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Remembering Hunter Safety

I was one of the lucky ones – we had a pair of instructors for Hunter Safety.  Danny On taught the sections on wildlife, and Ed Ruhl taught guns.  Danny On was a forester with a camera. For folks who lacked the privilege of knowing him, there is a page describing his life at Asian Pacific American Employees Association.  Books with his photographs are still in print and available. A trail on Big Mountain bears his name.  Ed Ruhl was a Marine. Chief Warrant Officer Edgar Ruhl, USMC (retired) – and he brought his own examples of every weapon he had used or encountered between Haiti and Korea.  Not “Gunny” you understand, but Mr. Ruhl, or “Gunner.”

“Dis is a spring-gun.” he explained as he showed a nice looking air rifle.  “I got it on Okinawa.  Da little bastid dat was using it didn’ have any more use for it after I ran my baynit troo him.”  I suspect the little bastid actually shared Ed’s rations after he swapped the spring-gun away from him. It was similar to this photo:

I learned that the world’s finest handgun was the Model 1911A1 – “Except you want the old 1911 mainspring for women, ‘cause dey have smaller hands.  It doesn’t kick – my wife uses dis one.”   My first 1911A1 didn’t shoot so well – but I learned what a match bushing and a slightly longer link could do.  By the time I was 35, I had learned that the old Colt 45 automatic could match all of Ed Ruhl’s praise.

The finest hunting rifle was, of course, the Springfield model 1903A3 – “Used to think the 1903 was the best, but the A3 is parkerized and has a peep sight.  Much better.”  In the sixties, there were a lot of them available – and I looked for Ed’s preferred Remington, and replaced the cut-down military stock with an inexpensive, drop-in stock from a magazine ad.   A lot of them made it back to the land of the big PX, and became hunting rifles for two generations of hunters.  It was there when I discovered high power competition.

And I learned that my single-shot 22 just didn’t make the grade: “Dis is a Reising model 65.  Used it on Guadalcanal to take dare snipers out of da trees.  Didn’t like the model 50, but Reising did a good job with the 22.” 

It took me almost half a century to find a Reising.  A previous owner (probably named Bubba) had removed the original front sight and replaced it with a pricey target sight that guaranteed the rifle couldn’t hit anything – it was a half-inch too tall.  It did bring the price down, and when I removed it, I found that most of the threads underneath were intact, and I could buy a brand new, 70-year old front sight for $4.95 plus shipping from West Hurley, New York.  It shared the front sight with the model 50 that Ed despised – and with the sights returned to normal, I managed to set it up the way those WWII Marines used it.  There are enough elevation clicks in the rear sight to make it a 200 yard 22.  I realized as I brought it back into condition that a light trigger pull was not required for the old breed.

As I look back, Hunter Safety from Ed Ruhl was formative.  It took me a while to learn that the FBI wasn’t connected to the justice department – it was an informal group of elderly female residents of Fortine who relentlessly found the basis and actual story behind any and every half told piece of gossip in their community.  He installed respect for the relentless women of the Fortine Bureau of Investigation.  I don’t know how many people are still around who learned weapon voodoo from pre-war Marines who had served in Haiti – hand signals designed to make the real voodoo practitioners wake up in a cold sweat.  I signaled a Haitian grad student with one, and over 40 years after Ed had taught the voo, I got confirmation the hand signals were recognized.  “You don’t want to mess with those powers!  Where did you learn that?”  Jean-Michel still knew of the Marines who brought their version of peace to Haiti.

Ed’s life exemplified responsibility.  As his wife’s health failed, he moved to Great Falls to be near a military hospital.  I recall his story describing how Alzheimer’s had taken her memory, as she explained, “You’re a nice old man.  My husband would like you.”  While Danny On has public memorials, Ed’s memorial has been, and remains, intensely private – shared now with my son-in-law as he learns to use the 1911a1, and next summer when we move onto the Reising.

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