start the show. Steve Hughes has offered an essay on a custom Marlin Model 39. We will eventually get to the Walther Models 1 and 2, stylish pre-war Teutonic rifles that functioned either as manual bolt-actions or semi-auto self-loaders. The list of wondrous .22s could go on and on. If you haven’t already fallen under their spell, you will if you have a pulse.