I always carry a 12 gauge L. C. Smith double barrel shotgun when I’m primarily hunting woodcock or quail. Before I found myself unable to pry my fingers off of a Spartan .410 double barrel I was field testing a few years ago, and was thus reminded that .410 shells and shotguns weigh less than 12 gauge ones do, the L. C. Smith was also my go-to rabbit gun.
But be that as it may, this year, next year and until I can shoot it no more, I’ll be carrying the L. C. Smith the last time I’m going to be able to hunt rabbits before the season closes. For one thing, the fact that its barrels have been cut back to 25 inches, eliminating all traces of choke and the fact that a custom stock makes it fit me like an extension of my body have combined to create the perfect weapon for ultra-fast shooting at close range. (I’ll pause here a moment to allow all the firearms collectors among you to recover from fits of apoplexy.)
OK, now we can go on. Far more important that what that shotgun can do in my hands is what it does do in my heart. According to Webster’s “New World College Dictionary,” a heritage can be either “property that is or can be inherited” or “something handed down from one’s ancestors or the past, as a characteristic, a culture, tradition, etc.”
Leo Allison, my maternal grandfather, was the L. C. Smith’s previous owner. Even as a child, I knew how much more he cared about that one gun than he did about any of the others he owned, and I hoped it would be mine someday. Then one never-to-be-forgotten day a few years before he died in 1985, he handed me the shotgun and said, “Take good care of that; it’s my most prized possession.” (He’d told me on a previous occasion that the one thing in his life he was most proud of was his family, so I understood what he meant.)
The shotgun had certainly been well cared for. It’s serial number indicates it was manufactured in 1908. Despite its age, the inner surface of the barrels is a trifle rough but still shiny bright. All of the outer surfaces are completely free of any signs of rust or corrosion. Its action opens more crisply and closes more tightly than do the actions of all but the most expensive new double barrels.
I wish I’d had sense enough to ask him how long he’d owned the shotgun and how he came by it, but I didn’t. My mother doesn’t know either, and we agree it’s extremely unlikely there’s anyone left alive who does.
That said, since my grandfather turned nine in August of 1908, I think the possibility he was the shotgun’s original owner can safely be discounted. At the other end of the time line, one of his most often told stories was about shooting pheasants very soon after they moved into north central Kansas. The state held pheasant seasons from 1917 through 1920 and then reopened them for good in 1932.
It’s remotely possible that my grandfather inherited the shotgun from his father or grandfather, but through his generation, the Allison clan tended to have a lot more children than money. Two of his older brothers served in the army during WWI and could have “liberated” it on either side of the Atlantic. But the most likely scenario is that, despite the fact that having two daughters by 1930 meant he, too, had more children than money, my grandfather somehow managed to acquire the shotgun sometime prior to the 1932 pheasant season.
If that’s true, L.C. Smith double barrel shotgun number 318168 has been in our family for 84 of its 108-year existence. If that isn’t heritage, I don’t know what is.
But referring back to Webster, that shotgun is only a symbol of the maternal side of my inherited culture. My grandfather’s grandfather, who died when my grandfather was 17, was a post Civil War homesteader. He told my grandfather many stories of what life was like in north central Kansas when the first European settlers arrived, and my grandfather passed some of them along to me. These included the fact that during late 19th and early 20th centuries hunting was a necessity that ignited a passion in him that burned long after he had money in his pocket. He passed that exact passion on to me, which may explain why I rate high quality meat ahead of what many of today’s hunters call trophies.
I’m eagerly looking forward to the day when I can start passing that culture on to my now two-year-old grandson. If I do it right, there will come a day when he’ll be ready to take his turn stewarding the L. C. Smith.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]