From an early age I read with clarity the Boys Life Magazine.  There in was advertised the “Ithaca Saddle Rifle.  It was the object of my absolute interest.  It had a very western look, it had a lever action, it had the “Rifleman” look to it.

Alas, my father knew a bit about rifles and ordnance. He knew more than anybody in my small town.   He was an ordnance officer in the U.S. Army in WW2 & recalled into the Korean Conflict.  He taught soldiers how to shoot really big guns.   He was into trajectories and trigonometry, words that some people in my community had perhaps …never heard of…

The Ithaca Saddle Rifle loomed large in my imagination as the rifle of choice.  To my disappointment, my father explained to me that the barrel of this particular rifle was to short to have any meaningful accuracy.  He was into trigonometry and trajectories and I was into nothing more than cowboys and Indians.

The time came when I became a Cub Scout and took the N.R.A. gun safety course.  I graduated with honors.   A relative of mine with whom I  took the course nearly shot the instructor while we were out on our trial period.  I’ve always wondered if that mishap left a lasting scar on the psyche’ of a young student?  The instructor was shaken  by the mishap and the student was mortified.  From thence forward we took our rifle and gun handling skills with dubious skepticism.  We were in the sixth or seventh grade.

A few years passed and as a young card holder of an NRA Firearms Safety Certificate I came to slowly realize that my father wasn’t much of a hunter.  He had grown up in the near south,  on the Mason Dixon Line. His family were tenant farmers in the river bottoms of southern Indiana.

Tenant farming was just one step above abject slavery.   It was a place where the Wabash and the Ohio met.   When he picked up a rifle or shotgun I suspect that  it meant that there might not have been enough food on the table.  He had long since left his roots of poverty in that region of the U.S.

In an unguarded moment I asked my father whether they were John Deere tractor people or International Harvester?   With stunning admonishment he told me that he was raised with two horses and a mule!

A few years later I had taken my religion and confirmation course and have professed my faith in Jesus and God All Mighty.  Since my father still didn’t hunt much I was allowed to go out hunting with our good friend and pastor.  I leave out names intentionally.

It was late November or early December I can’t recall.  We went pheasant hunting on the cold frozen grounds of South Western Minnesota.   My shotgun of choice was small but it was perfect for a hundred pound lad like myself.  It was a side by side four ten shotgun handed down to me as the fourth generation.  I carry and occasionally hunt with this gun to this very day.  I suspect it was the gun my father may have used for squirrels in lean times.   We both held it in high regard and reverence , it is a beautiful “fowling piece”.

The day was cold enough that the air hurt our faces.  We walked across the corn rows knowing there was a pheasant within this ten acre plot and it could not escape our stepping from corn row to corn row.  Alas! we came upon the pheasant! However it was directly between us.  This left us with a vexing situation because we both stood directly in each others “line of fire”.

I was twenty to twenty five yards away from my pastor as he leveled his twelve gauge shotgun on the pheasant that stood between us. 

I can still recall fifty years later the slow motion feeling of him swinging his gun into position and with me on the other side of the pheasant.  Sweet Jesus, Surely this is not how life is to end.   He pulled the trigger and I saw the smoke emit from the barrel.  I must have been invisible standing behind this pheasant and yet I was directly in the pathway of his gunfire.

Without thinking, I immediately crouched and covered my face as the shotgun blast went piercing all of the corn stalks around me.  I instinctively ducked my head. He shot at the pheasant and the spray of the shotgun blast ricocheted off the frozen ground in front of me.  I was hit by only secondary ricocheted shotgun pellets.

I was wearing heavy cold weather clothing so very few pierced by thermal protection.  The sound of the gun report still rings in my ears.

He looked up and realized what he had done, he dropped his gun and ran  toward me.  He was in as much shock as I happened to be in, at the moment.

   We hugged each other and even though it was windy and five degrees outside we then dropped my coveralls and scoured my body looking for entrance wounds!

The good news was I was one of the skinniest kids in town and the only place that the shot penetrated was on my shinbone and there was not an eighth of an inch of flesh there.  With fingernails we were able to extricate the lead shot from my shinbone and it drew little to no blood because it was so oppressively cold and windy.

To this day I don’t recall if I ever told my deceased father about this episode in my life.  Our religion, our church and pastor were our rock and foundation.     It never felt right being shot by my pastor.

The years that have ensued I be came involved in retail,  so I have been involved in other gun episodes nearly as harrowing.  I’ve mourned the death of numerous friends of gun violence.  I’ve walked into an armed robbery in a liquor store in South Chicago, I’ve stared down the barrel of a person that was mentality ill, Unsuspectingly I’ve wandered  into the parking lot of the Gabby Giffords shooting in the following days wondering why all the flowers in a grocery store parking lot?   I live in the U.S.A.

   I yet I still ponder and wonder,  the allure of that Ithaca Saddle Rifle.

Bill Keitel November RoadNotes 2018



  1. Nice read, Bill. Your story brought back fond memories of pheasant hunting in Rock county with my Dad and my older brother. Dad carried an ancient 12g shotgon that had a cracked stock and one corner of its hammer had been chipped and broken. I still have the Stevens .22 rifle I got for Christmas back then when I was 8 or 10 years old. Bob had one too, but his had a scope, which I thought was totall6 cool. He and I eould spend lazy summer afternoons shooting rats that would scurry ou5 from under the decrepid old floor timbers of the hog barn back on the farm. There were always rats. One day, in just a couple hours we bagged six of them between the two of us. I, also, always dreamed of owning a western lever-action rifle… like John Wayne carried in his movies. In 2004 That dream came true! I made a “good trade.” A business associate was looking for framed landscape photographs for a new billiard parlor he had added to his house. Four of my large framed desert landscapes… for a brand new Winchester 30-30 still in its red retail presentation box. I was a happy buckaroo! Thanks, again for your story ! Del.

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