I’m still recovering from one of the most humiliating days in the field I’ve ever had. As a high school hunting buddy of mine once said under similar circumstances, “I’d shoot myself, but I’m afraid I’d miss.”
As uncounted professional quarterbacks, golfers, tournament fishermen or even bridge players will attest, anyone who participates in any activity that requires either physical or mental skills at any level is going to have days when nothing goes right. In my head, I know that. But somewhere deep down inside, after missing a particularly easy shot, I meant it when I told my partner, “I wish this (shotgun) was a golf club, so I could throw it.”
The firearm in question is a 20 gauge Remington 870 Express Magnum I acquired in a trade last year, because I needed a 20 gauge with a three-inch chamber to test fire some new Federal turkey loads during the 2015 spring season. The light weight little shotgun kicked like a bay steer, but I went two up and two down with it.
Recoil isn’t a problem with light loads, of course, but between its lack of heft and its extremely short barrel, it swings too fast for bunnies. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Besides, I already own the perfect rabbit shotgun, a .410 bore double barrel marketed by Remington under the Spartan label. I had an opportunity to field test it several years ago, and when the time came to send it back, I mailed the company a check instead.
Fate put Tony Knight–the man who reinvented the inline ignition system for muzzleloaders–and I in the same place at the same time in the late 1980’s. as a result, I gained a very good friend, a passion for black powder and a low serial number MK85 engraved with my name.
Even so, one of the two firearms I love the very best is the one I’ve known the longest. I know neither the why nor the how my non-hunter dad acquired a .22 Springfield Model 87A shortly after he came home from WWII, but he did.
There’s a picture of a pre-school me wearing an Indian headdress and holding the Springfield in one of our family photo albums. I don’t remember the photo being taken, but I do remember my dad and my grandfather practicing trick shots like lighting matches or blowing out candles. As I recall, my grandfather–a lifelong hunter and shooter–was a better shot than my city-bred dad, the source of whose expertise I’ll never know, but not by much.
When I was barely a teenager, the 87A taught both my grandfather and I a valuable firearms safety lesson. We were stranding in the shade of a loafing shed attached to a barn shooting at old fashioned square nail heads protruding from a hay bunk about 10 yards away. I hit a nail absolutely square on, and we heard the “Thwack!” of something hitting the barn between us about head high. The object turned out to be most of the lead from the bullet I’d just fired.
It scared me, and I’m sure his far better understanding of what might have been terrified my grandfather. I’ve never forgotten that absolute attention to firearms safety is vital for expert marksmen, because, for good or ill, they’re going to hit whatever they shoot at.
Regular readers already know that a 12 gauge L.C. Smith double barrel I inherited from my grandfather is among my most cherished possessions. Since he was first and foremost a quail hunter, the first thing he did when he acquired it was to cut its barrels back to 26 inches. Doing so, eliminated the choke, of course, but that didn’t stop him from making both close shots and long shots that weren’t even possible.
To him, quail hunts were subject to an inviolate code of conduct designed to respect both the game and the hunters. Two hunters could move into shooting position when the dogs were pointing a covey but could only shoot at birds on their own side. All members of the party took turns on singles. It was a very pleasant way to hunt, and it’s still the way I prefer.
But be that as it may, by the time I was in my mid-teens I was so slouch with a shotgun myself, so one day I got it into my head that I had something to prove. He didn’t say a word the first or the second time I shot birds on his side. Then things got ugly. He was so fast any birds I might have had a good chance at had disappeared into exploding balls of feathers before I could get my gun to my shoulder.
This went on until he had stuffed four or five mangled messes into the game pocket of his coat. Then he looked me in the eye and said, “This isn’t much fun, is it?”
It was a lesson well and rightly taught. And as I’ve learned many times over the years since that day, it doesn’t just apply to quail hunting.
Gerald Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org