I have always had a soft spot for antiques and just generally old stuff. Some people, who I may or may not be dating, sometimes accuse me of hoarding. I like to think of it as preserving history and like all hoarders I fall back on “its all good stuff”… old coins, books, and various odds and ends. I have a real tendency to lean towards more historical prairie items like my used day planer from 1912, its interesting to see the price of cattle back then or old school books from small towns where the only thing left of the school, is a patch of grass that grows a little darker where the frame used to be. Mixing this with my love for the outdoors, and possibly idolizing Jed Clampett when I was younger, I often find myself drawn to old guns, especially a nice double barrel shotgun. I have stumbled across a few older doubles, the first I found was a 12 gauge made by “Tobin” as best we (by which I mean my step dad and all his books on the subject) could tell, it was made somewhere around 1910. The next was a .410 labelled as a “El Faison” a beautiful little gun that I certainly didn’t pay much for and according to the internet was made in Spain and is worth between $50 and $1500. So hopefully someday someone with too much money will want to buy it from me.
The last old double I purchased was a “New Haven Arms” in 12 gauge with a Damascus barrel meaning it can only use old style black powder cartridges. These cartridges now have to be hand made, luckily for me I bought the gun off of a coworker who threw in a few shells he had made. Some are a nice full length brass cartridge just like it would have shot when it was new, and some are modern plastic hulled shells that have been cut down, refilled, and glued shut. Its a rather hodgepodge looking affair but they fire every time, so who am I to question his methods.
Shortly after purchasing the gun I did some research on it and turned up very little information. As best I can tell it was either made in or imported to Portugal at some point in its life, based on the stamping under the barrel. Lastly it is at least 150 years old. It is also labelled “Interchangeable” on the side which tells me that somewhere in its long life it has lost a few barrels.
This passed week I was lucky enough to have some time off work, and this time of year that means only one thing… grouse hunting. Grouse hunting has got to be one of my favorite forms of hunting, its usually during relatively warm fall weather. Grouse typically spend their time in the ditches along gravel quad trails which means they can be hunted by walking and looking for them or driving a quad to cover more ground. The trade off with the quad is that you cover more ground but are more likely to drive right passed them as their camouflage makes them the envy of the hunting industry. The last reason I am so fond if hunting them is that they are a small animal that is easy to clean, its not a large time, space and labor commitment like with big game hunting. Its just a much more relaxed form of hunting, you walk around in a fall jacket looking at the falling leaves. If you’re lucky enough to encounter what you’re after, it doesn’t result in a lot of hard work, and if all else fails, you went for a lovely fall walk.
I decided to take the old “New Haven” shotgun out with me hunting this time, I hadn’t shot it much since I got it and I figured my dad would like to see it. Him, Rose the pug, and myself loaded into his side by side quad and started driving down the trails. The leaves were still on the trees which gave the birds a lot of cover, its a pretty safe assumption that we drove right passed a few and didn’t even realize it. Finally after only a few hours of touring the country side our trail came to a dead end as the result of a large downed tree. We stopped to take a break while my dad answered some phone calls, when you run a business you’re always on call. While he chatted away about various lengths of light bars available I grabbed my old shotgun, scrambled over the downed tree and wandered up the trail on foot. A few hundred yards down the trail I heard the quiet yet unmistakable gobbling and clucking of a grouse. I froze and slowly turned, there it was, perched on a log, slowly wandering away from me. There was a lot of brush and branches in the way so I slowly moved forward to find a shooting lane. I found a clear line of sight and the bird was only about 5 meters away, it hopped up on a log and started to bounce like it was prepping for takeoff. I shouldered the old gun and cocked back the hammer and fired in one smooth motion. That old gun spit fire, thunder, and smoke, a lot of smoke, the kind of smoke only black powder and high performance diesel trucks can produce. After a few long seconds the smoke cleared and there it was, my first grouse of the year, taken with a shotgun older than Alberta’s provincial status. I was happy to see it was a quick clean kill and I had managed to not hit the breast meat. I picked up the grouse, threw the shotgun over my shoulder and headed back to the quad. I could hear my dad yelling to his dog to go see, needless to say the dog was pretty interested.
The rest of the day I couldn’t help but wonder how much game that shotgun has taken in its career, and what variety. I usually have a tendency to baby antiques and keep them in storage, after this hunt I’m starting to understand what an old coworker said to me. We were talking about hunting rifles and he mentioned that he still used an old Husqvarna rifle that his grandfather had given him. I joked that it should be in a museum to which he quickly replied “no, it should be out hunting, that’s what its built for, and that’s what it wants to do.” In a lot of way he has a point, how would you rather be treated? Left in storage and taken out only on sunny days or out proving you’ve still got what it takes to get the job done?
