“Have you ever seen one of these?” Bob Hunnicutt asked me. “It was my grandfather’s. I’d like to get it shooting again, but it’s missing the flat trigger spring, bolt handle and cocking piece.” With a look of curious skepticism, he added, “Know where I can get any parts?”
Seeing the fancy triggerguard gripped in his hand conjured a memory of one in a mix of forgotten firearms handed down by my dad just prior to his passing.
“As a matter of fact, I think I do have one,” I replied. “If I remember correctly, it’s a parts gun, too, with a cut-down stock. I bet that we could combine the two and get yours shooting again.”
The rifles are Winchester’s Model 1904 single-shot bolt-action. These rimfires were not serialized, so it’s hard to determine exactly when they were made, but Hunnicutt’s barrel bears the marking “MOD. 1904” indicating that his is an older vintage than mine, which is marked “MOD. 04”. In February 1919, Winchester Production Manager Frank F. Burton issued a change in manufacturing to eliminate the first two digits of the model designation.
We could further date Hunnicutt’s example to being made between 1914 and 1919 because both his barrel and mine wore the chamber marking “22 SHORT — LONG OR EXTRA LONG”. The .22 Extra Long interchangeable chambering was added in 1914 and remained in production until 1927 when it was replaced with the .22 Long Rifle. Today, few gun enthusiasts have ever heard of the .22 Extra Long. After 1927, the Mod. 04 was designated the “MODEL 04A”, therefore, mine was made between 1919 and 1927. The sixth edition of “The History of Winchester Firearms 1866-1992” (1993, Winchester Press) by Thomas Henshaw indicates these models were discontinued in 1931 after 302,859 were made.
The stock of my Model 04 was sawed off to fit a small-statured child, but it wasn’t intended for me. I hadn’t given the abbreviated single-shot much thought until Hunnicutt’s visit. Inspecting the rifle, it began to look more familiar until I recalled a forgotten memory of being handed a .22 to load in the dark. Then it hit me: I had used it on my first ‘coon hunt. Perhaps it was Mr. Duncan’s!
In 1989, my family moved to Poor Valley in Virginia’s Southwest Appalachian Mountains. Mom and dad bought an 1890’s farmhouse in what used to be Duncansville in Brumley Gap, across the street from a one-room schoolhouse. With the Jefferson National Forest to our west, we were surrounded by property owned by a tall, influential and successful businessman named Ray Duncan. The house we moved to was where he had grown up.
A U.S. Army veteran of World War II, Mr. Duncan served in North Africa and Italy. He took a keen interest in my upbringing and became a role model. One night, he pulled into our driveway with a truck full of yelping Bluetick Coonhounds and told me to pull on some coveralls and grab a lantern. As if I was living out a scene in “Where the Red Fern Grows,” I went along for the ride into the unfamiliar woods where we unleashed the dogs. Mr. Duncan handed me his old Winchester .22, trusting me with it for the night.
With his long stride, it was hard to keep up with Mr. Duncan. I was new to charging through briar bushes and to keep up with hounds on a scent. I spent hours observing Mr. Duncan’s mastery of management with a whistle until we finally treed an ‘coon-like animal. Concerns for blood oozing from my scratched hands and face vanished when he called me up to bring down my first racoon. “Aim for the right eye,” he whispered. Imagining I was Davy Crockett, I carefully loaded and made ready. I didn’t want to disappoint him. At the crack of the rifle, the marsupial fell dead and the dogs rallied in a frenzy. Mr. Duncan let my parents break it to me that I hadn’t actually shot a racoon. Still, I was proud of my opossum.
Ray Duncan passed on January 2, 2016, at 92 years old. For me, his memory now lives through this rifle.