The world is full of fine rifles of all calibers, action types, and finishes (and all with the choice of a wood or synthetic stock of course). After a while you will have come to own dozens and there will be some you have enjoyed more than others. I can tell you from all the rifles I have owned that there are a few that are like driving an exotic sports car or eating a fine cuisine. They are something you need to try once in your life before you take up the rocking chair.
Remington Model 8
The Remington Model 8 was a John Browning design—a five round semi-auto rifle featuring a rotating bolt. The barrel, which looks something like the water jacket of a machine gun, would recoil with the action and compress two recoil springs. The Model 8 Remington also introduced us to four new calibers, all rimless, the .25 Remington, .30 Remington, .32 Remington, and the .35 Remington.
The Model 8 first arrived on the scene in 1906 and although it started off primarily as a hunting rifle, law enforcement agencies quickly began picking them up. The Model 8’s that saw police service were modified with detachable magazines of varying capacities to replace the five shot fixed magazines that shipped with the gun. One such Model 8 was used by the legendary Texas Ranger Frank Hamer when he and other officers dispatched Bonnie and Clyde in 1934. He called them “Pear Burners.”
Hamer, who owned several Model 8’s, was holding one in .35 Remington with a special 20 round magazine the day the two outlaws drove towards him on a rural Louisiana road. Lawmen Ted Hinton also had a Model 8 with him that day and, as the famous picture reminds us, the fire from those rifles sent Bonnie and Clyde into the hereafter about twenty times over. There is some dispute over whether the Model 8 in the Texas Ranger museum is really the one Hamer used to end the career of two of America’s most infamous star-crossed outlaws but it was certainly one of his guns.
Besides the epic history though, the Model 8 is a joy to shoot. My first dealing with one was a very nice .35 Remington in what was known as the Standard grade with factory checkering. There were five grades, each nicer than the next, Standard, Special, Peerless, Expert and Premier. I have to this day never fired a smoother operating semi-auto rifle than the Model 8 Remington. In 1936 the Model 8 became the Model 81. The .25 Remington was canned after only a few Model 81’s were made and it was also chambered for the .300 Savage. The same five grades were also offered in the Model 81.
In 1950 the Model 81 was dropped altogether with more than 135,000 rifles produced between both models and all the grades. The Model 8 and the 81 were probably the finest semi-auto rifles you could buy for the first part of the century and many are still in use today with brass and dies still available for the rarer calibers like the .25 and .32 Remington.
Winchester Model 54
While the Winchester Model 70 is considered the “Rifleman’s Rifle” not too many have had the pleasure these days of shooting the Model 70’s predecessor, the Model 54.
The Model 54 was Winchester’s first successful bolt action rifle for center fire calibers and when it was introduced in 1925 several of the
calibers we consider as standard came with it like the .270, the .22 Hornet and the .220 Swift. The two most commonly encountered calibers are .30-06 and .270
but in addition to the Hornet and the Swift, other calibers were the 9mm Mauser, 7mm Mauser, the .250 Savage and the rarely seen .30-30.
The Model 54 had a five round magazine but it did not have a floorplate and if you wanted to mount a scope you had to drill some holes because in those days open sights were more popular. Still the Model 54 was a very well put together gun and they are as fine a shooter as anything on the market. If you find one that has a receiver sight (which is common) you have a very useful hunting rifle. I have owned two over the years, one in .30-06 and the other in .30-30 which is quite scarce. I killed my first whitetail with the .30-30 version and even though it is a little heavy for the caliber it was a nice gun to shoot and take in the woods.
The Model 54 was only made until 1936 when the Model 70 was introduced, with more than just 50,000 being made. If you find one that hasn’t been drilled and tapped you might want to get it because they are getting scarcer by the day and you would not want to waste any time getting behind one of the finest bolt action rifles ever produced.
Remington Model 4
When one thinks of the Remington Rolling Block they usually envision the .45-70 versions used on the plains to hunt buffalo during the latter part of the nineteenth century, but there was also a smaller version perfectly suited for small game known as the Model 4.
The Model 4 looked like a shrunken version of the large caliber Rolling Blocks and was chambered in a variety of calibers such as the .22 Short, .22 Long, .22 Long Rifle, .25 Stevens, .32 RF Short and .32 Rimfire Long. Production of the Model 4 started in 1890 and ended in 1933 with 350,000 made. There was an Improved Model 4, a Model 4S Boy Scout rifle and a 4S Military Rifle.
For a fun time there is nothing like shooting a Model 4 because you can pretend that you are shooting buffalo without burning through a box of ammo of big bore loads. Some of the calibers are a little tricky, with .25 Stevens pretty much out of the question and the .32 rimfires a bit pricy, but the .22 versions are a blast. I had a Model 4 that I bought for $75 ten years ago or more that was in .32 Long. It has been singed by a house fire but this only caused cosmetic damage and the bore was perfect. Even with the tiny sights the gun shot well when I could get my hands on a box of ammo.
I have been on the hunt for a .22 version and someday hope to pick one up. Shooting a Model 4 is much more fun than plinking away with a scoped .22 which makes it somewhat mundane. A Model 4 will really let you enjoy your time at the range or in the woods.
The Kentucky Rifle
While it seems today’s focus in the blackpowder rifle arena is squarely centered on inline guns, it is easy to forget that one of the reasons a lot of people hunt with a muzzleloader is for the challenge. Few guns give you the thrill of shooting like a traditional Kentucky Rifle of either the flintlock or percussion persuasion.
With its long barrel and primitive sights and using a patched roundball, hunting with one of these rifles really becomes a thrill that few other guns can provide. While original Kentucky Rifles are far too valuable to shoot and far too rare there are many excellent reproductions out there in calibers like .45 and .50 caliber that with a well placed shot can take a deer as cleanly as a Minuteman could take out a Redcoat. The first gun I ever shot was a CVA Kentucky Rifle in .45 caliber that I still own and few rifles are as accurate once the load is worked out. A few shots from a modern version of a Kentucky Rifle will have you thinking you are Davy Crockett and reaching for a coonskin cap before too long.
There are many rifles out there that beg to be shot and are just lying in wait for you to have fun with and reconnect with your past or just to give yourself one heck of a thrill.