So what can we learn from this old shotgun of mine? Firstly, a gun will last a very long time if you take care of it, so do your maintenance and buy a gun that you like not just one that you need, because you and your great grand kids might have it for a very long time. Lastly, just because somethings old doesn’t mean its not useful or able to kick some butt, so go visit or call your aging relatives. My guess is they can still do things that would surprise you, or at the very least tell you something worth hearing.
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I only wrote the italicized portion of this post, the rest is done by Erin, I think its great. You can easily skip over my writing and just read hers without confusion or disappointment… I just like to add because its my site and I’m selfish.
A few weeks ago Erin had a few days off and I was going to meet up with her in Jasper. I was told her and a friend would be hiking from Cadomin along the Fiddle River Trail to the Miette Hot springs. I finished work much later than I had intended and arrived at the hot springs at nearly six pm. I was worried that they would have finished the hike long before I arrived and I know how bad Jasper is for cell reception, honestly I consider poor cell reception a good thing when it comes to camping and hiking. When I arrived at the parking lot I quickly found Erin’s car but not Nicole’s truck. I immediately began to panic… what can I say? I’m a high strung fellow. I pulled out my set of keys for Erin’s car and had a look around, it was obvious that she was still on the trail since none of her hiking gear was in the car. For the life of me I couldn’t remember the name of the trail they were taking and I vaguely recall Erin telling me that they MIGHT be leaving from the hot springs instead of hiking to them. I found the guide book in the car and found the few hikes that ended at the hot springs and FiddlePass made the most sense. Its times like these that I really remember the old hiking rule of thumb: have a plan, tell someone your plan, stick to your plan. According to Erin she did those and I just dont listen… that um… sounds about right actually.
After a lot of pacing around and debating options, I left a note in her car explaining that I was hiking forty five minutes into the Fiddle Pass trail head to see if they were there or if someone had seen them. I figured they were exhausted or someone rolled an ankle and needed help with gear, or they had hiked the other direction and someone coming out would have crossed paths with them. After losing and re finding the trail several times I finally found a couple that was carrying more than a camera and a water bottle, if anyone had seen those girls, it was them. I asked if they had seen two girls on the trail at all and they both said “no” and looked at me funny, then I remembered I had just come off night shift and had been awake for over 30 hours at this point. I rephrased the question with more details and a description of the girls. The girl lifted her hand over her mouth in shock or amazement… either way it scared the hell out of me. Then she said “ooohh wait, are you the guy that they were talking about?” not helping me feel better here lady. Then she explained that the girls were headed the other way and had run into some trouble and she was so glad someone was looking for them. She informed me that they had also left the keys to Nicole’s truck in Erin’s car at the start of the trail.
I hiked out and made casual conversation with the couple… and shared some beef jerky, nothing brings people together like beef jerky. I rifled through Erin’s car and found Nicole’s keys, jumped in my truck and possibly set a speed record for the hill down from the hot springs. I was driving when I noticed I had an incoming call from a long complicated number… I’m in no mood for telemarketers but I better answer it anyway. I missed it by seconds, checked my voice mail and it was Nicole explaining what I already knew so I just kept driving right on out of cell service. I arrived to find two soggy women who were overjoyed to see me. Erin then told me her story… and here it is, written by her, complete with a bit of profanity (you’ve been warned):
I lay on the side of the rocky trail, resting on my backpack and closed my eyes. My feet felt as if they were vibrating, raw and soaking wet. Pain shot through my right knee and I wondered how much farther we had to hike. There were only a few hours of daylight left, and I had no idea how much farther we had to go. If I had to guess – less than three hours, but I had no way to know for sure.
I took a moment to take in my surroundings. To my right, evergreen trees sloped downwards, overlooking Whitehorse Creek. Behind me stood the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains. The evening sun was casting a warm glow over everything, and glinting beautifully off the creek below. I breathed in the fresh mountain air and thought to myself “God dammit this is beautiful, and I’m fucking miserable.”
I thought about the last two days that had led me to this moment. I had been looking forward to a trek through the mountains for weeks. I had just finished up my summer classes and was in desperate need of a getaway. Because Tyson’s work schedule is so unpredictable, I had planned to head to Jasper for a 2 day hike with my friend Nicole, followed by a week of solo vacationing. Tyson would join me if he had any time off.
