Winchester Rifle Found Where it Was Left — 132 Years Ago!

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Jan. 21, 2015

Winchester Rifle Found Where it Was Left — 132 Years Ago!
It’s at once both a relic and an enigma: a 132-year-old Winchester Model 1873 .44-40 cal. rifle, discovered leaning against a juniper tree in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park. Who did it belong to, and why was it left there? You’ll also read about a national conservation organization’s position on the proliferation of high-fence deer-hunting operations, and much more.

132-Year-Old Rifle is a Mystery
Archaeologists at Nevada’s Great Basin National Park announced last week the discovery of a 132-year-old Winchester Model 1873 .44-40 cal. rifle found leaning against a juniper tree during a routine park survey last November. Its rusted barrel and weathered, wooden stock blended almost perfectly with the tree.

“It was the right people in the right place at the right time,” said Nichole Andler, chief of interpretation at Great Basin.

The serial number on the lower tang corresponds in Winchester records held at the Center for the West at the Cody Firearms Museum in Cody, Wyo., indicating a manufacture and shipping date of 1882. Any detailed history of the individual rifle will likely never be known, as Winchester records do not reveal who purchased the rifle from the warehouse or where it was shipped.

Absher's ONH 1-21-15
The serial number revealed a manufacture date of 1882.

Winchester Model 1873s hold a prominent place in Western history and lore, known both as “everyman’s rifle,” and “the gun that won the West.” A total of 720,610 were manufactured between 1873 and 1916, when production ended. In 1882 alone, more than 25,000 were made selling for around $25.

No doubt, the rifle will create its own lore among speculators. Who left the rifle? When and why it was leaned against the tree? And, why was it never retrieved? Andler said the Great Basin cultural resource staff will research newspapers and family histories, hoping to resolve some of the mystery and fill in details.

The park plans to provide a viewing opportunity for the community before sending the rifle to conservators to stabilize the wood and apply museum conservation techniques. The treatment will keep the gun looking as it was found and prevent further deterioration.

When the rifle is returned to the park, it will be displayed as part of the park’s 30th birthday and the NPS centennial celebration.

Multi-State Coyote Study Underway
Starting this month, trappers contracted by the University of Georgia will begin capturing and radio-collaring coyotes in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, repeating the process in January-February for two years to include approximately 180 coyotes.

The multi-agency study will help answer many coyote-related questions, including determining what types of resources, such as prey availability and hiding cover, are important to coyotes when establishing territories.

“We know that coyotes play a critical role in ecological communities,” said project coordinator Joseph Hinton, a University of Georgia post-doctoral researcher. “But, they are a relatively new predator to Georgia that rapidly colonized the state. Their populations vary from one area of the state to the next, so we want to study their movements over large areas to see where they eventually establish territories. Once we understand why coyotes are more successful in certain areas than others, we can provide better advice on coyote management efforts.”

The iridium satellite radio-collars will record locations of coyotes every four hours for up to two years. In addition to the radio collaring, DNA samples will be taken from captured coyotes and sent for genetic analysis to allow researchers to compare how related coyotes in Georgia may be to coyotes in other states.

Illegal 18-Point Buck Costs Michigan Poacher $15,500
A Michigan man who illegally killed an 18-point whitetail after already taking his two legal antlered deer for 2014 was fined more than $15,000 under the state’s new law that determines fines incrementally for trophy-class deer.

Scott Malinowski, 37, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a general violation of wildlife conservation, a misdemeanor, according to court records. A sentence of 90 days in jail was suspended upon successful payment of the fines and costs.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Ken Kovach said the 18-point buck was Malinowski’s third antlered deer of the season. Licensed hunters in Michigan are allowed to kill no more than two antlered deer during deer hunting season.

Kovach said it did not appear Malinowski set out to poach.
“He had the legal right to be out in the woods,” Kovach said. “The deer came out in front of him and it was just opportunistic.”

Public Act 175 of 2013 became effective in February 2014. Instead of a flat restitution fee of $1,000, the fine increases depending on the deer’s headgear. The changes include:

  • The base fee for poaching any deer, with or without antlers, is $1,000.
  • Someone who poaches an antlered deer pays an additional restitution of $1,000.
  • For an antlered deer with 8- to 10 points, another $500 per point is added to the restitution.
  • For an antlered deer with 11 or more points, an additional $750 per point is added to the restitution.

B&C Issues Statement on Deer Farming, Wildlife Privatization
The Boone and Crockett Club last week issued an official position statement on the proliferation of commercial deer-breeding operations and private preserves.

“The wildlife conservation and management community is becoming increasingly concerned, that growing trophy deer and elk and then shooting these animals in fenced shooting facilities reflects negatively on hunting and will weaken the public support for the type of fair chase hunting they cherish,” according to the statement.

Morrie Stevens, Sr., president of the Club, said they encourage all hunters to read the position in its entirety.

“The core topic – privatizing a public resource for individual profits – has the power to change the foundations of hunting and its historic ties to conservation,” Stevens said. “And crossing the line from wildlife to agricultural commodity represents a fundamental shift in American culture. We think the ramifications are worth considering carefully.”

In summary, the position statement addresses:

  • Selective breeding, artificial insemination, regimented feeding and pharmaceutical drugs to achieve unnaturally large antlers in deer and elk.
  • Commercial values based on artificial trophy size.
  • Ethics of altering native wildlife and then shooting these animals in escape-proof, fenced enclosures.
  • Breeding operations’ potential for transmitting diseases to wild herds.
  • Risk of weakened public support for hunting.

Quote of the Week
“Any meal of wild duck is a special treat, special enough to make even the most resolute complainer forget about how frustrating it was to pull those pinfeathers, or how cold the pond was as it came in over the top of his hip boots when he reached for the prize.”
– Russell Chatham,
Dark Waters, 1988

J.R. Absher is a freelance outdoor writer whose articles and columns appear in numerous national publications. He offers his unique perspective of the outdoors weekly for sportsmansguide.com. You may contact him at [email protected]

Photos courtesy of National Park Service

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