By Clay Riness  

When my father was a boy in the 1940s, he stumbled onto a used boys’ rifle in his local sporting goods store and bought it for $6. It was a Hopkins & Allen Model 922 Junior, a slim, elegant, single-shot rifle calibered in 0.22 LR. The gun featured a falling-block action.

For those who may not be familiar with this kind of gun, here’s a clue. If you’ve ever seen the 1990 movie “Quigley Down Under,” you might remember the Shiloh Sharps Model 1874 falling block (caliber 45-70) that Tom Selleck used. The popular Ruger No.1, if you wish to Google it, is a modern falling-block design and is available in a broad variety
of calibers. 

On the 922 Junior, you push downward on the rear of the trigger guard and the block is lowered, exposing the breech and expelling any cartridge, live or spent, in the chamber. A single round is then loaded onto the barrel and the trigger guard is returned to its normal position. When you want to fire it, you cock the hammer, sight your target and pull the trigger. Falling-block rifles are noted for their exceptional accuracy.

My dad would be quick to tell you that he learned to shoot and hunt with that rifle and that the number of squirrels and rabbits it put on the table are beyond being counted. It was, by every definition, a meat gun. But then, at the affordable price of rimfire ammunition at the time, there were plenty of opportunities to hone skills and have fun by putting rounds downrange and into paper, cans and bottles. 

When I came of age, my dad taught me to shoot with the same rifle. He educated me sternly about gun safety, toted me along on squirrel hunts, let me miss a few and learn to “still hunt.” Eventually I got the hang of it, and by 12 or 13 I was allowed to head into the woods behind my house and hunt alone.

Aside from the religious practice of gun safety, he had but one rule: If you kill it, be prepared to field dress it and eat it. In other words, don’t kill for the simple sake of it and don’t be wasteful. Thankfully, when I became a man, he gave the rifle to me in the hope that I would one day pass his legacy down to my own children. I continued to hunt with it until my eyesight made using iron sights more difficult and then switched to a lever gun with a scope.

As you might have expected, I used the rifle, in part, to teach my own son how to shoot, although his first rifle was a single-shot Chipmunk … a rifle designed for children. (Our first time at the range was when he was around 6, and he took safety protocols very seriously. That means I did my job.) He and I never achieved the level of dirt time and hunting that my dad and I did, but that little Hopkins & Allen rifle is and will always be a family heirloom, remembered fondly and at the ready to achieve the means for a delicious squirrel stew. Also handed down in the ritual was the same gun safety education and the same credo with regard to sportsmanship and wastefulness. Of course, the 922 Junior will go to my son in time, and he will continue the tradition.

In doing my research, the serial number on the gun indicates it was manufactured between 1912 and 1915 in Norwich, Connecticut. At over 100 years old it sheens with patina, and, despite its extensive use over more than three generations, the action is tight as tight can be. It still shoots true. Gun value books place its worth at around $200, but it is most certainly priceless to me and my family.

In closing, it also should be noted that in both my dad’s and my own generation, there was never a problem with boys and guns. Hunting rifles hung in gun racks in the cabs of unlocked pickups on school grounds. Many schools had shooting teams. Backcountry plinking and hunting were part of the American fabric. And yes, those were different times in so many respects. We live in more divisive times today, and guns in general are at the center of a great deal of debate. However, no matter where you fall on the subject of guns, I believe there is nothing more benign, nonthreatening, and even benevolent than a father teaching his kid gun safety and how to shoot a Hopkins & Allen 922 Junior. In fact, maybe there ought to be more of exactly that going on.