As a 13-year-old boy, growing up in the South, deer hunting was in my blood from early childhood. I had often helped dress and clean animals that had been harvested by my uncles and grandpa during our long (Sept-Feb) annual whitetail season and clamored for the opportunity to go along with the rest of the 'tribe.'
While I had cut my teeth on rabbit, squirrel, and dove in my lower elementary years, learning how to work a bolt-action .22LR and a crack-barrel 20-gauge stoked with low-brass shells with equal proficiency, the larger bambi-getters eluded me.
That was, until my first deer gun.
Being born the latter part of December, I was haunted with that oh-so-traumatic curse that is the combined birthday/Christmas present event. Often, this meant that instead of two separate gift-giving occasions spread throughout the year, I would be given one lump of presents and be told simultaneously "Happy Birthday/Merry Christmas."
How I loathed the kids born in summer with their smug June and July birthdays. I could only imagine what it was like to have the joy of two equidistant days to look forward to.
However, sometimes this worked out for the better as on occasion would be presented with a nicer gift combined that I would have had six or eight month separated these days. The winter of my 13th birthday/Christmas was one of these days.
After opening the obligatory socks and underwear, the sweaters that never made it to the closet, and the random age-inappropriate gifts from distant aunts, there was one more item left-- that I had been told to save for last. When I ripped off the paper from the long, skinny cardboard box, I saw Marlin written in red across its lid. Inside was a Model 336C in .30-.30WCF. Checkered walnut stock, 20-inch barrel, gold-plated trigger, it was beautiful. It was all-mine and I was its first owner.
Capable of holding six rounds of 'thuddy-thuddy' I felt well equipped for the most challenging of hunts.
Use in the field
As a boy, I was tall for my age and lean, but the 8-pound flat (with sling, 4x40mm Bushnell scope, Weaver rings, 9 rounds on the stock and 6 rounds in the tube) rifle was light enough to carry all day. At 38.5-inches overall, trekking through the thick brush of Mississippi and Alabama chasing swamp deer through the reeds, the gun was handy enough that I wasn't constantly snagging branches all day like my older uncles were with their bolt-action Remingtons and Brownings (complete with 26-inch barrels) were.
(Of course I had to outfit the gun with my own $4 slide on stock scabbard to carry extra rounds)
I took two deer my first season with that Marlin. One was a nice six point at about 66 steps, the other a fat doe (which are legal in certain seasons here) at just over 80 (keep a hunter's log my friends). I also sighted and took a bead on, but did not harvest, several smaller deer through the nitrogen of that scratched little Bushnell. To round off my season, the 336 was pressed into some predator control as well.
(The old Bushnell scope gave me 20 years then finally gave up the ghost)
"Look down there," said my grandpa; pointing into a little valley under the bluff, we were scouting on.
When I looked there was a scrawny coyote poking through the brambles, his face to the ground looking for his next meal. I had always been told that coyotes were the number one threat to juvenile deer and every 'dwarf wolf' you took out of the food chain meant a healthier herd down the line. The state game wardens seem to agree, as any time there is a gun season in my state, coyotes are eligible to be taken, with no limits or possession rules.
After some pointers on how to lead the wild canine and where to dial my adjustable objective to from my gramps, a retired Marine marksmanship instructor, I took the shot, only to miss, hitting about a half foot to the coyote's side, splattering the forest floor with a shower of earth.
Well he did what any coyote would do in that situation and beat all four feet the opposite way as fast as possible. Working the lever and listing to my grandfather's stern voice, I followed him through the lens until I caught up to where he had halted, some forty yards or so laterally from where I took the first shot.
My second did not miss.
Thoughts on the 336 today.
Moving on in the past twenty-five years from that day, I still have that old .30-.30. It did tag along on several more trips over the years but has often found itself back in the safe, gathering dust alternating with CLP, as other, newer, and hipper rifles have taken its place. I would like to think the old man shares his experiences on the hunt with the new kids on the block as they sit around the dark insides of the gun safe, swapping war stories.
However, every now and then, I do take my old friend out to the range for another go. It's still accurate at the 100 and 200-yard targets with commercial off the shelf green/yellow box Remington. The scope long ago was removed but the original semi-buckhorn folding rear and ramp front sights still get it 'in the black.'
The 336 may not be the perfect first deer gun for everyone, but it was for me.
And you know what? My son is coming up on his 13th birthday.