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Japanese rifle used to kill buck in Massey

Chris Keenum, right, shows John Lockhart the buck Keenum shot with the Japanese rifle Lockhart gave him from World War II. | Special to the Enquirer
Chris Keenum, right, shows John Lockhart the buck Keenum shot with the Japanese rifle Lockhart gave him from World War II. | Special to the Enquirer

A Japanese rife shipped home to Hartselle as a sailor’s souvenir 70 years ago finally found its mark Tuesday afternoon in the hands of Chris Keenum, owner of Problem Wildlife Control.

Keenum used the 7.7.millimeter Arisaka rifle to bag a young six-point buck on his hunting range in the Massey Community at dusk.

Shooting a deer to put meat on the table is nothing new to Keenum, who usually bags the limit during a season. What makes this kill special is the story behind the gun and its ammunition.

Keenum received the rifle as a gift from John Lockhart, a retired Hartselle Vo-Ag teacher and a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II. It’s modified 30.06 shell casings were loaded by retired Hartselle educator Frank Parker, who was Keenum’s principal when he attended Hartselle Junior High School.

This is the Japanese rifle from World War II that John Lockhart gave to Chris Keenum.
This is the Japanese rifle from World War II that John Lockhart gave to Chris Keenum.

Lockhart acquired the rifle when his Seabee unit landed on Okinawa in 1945 to assist in cleanup operations.

“They brought in this dump truck loaded with new Japanese rifles and dumped them on the ground,” Lockhart recalled. “Those of us that wanted one wrote our names on a slip of paper and dropped them in a hat. I wanted one as a souvenir and was lucky to have my name drawn from the hat.”

Lockhart chose to pass on his World War II memento to Keenum three years ago.

“It blew my mind when he told me the gun was mine,” Keenum said. “I thanked him and told him it would be one of my goals to use the gun to bag a deer.”

A problem arose when Keenum realized that ammunition for the rifle was scarce and very expensive when it could be found.

That’s when Parker learned about Keenum’s dilemma and volunteered to help.

Parker has the same make rifle, which was shipped home by his father from Okinawa in World War II.

“I fired the rifle when I was 15 years old,” Parker recalled, “using a string to pull the trigger. It fired perfectly and I realized that I needed to learn how to load ammunition.”

Subsequently, he studied the history of World War II rifles and handguns and mastered the technique of using blank brass casings and milling tools to make bullets for his own guns.

“I was happy to load some shells for Chris,” he said.

Chris Keenum bagged this six-point buck using a 7.7 millimeter Arisaka Japanese rifle given to him by John Lockhart. | Special to the Enquirer
Chris Keenum bagged this six-point buck using a 7.7 millimeter Arisaka Japanese rifle given to him by John Lockhart. | Special to the Enquirer

Keenum’s goal was easier said than done.

“I gave it my best shot the first two seasons and came up empty handed both times,” Keenum said. “The first year I spotted a couple of does but passed them up because I wanted a buck. Instead, I knocked down a coyote at 50 yards. The second year, I fired at a spike buck from 120 yards but didn’t make contact.”

“I was using the rifle for the first time this season when I spotted the six-pointer 20 yards away,” he stated. “It was getting dark, and I was sighting through a peep hole and my vision is not what it used to be. Luckily, I looked above the target where there was some light in the sky and as I lowered my aim, the deer stepped into a pool of water and I saw his silhouette. The bullet hit his shoulder and he fell in his tracks.

Keenum said the first thing he did was call his wife Allison and tell her the good news.

“‘I did it,’ I told her. Then I wondered to myself if it was me, the rifle or divine intervention.”

“Then I called Mr. Lockhart and Mr. Parker and told them what I had done and thanked them for the positive influence they’ve had in my life.”

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