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  • Patrick Durkin

Father’s Prized Rifle Lives on in Duren Family’s Lore

Updated: Dec 10, 2022

If you’ve read Larry Koller’s classic book “Shots at Whitetails,” you probably envy hunters who own sporterized bolt-action rifles with U.S. or European military roots.


As a kid who started hunting in the late 1960s, I knew men and friends who carried old bolt-actions like the Springfield M1903-A3, .303 British, .30-40 Krag and 8mm Mauser. Some were original military-grade rifles, still carrying bulky wooden stocks and too-long barrels. Others were fully rebuilt rifles with new bolts, stocks and barrels fitted to legendary actions.


As Koller wrote in 1948: “The usual practice in converting these rifles for hunters is to … remove the military sights, shorten the barrel, polish the barrel … and fit the rifle with a machine-turned and inletted stock designed by the individual maker.”


Koller forgot to caution: “Should you own such a treasure, never let a teenage boy borrow it when hunting with his buddies.”


Doug Duren of Cazenovia said so himself while entertaining guests Nov. 18 at his family’s old Richland County farmhouse the day before Wisconsin’s gun-deer season. Duren stepped into the living room with his late father’s Belgian-made bolt-action Mauser in .30-06 Springfield. He couldn’t swear to it, but he thought ol’ Vince bought it from someone on his mail-carrier route during the 1960s.


As he talked, Duren rubbed his large right hand over the gunstock’s grip and palm swell, drawing attention to several wraps of black electrician’s tape.


“This gun was magical to me when I was a kid,” said Duren, 63. “Dad kept it in a sturdy soft case lined in red velvet. I used to unzip that case and pull out the rifle just to handle it, work its bolt and admire it, right?


“Well, when I was a high-school senior, I dared to ask Vince if I could borrow his rifle and hunt with my buddies the day after Thanksgiving,” Duren continued. “I couldn’t believe I was daring to ask, but I did. He must have thought I was old enough, responsible enough, to borrow it, so I showed up with it the next day when meeting my buddies for some deer drives.


“We were setting up the first drive, talking and joking while deciding who’s doing what. I pulled my dad’s gun case from the back of the pickup, zipped it open, pulled out the rifle and held it with both hands. I must not have had a good grip, because it fell when someone bumped me.


“The muzzle hit the pavement first. When the buttstock hit, we heard the grip crack. Everyone gasped. This was bad. There was no way to hide or fix the crack. The stock didn’t fall apart, but it definitely broke. My buddies all knew my old man, and the hard-ass he was, at least back then. I was really freaked out. I slid it back into the case and drove home. No way could I go hunting.


“Dad was out on his rural mail route, and I knew he’d get home by 12:30. I sat and waited, the gun case nearby on the table, wondering what he’d do. I’m scared to death. I really feared the wrath of my father. When Dad finally walked in, he said, ‘I thought you were going hunting.’ Then he looked at the gun case sitting there, and things got real quiet. I had to own up, so I told him what happened. I said I’d get it fixed or get a new stock. I’d do whatever he wanted.


“Instead, he says, ‘Well, let’s take a look,’ and he unzips the case and pulls it out. I’m just watching, waiting for him to blow. This was serious stuff. What’s he going to do? But he’s calm. He looks at it and runs his hand over the crack while I’m going on about how sorry I am, and telling him I’d make it right. I’d never felt so bad about anything in my life; at least up to that time, anyway.


“He just says, ‘No, no. I’ll take care of it.’ Then he slides the rifle back into the case, zips it shut, and walks into the other room without a word. I never saw how he fixed it and he never told me. I just assume he worked some wood glue into the crack and wrapped it tightly with black electrician’s tape. Next deer season, the rifle is suddenly there, Vince holding it and rubbing his hand back and forth over the black tape on the grip.


“My Uncle Ryne was there with his two stepsons. He instantly sees the tape and asks, ‘What the hell happened to your gun?’ Well, dear ol’ Vince says, ‘I let some damned kid use it, and look what he did to it.’


“I was 18 that fall,” Duren continued, “and for the next 40 freaking deer seasons my dad told that story when pulling that rifle from the case the Friday before the opener. If someone didn’t ask him about the tape job while he rubbed it, he’d say, ‘Y’know, this is a good rifle and it still shoots good, but one year I let some dumb kid use it. Look what he did to it.’


“I mean, my dad berated me with that story every year the rest of his life. He lived to be 92, so it wasn’t just once or twice. It became a camp ritual. But, y’know, it got funny after a while. When Dad died in 2016 a month before deer season, I realized it’s now up to me to tell the story before each opener.”


In fact, Duren and his brother Dave take turns hunting with the rifle each opener.


“The first year, it fell to me,” Duren said. “So I’m on Dad’s favorite stand that day, with his ashes spread around below, and my brother pushes a bunch of deer my way. There’s five bucks chasing a doe around, and the biggest buck stops 75 yards away. I shoot, but the buck doesn’t move. I jack in another round and shoot again. It still doesn’t move. The doe finally takes off and the buck runs, too. Then another buck shows up. I miss him too. I know it’s me, not the rifle.


“That night I dreamed I was hunting, and getting ready to shoot a deer. Each time I started pulling the trigger in my dream, Dad was standing behind me, shoving my elbow."


Duren then smiled and said, “Y’know, looking back 46 years, I sometimes wish he’d just beaten the crap out of me when I was 17 and been done with it.”

Doug Duren of Cazenovia holds his father’s Belgian-made .30-06 rifle, which is now a vital part of his family’s deer hunting heritage. — Patrick Durkin photo

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