Idle Thoughts From Mt. Waas
Old brass....
by Ollie Harris
Nov 08, 2012 | 954 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I was easing through a patch of cedars during a long-ago deer hunt, trying to squeeze in an evening hunt during the magic hour between getting off work and the last of shooting light. As I neared the edge of the trees overlooking a broad, sagebrush-covered draw, I saw the broken half of an ancient arrowhead. Two or three steps more brought me to an old, oxidized rifle shell.

I picked up the black brass casing, rolled it up and down my leg to wipe off some of the dirt and turned it so that I could read the stampings around the primer. I tapped the shell against my leg to loosen the dirt that was inside, packed there by years of rain, snow and wind. I spat upon the base and wiped it on my pants so that I could read what caliber was stamped there.

I felt good, a part of history. The broken arrowhead and the old brass told me that I was not the first hunter to pass that way. One had passed hundreds of years ago. Another was from however long it takes for brass to turn black. I felt a kinship.

There is great beauty in old brass. Where it was once a bright golden color, it quickly turns black when exposed to the natural elements. There is an intangible attraction to old brass. I can’t explain why I like it so. It feels satiny, or buttery in its smoothness. I once brought an old 30-06 brass home, cleaned it up and reloaded it, back when I reloaded most of my bullets. I thought it was cool looking, all black with a shiny new bullet in it.

There isn’t much of my own old brass out in the wilds, except for .22 brass. I have always been sort of compulsive about saving my brass. The biggest buck I ever killed was in Dark Canyon in the La Sals. It wasn’t until later that I realized I had not recovered the brass from the one shot that I fired. I returned and made a pretty good hike to pick up that single brass.

It is interesting to carry a piece of old brass. The mineral stains and the black oxidation slowly began to polish away from rubbing inside a pocket. At first you begin to see tiny flecks of the underlying yellow brass, peeking through the oxidation. If you carry the brass long enough, it returns to its original, brassy color.

I have an accumulation of old brass that I have picked up over the years. I had an idea how I might use that beautiful, old brass for decoration so I poked around my desk and cabinet drawers, looking here and there, and found several pieces. A couple are .303 British and two are more are .30-40 Krag. Both were likely fired from military surplus rifles. A couple of pieces are military surplus .30-06 brass. There are others.

My favorite old brass is a .45-90. It is black and beautiful. I carried it in my pocket for two or three days but then I put in on a shelf. I didn’t want to disturb the beautiful black oxidation. I won’t use it in my project.

My oldest brass is not brass. It seems to be copper. It is a .44 Henry rimfire shelI that I found while poking around the area where my third-great grandfather lived in the 1850s. His journal tells of his ongoing battle with a hawk that was too fond of his chickens. But, as far as I know, the .44 Henry rifle came later.

My project is to work a nice piece of wildfire-killed oak brush into a walking stick. I plan to cut the bases off some of my old, black brass and inlay them into the walking stick. In my mind’s eye, I see them extending from the wood maybe an eighth of an inch. I think it would be a cool way to display some of the old brass, and there is something enticing about old brass and native oak.

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