September 23, 2010
The Last Round.
Who says the .22 Magnum isn't manly? The author has depended on a .22 Mag. revolver (such as this Colt Single Action Army that was converted to .22 Mag.
by gunsmith Kenny Howell) many times over the years.
Looking back, it really wasn't a big deal. Today, it's unthinkable--a kid carrying a rifle to school with no eyebrows raised. My friend, Mike Laney, and I were attendants of Deming Junior High, more years ago than I care to remember now. Mike's family ranched a beautiful outfit located on the southeast side of the Gila National Forest in southwest New Mexico. At the time, the Laney's were experiencing a significant mountain lion problem, and they'd invited me up for a weekend of attempted cat control.
Neither of us were old enough to drive--legally anyway. Mike's daily school bus routine was lengthy, well over an hour each way. The weekend hunt would require me to pack my own rifle. It was a simple plan, and it worked. My dad suggested I take my old Savage Model 99 in .243, a great old gun given to me by Col. Charlie Askins. During the week prior to the trip, I talked to my bus driver and the school principal, who gave the okay. On Friday, I packed my Savage in a hard case and hopped on the bus. Upon arriving at school, I went straight to the principal's office and checked in the rifle, but not before showing the gun off to him. He was an enthusiast, too.
At the time, I had not met Mike's dad, Lawrence, but I'd heard plenty about him. He'd been born on the Heart Bar, a mighty ranch in the middle of what is now the Gila Wilderness. Lawrence ran cattle until the establishment of the wilderness, then jumped into a series of other ranching ventures, finally winding up on the Laney Ranch near Lake Valley, New Mexico. In addition to being a top cowman, Mr. Laney was a distinguished outfitter, having worked throughout New Mexico and Arizona. He'd hunted deer, elk, bear, and mountain lion for years with an outstanding pack of hounds.
By the time I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Laney, he'd pretty much quit outfitting and mainly hunted lion on his own place. When we exited the school bus Friday afternoon, I was bursting with excitement. The bus stop was still about 15 miles from the ranch, and an old pickup was parked there waiting for us. We drove up to the ranch, passing a sign reading "Laney Ranch, no shootin', no woodhaulin'." I found out later that meant none of that without permission, of course.
When we finally reached ranch headquarters, Mr. Laney was out at the barn, shoeing a horse. He stopped long enough to introduce himself, and I was immediately impressed with him. He wore wire rimmed glasses and a salty looking old hat. His high-heeled boots were made by Paul Bond, the famous bootmaker, and were adorned with a fine pair of Kelly spurs that looked like they'd been on the boots since they were new, which they now were not. His face was worn by living outdoors all his life, but his smile was sincere.
"You boys ready for a lion hunt?" he asked. We both nodded. "Well, I've got the horses in and the dogs are ready. Got a lion staked out down the Macho. If the wind don't blow, we might have a chance."
He smiled and went back to his shoeing job.
The next morning after the chores had been completed, we saddled the horses and loaded them in the trailer, then loaded the dogs and set out for an area south of Macho Canyon. When we prepared to mount up, I watched Mr. Laney strap on a revolver. It was a Ruger single action, and I figured it to be at least a .357 Magnum, if not a .44. I didn't ask right away, but for lion huntin' it just had to be something powerful.
Not long after we turned the hounds loose, they were on scent. It was a thrilling chase for several hours, but as frequently occurs in southwestern New Mexico, the wind kicked up with a vengeance. The hounds became perplexed, their baying becoming less and less recurrent. As we fought the wind, the dogs--one by one--started coming back to us. We finally turned around and headed for the truck and trailer, then the headquarters.
Back at the house, I attempted to disguise my disappointment in the day's hunt by finally asking Mr. Laney about his sidearm. "Was it a .44 Magnum?" I asked.
"Naw. I've never cared for the big calibers," he said quietly. "It's a .22 Magnum."
Just then I became as confused as the Laney hounds had been in the 40 mile-per-hour wind. How could it be, hunting mountain lion carrying only a .22? A .22 Magnum, indeed, but still, a .22?
"It's about all I've ever carried huntin' with dogs," he said with a smile. I noticed Mike was smiling too, and nodding. "I used to carry a Winchester '94 .30-30 pretty regular," Mr. Laney added, "but the .22 Magnum does a good, clean job on lions. I don't know how many I've killed with this little gun, but it's been a bunch."
I certainly wasn't in a position to question Mr. Laney about his choice in lion guns, and never did. He never stopped carrying the little magnum, either.
Over the years I've had much use for the .22 Magnum in handguns. One of my favorites is the North American Arms revolver in .22 Mag., which I've found to be an ultraconcealable, little defense gun perfect for situations that prohibit the use of a larger handgun. This tiny little revolver generates a great deal of power even in its short barrel. I've relied on it many times--and will likely do so again.
Another of my favorite .22 Mag. revolvers is a Colt Single Action Army converted to .22 Mag. by master gunsmith Kenny Howell of Wisconsin. I beat it out of gun collector extraordinaire Lance Olson. Howell is an expert at restoration, and he built my revolver in a short, Sheriff's Model configuration with a 2-inch barrel. The gun makes for a short, handy, and powerful little tool, plus it's great just to look at.
Many things have changed over the years--we all know what the prospect of a kid taking his rifle on the school bus would be now. But the .22 Magnum remains a fine little cartridge.
I'm just still not sure I'd want to use it on mountain lion.