The joys of owning guns

By Babe Winkelman

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[February 15, 2013]  As the Winkelman family wrapped up the 2012 hunting season, we shared a pastime that I'm sure you experience too: gun cleaning. I don't have to tell you how important it is to put guns away for their offseason nap in tip-top condition: thoroughly disassembled, cleaned, reassembled, oiled and cased for corrosion-free preservation.

For me, this event isn't a chore. It's not like cleaning dishes. It's a privilege and it's emotional. As I handle each gun, I marvel at the engineering and craftsmanship that goes into a dependable firearm. I admire each unique piece of walnut on every stock and forearm. I wonder where those walnut trees grew. How old were they? Was there an old deer stand hanging in one of them? Was there ever a deer shot from the very tree that grew the wood for my deer rifle -- a rifle that went on to help me harvest a deer, too?

Every shotgun and rifle in my family's gun safe is brimming with stories. Yes, I believe the guns themselves contain the stories from the field. There's a scratch on the stock of a little Browning 20-gauge that I can trace back to a rock. I remember the rock so clearly. I accidentally dragged the stock across it while belly-crawling up on a bunch of wood ducks in a woodland pond. It upset me at the time, more than 30 years ago. But now I look at that scratch and smile, because it takes me back and lets me relive that day with such clarity.

As I cleaned my daughter Karlee's 12-gauge, it filled me with pride because the gun put me right back in that blind with her, where I witnessed her taking a big tom with a clean shot. Every bit of the excitement she felt for her achievement that morning became infused in that shotgun. Immortalized.

Some of my guns were my dad's. And some of those were his dad's. The heritage of that warms my heart like a high-brass shotshell warms the barrel of an old Winchester when fired at a mallard on a cold November morning. The passing down of a hunting gun to a son or daughter is something special. It's a joy and a privilege that we owe to our Second Amendment right as American sportsmen, women and gun owners.

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As I clean big game and predator guns with optics, I take care to clean the Nikon glass. As I do, I can see the deer, elk, caribou, coyotes and other game just as they appeared in the reticle before I squeezed the trigger. They appear like snapshots when I look through the scope.

Some guns we keep clean but readily accessible for fun family shooting on our range. Semi-auto .22s, high-velocity air rifles and some handguns too. Owning them and having the right to shoot them responsibly whenever we see fit is a freedom we hold dear. I appreciate the importance of recreational shooting for bringing families and friends together -- to learn shooting and safety skills and to introduce newcomers to the shooting sports.

I've been fortunate to make hunting and shooting a part of the way I make my living. But more importantly, and like every American who owns guns and uses them lawfully and with respect, I'm lucky to have guns as part of my life. They help define me and my family, and we should all be eternally grateful to our founding fathers for protecting their importance to the fabric of our great nation. I'm proud to be an American gun owner, and if you are too, let us know at "Babe Winkelman" on Facebook, where we're always excited to talk fishing, hunting and shooting.

Good hunting!


Babe Winkelman is a nationally known outdoorsman. For more than 25 years he has taught people to fish and hunt. Watch his award-winning "Good Fishing" and "Outdoor Secrets" television shows on many national and local networks. Visit www.winkelman.com for air times where you live and check out Babe Winkelman on Facebook.

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