A little over 10 days ago, Jennifer wrote a post about how she became a gunnie and asked her readers to post their stories too. I’ve been meaning to respond to that question, but I’ve been a tad busy here lately. Which is par for the course around Castle Erickson. I’ve got some free time tonight though; and, if it’s going to get done, now’s the time. So, without further adieu, here’s the story of how I became a gunnie.
In one sense, guns were not a big part of my life growing up. My parents did not own guns, and my dad’s dad never owned a gun in his life to my knowledge. My mom’s mom had a couple of rifles (more on those later). Mom’s dad had, at various times, a dozen or so guns which were kept stashed under car seats, in window racks in pickups, in a cheap gun cabinet and in nightstands. I don’t recall exactly when I took my first shot with a firearm, but I do remember clearly what it was and where it was.
I know I was older than 4 but younger than 8 since this incident occurred before my parents’ separation and divorce. Back in the day, granddad drank Buckhorn beer. It was cheap, and he bought it by the case. The cardboard in which the case came was conveniently printed with a target on the backside with a picture of a buck in the center. I’m sure I brought what happened next on myself by pestering granddad to teach me to shoot after he was at least a 6 pack into a fresh case as the crazy coot thought it’d be a hoot to see if I could hit the broadside of a Buckhorn beer case target with a 12 gauge shotgun. He nailed one of those targets to a stump, had me lie down prone behind the shotgun and said something cheeky like “you may fire when ready.” I can’t say how far off the ground I came, but I’m pretty sure it was more than a couple of inches. The noise? What? I can’t hear you. Hearing protection? What’s that? Come to think of it, I don’t think granddad owned ear plugs or muffs. Ever.
I did manage to clip the lower left corner of the target from 10 or 20 yards which I don’t consider to be all that bad for a scrawny, young kid with exactly zero formal firearms training using a gun he had no business shooting. Granddad, if memory serves me right, was a little annoyed that I didn’t get a better hit on the target.
As the years progressed, granddad’s interest in teaching me to shoot properly didn’t improve. There was the squirrel hunting incident in which he sent me into the field with a Mossberg 20 gauge bolt action shotgun. His advice: “Aim for the head.” There was the time he bet me that I couldn’t hit a big oak tree 50 yards away on the first shot with his Smith & Wesson Model 29 in .44 magnum. The penalty for failing to hit the tree was allegedly going to be “a whipping”. I hit the right side of the tree on the first shot. Years later, I found out that the sights on that gun were skewed way right. I’m not entirely sure he didn’t do that on purpose to “win” other similar bets.
It’s amazing to me that I had any interest in shooting at all after his “careful” tutelage. But, addicted to recoil was I even despite his best efforts to scare and bully me.
I did get some formal firearms training the Boy Scouts for the marksmanship merit badge. There is not much to report of those experiences other than the one attempt I made at skeet shooting. At camp, we had the opportunity to try it using an H&R single shot 12 gauge. It bucked like a mule, and I couldn’t hit anything with it. Until the last shot when I dusted the clay through blind luck. Literally…as I am fairly sure my eyes were closed.
Between Boy Scouts and trips to granddad’s, my exposure to firearms growing up was rare but enough to keep the spark alive.
By the time I was old enough to buy my own guns, I was a poor college student. I did manage to purchase a few for recreation and apartment defense. At various times, I had a Taurus .357 revolver with a 6 inch barrel. That got traded for a Taurus PT945. The PT945 got traded for a Glock 23. Somewhere in that time period, I got my concealed handgun license and acquired a Rossi .357 snubbie revolver. A Remington 870 12 gauge shotgun and a Marlin 60 .22 rifle came home during this time period as well. I eventually sold the Glock to a friend because I didn’t like it, and I wanted the cash. A change in my religious views led me to not renewing my CHL. That led to the Rossi getting traded for a Browning Buckmark .22. The Browning was eventually sold to meet a cash flow crisis. I was recently able to replace the Browning with a Ruger MkIII 22/45 which I really like. More importantly, The Queen likes it too. She likes it so much, I may just have to let her keep it “hers” and get a MkIII Hunter model to be “mine”.
