Thursday, December 9, 2010

The "Husky" Mystery...

Occasionally one stumbles across a memory that is simply too good not to share. These memories tend to lodge themselves in the rear crevasses of the mind and wait there for a good opportunity to present themselves. As I sat here this evening struggling with writer's block and a trying to think of a topic to explore, the memory burst forth from the dim and dusty recess of Hodgeman's mind and voila'! Problem solved.

Way back in the days when I was a "cheechako" in Alaska, one of the first friends I made was a fellow by the name of Tom. Tom had been in Alaska for a number of years and had homesteaded a property some miles in the Bush and eventually feeling the desire to leave hard work coupled with abject poverty he moved into the city to get a job. Tom and I became fast friends and he taught me a lot of things about life in Alaska during our time in Anchorage. During a dinner gathering one evening with our families the (inevitable around me) topic of hunting and guns came up.
Feeling the urge to show off his prized smokepole he went to a back room and brought back one of the most ill kept weapons I've ever seen. Not exactly what I expected a seasoned veteran of the Bush to be toting- a Husqvarna 640 in .270 Winchester. He was quite proud of the rifle despite it showing lots of age and "character marks" on the worn bluing and stock. "This here rifle I bought in '85 in Fairbanks...I took this, 4 boxes of ammo, an axe, a wall tent, and a kitten and got dropped off in Skwentna to start my homestead...", he replied. I sat there examining the rifle and wondered somewhat foolishly if he had eaten the kitten when the first winter hit somewhat mystified why he'd take such a thing as a kitten for serious homesteading.
After I examined the rifle a little more closely the kitten made more sense than that particular rifle did.

The rifle had started life in the era of post WWII at Fabrique Nationale in Belgium in the late 40s as a commercial Mauser 98 action and then sent to the enterprising Swedes at Husqvarna to turn into a whole rifle. Those were the days when the wheels of America's economic engine were chugging robustly and war savaged Europe was still reeling from collapse as Hitler's armies vanished and left smoke in their wake. That much European handwork is largely unaffordable today but in those destitute times these were destined to be "budget" rifles- a lower priced competitor to the big name American manufacturers. That was also before the Swedes determined that relying on one of your bigger competitors for something so basic as an action was bad for business if that business is making rifles.
This particular rifle, however, was destined to be sent to the American market and chambered in .270 Winchester, a cartridge at the very apex of its popularity in the early 50s. The "Husky" somehow wandered into Fairbanks, Alaska in the 70s oil boom and was sold in the 80s oil bust by a pipeline worker looking for a plane ticket home. It was bought by a very inexperienced drifter named Tom, who had a homestead claim in Skwentna that the ink was as wet on as he was behind the ears.

Fifteen years later he talked to me about hunting with the rifle, feeding his family and using the rifle for protection on the trail. I checked the action (smooth as glass, meticulous Swedes and Bavarians), admired the hand knurling on the sight plane of the receiver rings (reduces glare) and hoisted the old cannon and looked through the rear sight and noticed a major problem.

"Hey Tom," I asked, "Did you know you're missing your front site?"

"My what?", he replied quizzically.

"Your front sight blade. See this groove...you're supposed to have a sight blade with a bead sitting in there. You place the bead in the rear sight's notch for windage and elevation control. Surely the rifle had one." I pontificated. I had lots of experience shooting with open sights and felt very proud of my knowledge about such items.

"Nope, never recall having one of those," he replied earnestly as if all rifles had optional front sight blades.

At this point I felt like perhaps my leg was being significantly pulled by my new friend and he was showing off some pawn shop pickup prank to his cheechako friend while his "real" gun, perhaps a Model 70 Winchester or Remington 700 in a real "Alaska Cartridge" like a .338 Win Mag resided back in the closet somewhere. Feeling a little smug I replied a little sarcastically,"But did you ever kill anything with it?"

"Oh not much," came his response in total honesty," Just a moose or two every year (that's about 25 total in 15 years), a few caribou, a dozen black bears and one really pissed off grizzly."

I sat there dumbfounded now that I realized Tom was entirely serious. I had thought while I planned my Alaska move (fueled by everything I could read on the subject in the sporting press in those early Internet days) that all real Alaska rifles had to have a .338 bore or bigger or it would bounce off a bear and a .300 Win Mag was "OK" for ladies and coyotes as long as they were backed up by a real man toting a real man's gun. A real Alaska woman shot a .338 like a man though- on account of local ammo supplies consisting of nothing but .338 shells. Having to have your hubby or boyfriend import your weakling rifle ammo was supposedly considered "high maintenance". Now I was confronted by a man who'd raised a family on meat provided by what amounted to a surplus Mauser in a pipsqueak cartridge missing half of its sighting equipment...apparently a man who never knew better to boot. "How the heck did you ever hit anything with this thing?" I asked in total shock.

His reply was as deadpan as the rest of his conversation..." Well, moose are pretty big if you can get pretty close...."
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Author's note- the rifle depicted in the photograph is not the rifle spoken of in the article. Picture the rifle in the photo after being drug behind a log truck for several miles... you get the point. The photo is one I retrieved from Google- Husky 640s being so common around the house and all... I give photo credit to whoever took it but it wasn't me.

1 comment:

Le Loup said...

Seems fair enough to me. My .60 cal fusil has a front sight but no rear sight, and I have not missed yet with a round ball.
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