The problem with having a primary gun you carry to the field is over time other shotguns just don’t feel quite right. But I worry dedication to a single shooting stick leaves me vulnerable to being gunless.
I throw my gun. It’s something I can count on at least once or twice a season.
For the last decade my shotgun has been through the upland grinder. It’s a walking stick on steep inclines above 11,000′. It’s taken multi-mile rides on the roof of my truck when I’ve forgotten to stow it after the delirium of long hunts. That gun has been plugged barrel first into swamp muck, then cleared with a warped stick and patch cut fresh from a shirttail. It’s been soaked, snow covered, and hailed on. It’s been stomped on by carefree bird dogs and swung into tree trunks attempting shots in tight grouse cover. And when I have the rare hot shooting streak I refuse to clean it because I don’t want to wash the luck off.
Taken cumulatively, It starts to sound as if I don’t like this gun. I assure the opposite is the case. There was a time when I looked at shotguns as works of art. But this bird hunting has transformed all shotguns to tools. It must work above all else. When I look at new guns the first thing I do is go hands on, mount that shotgun, see if it’s a shooter. I don’t look at any gun adoringly, envy the curves and think that would be a great addition to my safe. I look at it and think it’s a good day to get dirty. I want it to spit smoking hulls and feed it two more.
Which brings us to the throwing. I’ve learned self-preservation prevails over pristine shooting hardware. One of the most memorable tosses was hiking down a Nevada mountain when I stepped full weight onto a melon-sized rock that broke loose sending both feet skyward. Catching yourself is the natural reaction and doesn’t happen with a gun in your hands. That shotgun was airborne without a thought.
I heard a distinct, hollow clank off granite as I was getting reacquainted with gravity in slow motion. The gun and I faired pretty much the same on this flight. It ended up five feet below me with a new divot in the butt stock and a dent in the rib. Since I was alone with the dogs over two miles from a marked trail, I was just happy to still have two functioning legs and a bruised kidney. I ejected shells, inspected barrels to make sure there were no obstructions and dry fired. Mounted the gun to check for some new barrel English, reloaded and headed on down the hill, slightly bruised and highly adrenaline alert.
Many shooters might look at this as a cringeworthy moment and lament the damage. But I assure you those aren’t mars, they are character marks. Those scratches, dings and dents have all been earned. I can look at this gun and be reminded of falling into badger holes, face-planting on snowy grades and dropping birds in places where only goats walk free.
I’m entertaining the idea of a new gun. Given the abuse that’s sure to come some might advocate for a fugly plastic, hydro-dipped hog leg. But I still admire fine engraving, color case hardening, grade one walnut, immaculate receivers. Any shotgun is going to be way more attractive to my eye when it has been kissed by mishap on a memorable day afield. As long as it still goes bang.