She was my first. She was older, much older. But she was a simple beauty that commanded respect. At eleven years old, my step-grandfather (Gramps) would give me his single-shot 1929 model Stevens 16-gauge shotgun. She was a little big for me, but with some coaching and practice we got to know one another and would soon become a pair.
Before I could take her out in a proper way, I needed instruction. I had never fired a shotgun before, so a turkey shoot seemed like a good entry point. How hard can it be? After some explanation that no actual turkeys would be shot and that the event would entail shooting at a limited number of clay birds from a launcher, everything became clear. Soon I was standing with the men, everyone watching as the skinny little kid fired his gun, missing every target thrown into the sky.
I was embarrassed. My pride was hurt. But I remember other shooters giving me encouragement and I chalked it up as the experience of a first-time shooter. Once at home, I told the sad story to my empathetic grandmother, and she reacted in horror when she saw my black and blue shoulder. Next time she would make sure I was prepared as she would crochet a shoulder pad that I could pin inside my shirt for protection. That evening I would sit on the living room floor, a cloth spread out on the rug to catch oil and debris as I broke down the old gun, cleaned her, and slipped her back into the flimsy new case I bought for her at Montgomery Ward. Back into my closet she would go until our next encounter.
In the autumn of 1966, I would buy my first hunting license. At age 12, I could now legally take the old girl hunting without the need for a chaperone. A couple of trips with Gramps and a friend would show me all I needed to know about pheasant and rabbit hunting, and soon I would begin venturing out to walk the railroad right-of-way that traversed though crop fields near where my grandparents lived. Living in the city, I was fortunate to have these occasional weekends in the country where I could explore nature and enjoy the solitude it offered, something I grew to treasure over my lifetime. That old shotgun would be my steady companion and pheasants, rabbits, squirrels, and my first Canada goose would all surrender to her power.
For 12 years, as opportunity allowed, the old shotgun would go afield, only to be retired in 1978 for a brand new 12-gauge Ithaca Model 37 pump. If the old gun was jealous, she never let me know, and after 55 years, she still has a place in my heart and in my safe. She doesn’t get out much anymore and spends most of her time sitting around listening to younger, exotic beauties from Italy and elsewhere tell their stories of the day. But I’m sure, after all the girls have been cleaned and oiled and put aside for a short rest, she probably modestly recounts a day in November, a long time ago, when I held her in my arms and at my command, she made a mighty goose fall from the sky - with one shot. --by Dan Zekor
Originally Published, Conservation Federation , March 1, 2021