Having been a full time outdoor communicator for more than 35 years, I've had the great fortune to have been involved in many memorable events. One of my fondest memories didn't occur in some faraway jungle or backcountry wilderness, but in Colorado. To tell this story, I need to start from the beginning.
Jack O'Connor needs no introduction to avid shooters or hunters. Folks who don't know who Jack is either aren't serious shooters, or they don't have enough gray in their hair, or they didn't read outdoor magazines, or they didn't spend much time chatting around campfires when big game hunting was spoken. In his day, he was considered to be the top shooting/hunting writer, with no close seconds. He wrote a column for Outdoor Life magazine for 31 years, along with countless feature articles, and published many books on guns and big game hunting.
O'Connor hunted around the world, including tiger hunts, which were eliminated some 60 or 70 years ago. But his biggest accomplishment was introducing the shooting world to the .270 caliber. It's commonly said that he alone was responsible for the huge popularity the .270 enjoyed. O'Connor was also responsible for promoting the pre-64 Winchester Model 70. Again, he is attributed with that rifle's immense popularity.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to take Jack's son, Bradford, on an antelope hunt, intending to film it for my TV show. Imagine my thrill when Brad told me he'd be hunting with his Dad's original .270 Winchester. On top of that, my dear friend Jack Atcheson Sr would be joining us. Jack and Jack O'Connor were good friends, and had hunted abroad together. Jack Atcheson was one of the first international taxidermists and owned a successful hunting consultant company in Butte, Montana. As frosting on the cake for this hunt, Atcheson would be using a .270 cartridge that Jack O'Connor had given him years ago, instructing him to use that cartridge only on an antelope. It was all coming together.
But the hunt almost came to a screaming halt when Brad, who was in his mid-70's, had notified me that he'd just had open heart surgery and wasn't sure he could make the hunt. I was disappointed, of course, but elated to learn a couple months later that he'd be able to go.
We met at the Elkhorn Outfitters hunting lodge in northwest Colorado, owned by my good pal, Dick Dodds. Like me, Dick was thrilled to see the famous rifle. He was also anxious to meet Brad and Jack.
When Brad opened the gun case and I saw the rifle, I felt like a kid seeing Santa Claus. The gun was passed around and taken to the range to be sighted in for the hunt. It was the understatement of the year to say that everyone who shot the rifle was in seventh heaven.
I was delighted to be part of this hunt because I eventually filled half of Jack O'Connors shoes with Outdoor Life magazine. Let me explain. Jack passed away in 1978. He was replaced by the very capable and talented Jim Carmichel who was named Shooting and Hunting editor. Some years later, I was honored to be appointed the Hunting Editor. Jim maintained his position as Shooting Editor for many more years. So it was natural that I'd be on Cloud 9, since I was Jack's successor, though several years after his retirement.
I'll admit I was nervous when we started off on the hunt. Because I was filming it for my TV show, I had the usual jitters every time I hunted with the big camera following me around. Would Brad miss, or worse yet, would he wound an animal? Then too, because of his recent open heart surgery, could he stalk within range of an antelope? I soon learned the answer. A buck antelope grazed on the other side of a small ridge, and we took off after it, Dick led our group, followed by Brad, then my cameraman, then myself. We eased toward the top and Brad made a perfect shot. Stress over. Soon, Jack Atcheson made a terrific shot and downed his antelope with the cartridge Jack O'Connor had given him, using his personal .270. And finally, outfitter Dick Dodds, who was as thunderstruck as I was at the enormity of this rifle's presence, was offered by Brad to shoot an antelope with Jack O'Connor's rifle. Dick, who seldom hunted because he was the outfitter and always tied up with guiding hunters, downed a fine antelope buck with the famous rifle. Let's say that the prairie winds blew a bit harder because there were some wet eyes among us. Me included.
The very notion of me ever seeing that gun first hand, or, more amazingly, being on a hunt with it, was never on my bucket list because I never gave it a second thought. But it indeed happened. Every now and then I pinch myself to see if I dreamed it, but it's true. In fact, I have a DVD from my TV show to prove it.
The prestigious rifle is now on permanent display at the Jack O'Connor Hunting Heritage and Education Center in Lewiston, Idaho. The Center has countless pieces of memorabilia, firearms, books, magazines, and mounted trophies taken by Jack and his wife, Eleanor, I was there for the ribbon cutting ceremony some 10 years ago, and loved taking a walk through time with this legendary outdoorsman. I suspect you will too if you visit. An amazing place that tells an amazing chunk of hunting history.