How Many Deer Did the National Park Mystery Winchester Kill?

 

This 132-year-old Winchester lever action rifle was found propped against a tree and was blended in well. (Photo: NPS)

This 132-year-old Winchester lever action rifle was found propped against a tree and was blended in well. (Photo: NPS)

Lever action rifles helped win the west and are among the most popular for hunters, then and today, but a mystery is unraveling in Great Basin National Park thanks to a stunning discovery.

A Winchester lever action rifle believed to be 132 years old was discovered in the park. The rifle was leaning against a tree and quite weathered, as you may expect. The stock and foregrip were faded to the point of basically blending in with the tree trunk it was leaning against.

When the Winchester lever action was found, flagging tape was wrapped around its wooden parts to help protect it from falling apart, so it could be examined and further protected for display.

When the Winchester lever action was found, flagging tape was wrapped around its wooden parts to help protect it from falling apart, so it could be examined and further protected for display.

From the Great Basin National Park Facebook page:

This rifle may provide its own bit of lore. Mysteries of the rifle’s journey through time spur creative and lively discussion. Who left the rifle? When and why it was leaned against the tree? And, why was it never retrieved? The Great Basin cultural resource staff is continuing research in old newspapers and family histories hoping to resolve some of the mystery and fill in details about the story of this rifle.

The park will provide a viewing opportunity for the community before sending the rifle to conservators to stabilize the wood and apply museum conservation techniques. The treatment will keep the gun looking as it was found and prevent further deterioration. When the rifle is returned to the park it will be displayed as part of the Park’s 30th Birthday and the NPS Centennial celebration.

Pretty cool, eh? The mind wanders at the possibilities: Was it used for self-defense? Hunting? Was it owned by a young man making his way, or a grizzled old timer? When it was propped against the tree was the owner hiding it, maybe exploring a trail, gutting a deer or elk and something bad happened?

Chances are good that we’ll never know. But it’s fun to have a mystery. The Winchester lever action rifles were at the time and still are today among the most popular for everything from plinking to killing deer, elk and personal defense.

Great Basin National Park is located in east-central Nevada neat the Utah border. Several national parks exist in the region including Zion, Brice Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It’s a wild, open, desolate region with some stunning scenery.

From the Great Basin National Park site:

The story of the Great Basin is not just one of geology and landforms, but also of people. This region has been home to American Indians for thousands of years. In more recent times, farmers and ranchers, Mormons and sheepherders, all called the Great Basin home.

Within Great Basin National Park, a representive piece of this massive region, stories of people and of places abound. Humans have left their mark here, too; from the Fremont Indians, who lived in Snake Valley, to Absalom Lehman, discoverer of Lehman Caves, to the mining camps that at one time dotted the South Snake Range. Remnants of former times are abundant. They are worthy of preservation as much as any natural feature, as they are invaluable links to the past.

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