As mentioned above, I’ve also come into possession of some of the family “heirloom” guns. The pride and joy of that part of the collection is the Winchester 1905 S.L. (self loading) rifle in .32 SLR (or .32 WSL depending on which cartridge box you happen to be looking at). This rifle was my grandmother’s (mom’s mom).
Story has it; she and granddad went to a turkey shoot back in the day when they were still married. Grandmother turned up in high heels and slacks, and granddad entered her in the shoot. She wound up shooting the pants off everyone else and taking home the prize (this rifle). She presented it to me around about my 21ST birthday with a box of shells she had for it that had to be at least 40 years old if they were a day. From what I’ve been able to find out, it was made in 1907 or 1908. The ammunition is hard to find as there are no manufacturers making it anymore. The cheapest I’ve ever seen a full box of ammo was $60 at a gun show probably 15 years ago. I haven’t seen a box anywhere in probably that long. You can find single cartridges on gunbroker.com sometimes. I did come across one website for a custom ammo maker claiming to make reloads for it, but I haven’t gotten around to trying them out.
I also have my granddad’s U.S. Springfield Model 1873 .45-70 Trapdoor Rifle complete with bayonet. This rifle has seen better days, but it still shoots which is amazing for a rifle made in 1882. The stock is experiencing dry rot and will eventually just disintegrate. I plan on waiting as long as possible, but it will eventually require a new stock.
Another oldie in the collection is great granddad’s (mom’s dad’s dad) Smith & Wesson Safety Hammerless 4TH Model .38 Short with a 5” barrel. This is a neat little top break, five shot revolver. They were also called “lemon squeezers” after the grip safety on the back strap of the handle. I’ve never shot this pistol as the timing is off by a lot. I just don’t want to take the risk of having a round split in half by the forcing cone and blowing the barrel off…and my hand.
The oldest gun in the collection is a Perkins double barrel muzzle loading percussion cap shotgun.
I don’t know the exact age of the gun, but it reportedly belonged to granddad’s great uncle or great great uncle and may possibly have been used in the Civil War. I would put the date of manufacture sometime in the 1850’s. It might be older than that by a little, but there are no markings that I can make out that would confirm it. This gun is in even sadder shape than the Safety Hammerless. According to granddad, his great uncle hand carved the stock using a piece of glass. I would venture a guess that the stock was carved ON using a piece of a glass during a more or less sober state. The action is horribly loose, and the rear of one of the barrels took damage to the cap nipple. Granddad, in his infinite mechanical genius (or more likely a drunken stupor) decided he would try to fix it using J.B. Weld.
So, now the gun sits awaiting the time when I can make a suitable shadow box for it to reside in permanently as it will never be fired again.
There are also the “guns that got away” from Granddad. The selfish old coot sold some of them rather than keep them for his one and only grandson who wanted them. He had others stolen from him (although I suspect that they were actually borrowed by his step kids and never returned). One of these was a Springfield .30-40 Krag which I know for a fact took a deer at 400 yards with iron sights. There was a Colt Border Patrol revolver in either .41 or .45. I only saw that one once, but I knew I wanted it. Oh well. Such is life.
Currently, I’m just a recreational shooter, and I’m perfectly happy with that. As mentioned above, I no longer carry concealed. The main reason for that is that I believe that God can protect me a whole lot better than I can. I still maintain a defensive awareness when out in public, and I think I do a fairly good job of threat assessment which helps keep me out of situations where I would need a firearm. I’m not a certified instructor or anything like that, but I have introduced several people to shooting. I’ve never been a big hunter although I do want to have someone who knows what they are doing teach me “the right way” to hunt instead of my granddad’s idea of hunting. I do love me some fresh Bambie, and it seems a tad hypocritical to not be willing to go shoot him myself. I’d love to get into some friendly competition one of these days, but I don’t have any plans to chase after IDPA Grand Master status.
Lastly, there are a lot of guns that are on the wish list waiting to be purchased and enjoyed. So many toys. So little time (and money).