History, Traditions &
Barreled Memories


Here’s the Savage Model 99 my cousin Brad used to kill his buck this year in West Virginia.

How many times have you thought, “Boy, if this thing could talk,” while picking up a gun to admire it? Here’s a tale where we know not only the history of the gun but several relevant, interlocking stories within the story.

Pap Baker

It starts with my Pap Baker, my mom’s father. A second-generation farmer, he bought the farm from his dad. Pap married and had six children — three boys and three girls. The oldest was my uncle Donny. A big, strong, strapping man, he once picked a hay elevator off my Pap when it collapsed on him, breaking his back.

Donny died in a tragic farm accident shoveling snow off his barn roof for fear of collapse back in January of ’78. My cousin Brad (nicknamed Barrel) found his dad on the ground, buried in snow after the roof snow avalanched on him. Brad and his younger brother, Jay, took over the family farm afterward.

A good day for the West Virginia opener.

New Tradition

My uncle Jerry took Brad hunting in West Virginia that fall of ’78, starting a new tradition. It was a way for them to get away from their farms, bond, and spend time doing their favorite pastime — deer hunting — after the tragic loss of Donny. Brad and Jerry hunted West Virginia every year after that. I started going in 1990. In 1996, my cousin Brent started coming. Jerry was tickled, having three nephews in tow to hunt with him. But this hunt ended tragically. Jerry died on the third day while shooting at a 9-point buck during a drive. We were shocked, to say the least. He had just turned 50 a few months before and was in good shape from farming.

We continued the West Virginia hunt tradition, but it was never quite the same. My uncle Gary, Brent’s dad, started coming along up until last year. Being on oxygen for the past two years, he never ventured far from the road but still loved the woods and hunting. Even while on oxygen, he’d hunt dark to dark back in Pennsylvania. He’d strap the oxygen tank on his ATV and bring enough hose to reach his stand while the bottle remained strapped to the ATV.

Gary died a few months ago. Brad needs ankle and knee replacements. Milking cows for the past 50+ years simply wore them out. He missed the last two seasons in West Virginia. I missed the last few for various reasons.

There’s something about the death of a loved one that makes you want to repeat the past. After Gary’s funeral, I committed to going to West Virginia, as did Brad.

A happy hunter indeed

Sacred Ground

Brad would hunt from Gary’s spot, a few hundred yards from the road. He wanted his hunt to be special, so he brought his dad’s gun. The gun is a Savage Model 99 chambered in what else? .300 Savage. Pap gave the brand-new gun to Donny in 1956 as a high school graduation present. Donny shot his first buck with it and hunted with it for years before going the bolt-action rifle route. Donny later gave the Savage 99 to his son, Brad, for his first deer rifle, at age 12.

Hail, hail, the gangs all here. Tired, well-fed hunters after opening day.

New Blood

Brad admitted to shooting a doe with it when he was younger, but he never shot a buck with it. On opening morning in West Virginia this year, Brad carried the gun our Pap gave his dad to Gary’s hunting spot — a wind-blown tree. It was a special hunt, whether Brad got a deer or not.

Call it magical, maybe even spiritual, but something wonderful happened on that ridge.

Just before 9 a.m., Brad saw a buck running 60 yards in front of him. One perfect shot, and the buck was down. Everyone was happy for him. We all knew and believed Brad had help from Pap, his dad Donny, Jerry and Gary. It only makes sense when carrying a special rifle, one so ingrained with a rich family history and memories, that something special was bound to happen.

Whatever it was, there’s no denying it was a wonderful hunt, one that left us all feeling good.

After the deer were taken care of, we had a great meal of pork loin, sauerkraut and potatoes that had been simmering all day in the crock pot, along with buttered rolls, fresh from the oven.

The making of great memories can only tighten family bonds. After all, memories are the only true thing we leave this world with that are truly ours.

More Memories

Next week is Pennsylvania’s opener, and I’ll get to see my cousins again. After hunting all day, we’ll meet up in the “butcher shop” to rekindle the day’s events, hopefully, cut up a few deer and eat fresh venison backstrap, as we’ve done for years. We’ll remember those who’ve left us while the youngsters are welcomed amongst the ranks as they tell the tale of their deer hunt, as hunters have been doing for centuries.

Life’s cycle is certainly amazing, as well as deceivingly quick. One day, you’re an 8-year-old kid, and the next moment, you’re one of the oldest family members standing in the back, taking it all in, wondering how you got to where you are. The older you are, the faster that boulder rolls downhill. That’s why barreled memories are special to those willing to understand. Life’s too short to live otherwise.

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