George Little: Old guns are like old friends

George Little

Dove and squirrel hunting seasons are here. Before long, the upland and firearm deer seasons will arrive.

It’s time to say hello again to the equipment we put away in January.

The pump shotgun that comes out of my safe first during hunting season is showing its age. The checkering on the forearm is almost gone, worn smooth from being cycled countless times. The bluing on the receiver shows the outline of my right hand. I’ve carried it on hundreds of hunts.

The stock’s dinged up in a couple more places. Crossing barbed wire fences and sliding down steep crik banks will do that. The edges of the recoil pad are rounded off. If that old gun could talk, what tales it would tell.

I don’t get attached to very much stuff. People are more my preference. But I took the grease paper off that brand-new pump shotgun when the ink was barely dry on my college diploma.

I worked freelance jobs on weekends and saved the money. It was my first new gun, and it had to be special ordered because I wanted one with a 26-inch barrel and an improved cylinder. I’d read in a magazine that those options were the preference of quail and pheasant hunters. The storeowner tried to talk me into one he had on hand. I couldn’t be swayed. I waited six weeks for delivery. It was worth it.

No matter how many sit beside it in the safe, almost everyone has a favorite shotgun, or rifle, or both. These are the ones that have worn out several pairs of boots, a hunting coat or two, at least three pickups and maybe even a couple of hunting partners. Those favorites have made as many memories as all the others combined.

An outdoors website asked people to describe their favorite hunting gun and tell why it’s their favorite. Most of the responses are things many of us would say.

“Nostalgia … it was my grandfather’s.”

“My dad gave it to me when I graduated from high school.”

And yes, “I saved up for it. It was my first new one.”

Nearly everyone said their favorite gun is not for sale. It will be passed along to the next generation.

Very few respondents said their favorite gun was their most expensive, or their most accurate. That didn’t surprise me.

My cousin Rodney was one of the most successful shotgun deer hunters in western Illinois. He was the first person I knew who bagged and mounted a fireplace buck.

He shot a beat-up semi-automatic .12 gauge that threw punkin’ ball slugs a foot to the right at 40 yards. When I suggested that trying to straighten the barrel might improve the gun’s accuracy, he told me he liked the way it was and that he’d grown accustomed to it.

He told me he didn’t think he could hit a thing with a gun that shot straight.

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