On the recommendation of a friend, we decided to hike from Miette Hot springs to White Horse Creek campground. It’s 37 km one way. Both of us were a bit nervous about the distance (neither of us are expert hikers), but the friend assured us it was “no big deal” so we decided to go for it. We parked Nicole’s truck at our endpoint, about 6km south of Cadomin, and drove my car to Miette to begin our hike. Before we began Tyson sent me a message to say that he would be done work the next day, and would drive out to meet us at the hot springs for a soak after our hike. Deal.
Due to various annoying circumstances and a bit of bad traffic, we began our hike shortly after 1 pm – way later than we had planned. We hiked merrily along, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, happy to be off on our adventure. There were supposed to be a couple of river crossings along the way, and a few times we ended up loosing the trail at the river bank and wondering if we should cross, only to find it pick up again a ways down the bank. Aside from a few nearly errant river crossings, the afternoon passed without incident until it began drizzling. It looked like it might pass quickly, and it was a hot afternoon so neither of us elected to put our rain jackets on. The next thing I knew, the sky was cracking and booming above us, and it was raining so hard that our trail had become a river, flooding over the tops of my hiking boots and soaking my feet.
We kept trudging along in the rain at a snail’s pace until around 7 pm when our trail stopped dead at the edge of the river. We stood looking at the murky brown water, rushing quickly over the sharp rocks. This looked nothing like the gentle babbling brook we had crossed several times already that day. Surely this wasn’t a crossing. This had to be one of those cases where the trail picks up again just around the corner. We scoured the river bank in search of our trail, and finally admitted that this was our crossing point, and the trail clearly picked up on the other side. The hours of pouring rain had made it fast flowing, and murky brown. “Well,” I said to Nicole, “Should we try and cross it, or should we set up camp right here?”
“There is no way we are crossing that” she replied. I was inclined to agree with her. While I couldn’t possibly get any more wet than I already was, I could easily be pushed over by the rushing water. I probably wouldn’t be carried too far down the river though; there were too many rocks to smash into that would stop me from being washed away. “Still” I thought, “not an appealing option.”
We sat there on the riverbank in the rain for a while and had a snack, whilst trying to decipher our soggy map and determine where on the trail we were. There had been no signs or mile markers to speak of. With our map completely shredded, we gave up that fools errand and began looking for a place to put our tent.
“The rain has almost stopped”, Nicole said, “and look, the water even looks a bit calmer.” She was right. The water was noticeably less rough and scary. “I wonder how deep it is in the middle there.” I said. If it was less than knee deep, I was sure we could cross without issue, but it was impossible to tell with the thick brown water.
“I’m just gonna go test it out, I’ll be careful.” And with that I found myself knee deep in the river, testing the depth with a big stick before each careful step. The next thing I knew, I was on the other side, guiding Nicole across with the help of the big stick. We had made it!
A few hundred meters beyond the river we came upon an empty campground. Slide Creek. Shit. We were still 7 km away from where we where supposed to spend the night. There was no way were going to make it there, so we decided to spend the night exactly were we were.
As we set up camp, Nicole searched her backpack top to bottom and informed me that she didn’t have her truck keys. You know, the keys that we needed to get into her truck once we were finished the hike. Well shit. What now? Stupid city girls that we are, we came to the conclusion that there would probably be cell reception at the campground where the trail ended, and we decided to hike onwards come morning. We would just give Tyson a call when we got there, and let him know what happened.
Before bed, I was dismayed to find that I had forgotten to wrap my sleeping bag in a plastic garbage bag before I stuffed it into my backpack. It was now soaked. Oh well, at least my clothes were dry. I ended up sleeping in my raincoat, with my legs in a garbage bag and the wet sleeping bag over top. It wasn’t half bad. It was a warm night and I slept like a baby.
The next morning we regretfully put our nice dry feet into our soaking wet boots and hit the trail again. It was a beautiful sunny day, but it was slow going, mostly because we are slow. We also had an extra 7 km to hike that we didn’t manage to cover the day before. Despite having wet feet, and facing the possibility of being stranded upon completion of the hike, I was in a great mood. I love this kind of thing. I really do. We hiked up to Fiddle Pass, which is surrounded by a beautiful alpine meadow. At this point I was really truly enjoying myself. The decent from the pass to Whitehorse Creek campground is about 13 km. After a brief snack break at the top of the pass we began our descent.
