by Tab Taber
It is interesting how we attach value to certain things. I’m not necessarily talking about financial value but generational value- those things that hold value for us in our hearts. For women it may be jewelry, or family China, or silver, or quilts. But for men it is often their firearms. Firearms have function but also represent classic beauty, enduring stories, and lasting memories.
As a newly minted 2ndLt in the Marines in 1987, one of the first significant purchases I made with my modest paycheck was a hunting rifle. I researched carefully. If I owned one rifle for the rest of my life, what caliber, make, and action, would best serve me regardless of what kind of hunting I was to do. I finally decided on a Ruger M-77 bolt-action in 30-06. A smooth action on a beautiful hand-rubbed stock.
It was, and still is, a classic beauty even after 36 years of use. I mounted a very modest Tasco 3-9x scope on it and had the entire ensemble for under $400.00. It sounds inexpensive by today’s standards, but it was a significant purchase for a younger me in my early twenties. But I had a rifle that if I took care of it, would last for a lifetime. I was exceedingly proud of it. It was a tack driver. I hunted mainly whitetail deer with it, and the occasional hog or coyote that would pass by me. I shot an exceptional 8-point buck hunting with my Uncle Walker while stationed in Beaufort, SC.
My son and stepsons cut their teeth with it when they started hunting as young teenagers in Arkansas. When my son Quint graduated from High school in 2010, we held a graduation party for him- A Low-Country Boil– paying homage to his birthplace of coastal South Carolina. At that time, I presented the rifle to him as a graduation gift. He was proud. It traveled with him to a hunt in Mississippi with his stepfather Trey, where he shot his best whitetail buck.
It was his faithful companion that night he got lost (or as we would say in the Marines- temporarily disoriented) and had to spend an unexpected long night shivering under a pile of leaves in the expansive Ouachita National Forest in west-central Arkansas. On remote hunts in the Alaska wilderness with his mom and stepdad, Quint and his rifle scored on several majestic caribou. They made a good team and weaved some good memories together.
Just this past week in November of 2023 we traveled to Missoula, Montana where Quint’s mother and stepfather now reside. We were not there for vacation. We were there to receive the final Army accident investigation report concerning the passing of our son, Quint. He died suddenly in August of 2022 while training at the mountain phase of Army Ranger school in the mountains of North Georgia.
The day after the report, Trey and I- stepfather and father, or better put, co-fathers, with a common love of a spectacular young man, with tears running down our cheeks, solemnly opened the gun safe and carefully placed Quint’s 30-06 in its hard case to make the trip home with me to Florida. I did not want the rifle back, not this way.
After 36 years the barrel bluing still shines, the hand rubbed stock is still polished and smells of linseed oil. It still shoots true. There are a few bumps and blemishes and scratches from various back-country adventures as there should be, but it still has the comfortable feel and balance of that rifle purchased so many years ago as a much younger man.
A gift given that I never wanted back–a gift that should have been passed on to my son’s son-but was not to be. Yet hope is not lost. My daughter or a stepson will inherit it one day and maybe pass it on to their children. But until then, I will carry it into the woods with me and fondly remember the times Quint and I spent together afield, watching the last glow of dusk light pass beneath the treetops. It will never be my rifle again, it will always be his, and I will be borrowing it and its collection of memories for the remainder of my life.
Until we meet again, Son.
Tab Taber is the father of SSG George Taber, a Green Beret Medical Sergeant from 7th Group who passed away during a violent storm on Mt Yonah while at the Mountain phase of Ranger school in August 2022.
Tab journals to process his grief and to recollect memories of his son. Occasionally he shares his written thoughts with others on The Havok Journal and on Instagram @gltiv. Other Havok Journal articles about SSG George Taber include “In 37 Days I Made a Friend Who Became My Brother” and “For Those Mourning Loss This Holiday Season.”
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.