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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