After my first few steps downward, I felt my knee twinge. It had given me absolutely no trouble at all up to this point, and now it was twinging with every step. “Shit,” I thought, I hate downhill. I can go uphill all day long, but when it’s time to go down I turn into a wobbly-kneed newborn foal. This was going to take a while.
Roughly five hours later, I found myself lying on the side of the trail in the evening glow, pain radiating in my knee, contemplating the absolute beauty of my surroundings, and finally admitting defeat. I was supposed to be having fun and I wasn’t any more. Just then, Nicole came hobbling around the bend with a look of pure misery on her face. I looked at her knowingly and said “Me too, man. Fuck this shit.” We laughed/cried, and massaged our sore feet while we debated whether or not we would make it before dark. Then, we sucked it up and kept on walking.
About 20 minutes later, I had fallen behind Nicole, limping and shuffling as fast as my knee would allow. I was a woman on a mission and I was gonna finish this damn hike if it killed me. Just then I looked up and saw the strangest sight. Nicole was RUNNING, towards me. “WE MADE IT! OH MY GOD ERIN WE MADE IT!” she squealed.
After the initial elation of being finished the hike wore off, we glumly realized that we still had no reception. Shoot. How could we call Tyson? He must have been at Miette waiting for us by now; it was past 8 o’clock already. All we had to do was get a hold of him. Nicole approached some other campers and found that they had a satellite phone. We borrowed it to call Tyson and he didn’t pick up. We left him a message and asked the campers if we could use the phone again in a little while. “Sure,” one said, “but we’re packing up now, not sure how much longer we’ll be here”.
We parked ourselves on a large rock near their campsite and tried not to be creepy as they packed up their gear. We needed to use that phone at lease once more. After a while, one of the campers took pity on us and said, “Hey, you girls look thirsty, do you want a beer?”
“You have beer?” I exclaimed, “Yes, yes, yes, I need a beer right now.” I don’t know if I have ever enjoyed a beer so much.
We called Tyson one more time before they left – straight to voicemail. Could this mean he was nearby and coming to get us? We had no way to know. We were sitting by Nicole’s truck debating if we should set up our tent and scrounge some food from other campers, when I saw a big white chevy coming down the gravel road. “Is that Tyson?” Nicole asked me. “I think it is,” I said. Tyson pulled up beside us, leaned out the window, and asked, “You ladies need a ride?” We were saved! But how in the heck did he get here so fast? If he was at Miette when he got our voicemail, there is no way he could make it here by now.
Tyson explained to us that he had arrived at Miette and noticed that my stuff wasn’t in my car, so we must still be hiking. He thought we were hiking in the other direction, towards Miette (because he doesn’t always LISTEN when I tell him things), and he was starting to get worried, so he decided to hike in from the Miette trailhead to meet us on our way out. He didn’t run into us obviously, but he did run into another couple who we had crossed paths with on the trail that morning. Nicole had told them of our snafu with the car keys, and the other woman relayed this information to Tyson, exclaiming, “Thank goodness someone is looking for those girls!” So, Tyson hiked back to my car, found Nicole’s truck keys in the glove box (really Nicole?), and raced down to Whitehorse creek to rescue us. He was already on his way to get us when we called from the satellite phone, and had missed the call by seconds.
Nicole and I both gave him big bear hugs and gushed appropriately, thanking him for saving us. Parting ways, Nicole and I agreed that after some time had passed, this would make for a good story… but let’s be better prepared next time.
I initially opted to decline explaining how I had figured out what was going on and gotten there so fast, but Nicole figured it out pretty quickly. After I arrived Nicole grabbed her keys and headed home while Erin and I headed back toward Jasper, we decided to just get a hotel for the night instead of setting up camp with wet gear and sore everything, plus it was nearly ten pm when I found them. On the way to the hotel we side tracked to the hot springs so Erin could grab some fresh clothes. On the way down from the hot springs we were flagged down by a family stranded on the side of the road… well, when you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll. The father of the family, Pat was his name I believe, jumped into the small space we could clear in the back seat and we drove him to the end of the road where he could get enough service to call a tow truck. We arrived at the hotel just after midnight and while Erin soaked in the tub I ran downtown to grab a late night burger for myself and some pizza for Erin, because what good is pretending to be a hero if there isn’t pizza and burgers to celebrate? We barely woke up in time for check out, then picked up Erin’s car, and found a nice camp site. We spent the next few days doing shorter relaxed hikes, a bit of biking, and a lot of resting.
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