The Talking Shotgun

I don't trust the old cleaning lady. Every week she takes a long look at me and shakes her head. About a
week ago I heard her talking to the Missus about throwing away that old relic in the gun closet. I'm afraid sooner or later she'll get her wish.

The Old Gent hasn't been near me in almost 70 years, and it's seldom I hear his name mentioned anymore. Like most old double-barrel hammer guns, I spend my days reliving events of yesterday.

How easily people forget the big part we played in their lives. I don't understand what's happened in this house, how things could change so. Years ago every man gave me admiring looks. I never sat on the gun club rack for more than 20 minutes without being picked up and admired. The Old Gent and I went everywhere together. It was a great feeling to be wanted.

Come next month I'll start my 130th year in this house in the Westville District, and I can remember every detail on how I got here.

On a Saturday morning he walked into Gus Pauli's hardware store in Danbury, Connecticut, and handled me for the first time. My comb nestled to his cheek as snugly as a canvas cap covers your head on a freezing afternoon. I knew right away he was the one for me. And I think he knew it too.

What did I cost? How tight are my chokes? Hey, that's personal stuff, mister, and none of your darn business. I can tell you this: I was no cheap fowling piece. My cost, age and personal measurements are private, and only the Old Gent was privy to 'em. I'll tell you something else, too. I wasn't made for smokeless powder, and I have no particular use for guns that shoot this new concoction that, frankly, reminds me of sawdust. The old "black fodder" that filled my shells caused my voice to echo and re-echo around gun club hills and valleys. Heavy smoke clouded the Old Gent's vision after I spoke, and it was seconds before we knew if the pattern found its mark. There was none of the instant gratification smokeless powder now offers. No siree. I'm telling you, mister, the old days were better.

The horse and buckboard that brought me home that Saturday morning told me a lot about my new owner. The leather seat was worn but clean, the horse old but well-fed. A hatter by trade like most of the other townsfolk, his dye-stained hands and calloused fingers left little doubt he worked hard for what he had. He was just the kind of owner I wanted-someone who needed and relied on me.

The Missus seemed as pleased with me as I was with her. Women appreciated us more back then. It wasn't long before I was put in a canvas case, placed gently in the back of the buckboard, and traveling to the gun club. We crossed the railroad tracks at Fish Wire Bridge, past the fairgrounds and the Catholic cemetery to the shooting park at Lake Kenosia. Here a warm clubhouse hosted weekend sportsmen who bet on their skills to drop live pigeons within a certain boundary. I was young, new and quite thrilled to be in the gun rack next to an English beauty of the highest quality, with graceful lines and a slim frame. We were both pretty excited when the Old Gent picked me up and started toward the traps, and for the first of many times, I felt tiny beads of nervous sweat on the checkering of my pistol grip.

A fellow the Old Gent seemed to know held five weather-worn ropes in his gloved hand and said, "Ready when you are."

Ever so slowly he nestled my butt in the "sweet spot" between his armpit and the top of the shoulder. Firmly he laid his cheek on my comb. His left hand cradled my forend lightly.

And then I heard for the first time a word I would hear a thousand times afterward: "Pull."

One of the ropes was jerked backwards, a small box in front of us collapsed, and a brownish-red bird took to instant flight. The Old Gent smoothly swung me to the right and pulled my forward trigger. The right hammer fell. Noise and smoke startled me, as I hadn't been shot since leaving the factory.

Gratification was evident on my new owner's face when the white setter dog retrieved the bird. We had done our job the first of many times.

Every man on the grounds tried me that afternoon. I felt like a young girl at her first dance. Some handled me a little rough, but I was treated gently by those who respected quality and grace. It wasn't hard to tell who knew how to shoot either. Those who did held me loosely; the others gripped me like I was a slippery eel. Their facial expressions told me they all envied the Old Gent's purchase.

When pigeon shooting went out of vogue, we shot glass target balls filled with feathers. They offered little sport and were easy to hit as their flight pattern never varied. Some of my contemporaries in the gun tack (a young Ithaca in particular) who could seldom bring down a pigeon became proficient on glass balls overnight. Shoot, a blind mule could be taught to hit a glass target ball. But what a mess to clean up! Every piece of glass, had to be gathered before any buckboard left for home.

Round little saucer-type targets that skimmed noiselessly through the air replaced the gosh awful glass ball. Thank heavens! Although not as challenging as a live pigeon, they were certainly harder to hit than those glass things that always reminded me of Christmas tree ornaments. Folks called those saucer targets clay pigeons, but I don't know why. They certainly didn't look like a pigeon or fly as erratically as one.

Shortly after these targets got popular, one of the Old Gent's buddies hung a sign in the outhouses at the club. While attending to nature's call, they read: The clay pigeon is a funny bird; it flies but has no wings. It cannot hop or jump and it never, never sings.

Regrets? Sure, I've got a few, but don't we all? I remember the day the Old Gent loaned me to his brother-in-law, a kindly man but with little sportsmanship education. He took me duck hunting and shot a mallard swimming among the decoys. It was an inhuman deed, and l shudder to think of it even now. If ducks have souls, I hope this one will forgive me for the part I played in this hideous crime.

Occasionally those who hunted more for meat than sport used me. I despised their likes and was always in bad humor when among them. One day someone actually pointed me at a covey of bobwhite on the ground. The scoundrel! My self-respect was saved when he missed.

The so-called modern guns that share my quarters talk a lot when the house is empty. I listen and say nothing. Adjustable stocks, screw-in chokes, release triggers are new words that aren't in my vocabulary, and I don't have the slightest idea of what they mean. Don't want to know either.

I mentioned slow and fast pulls the other day, and a young Ljutic laughed in my breech. " Ain't no such thing anymore, old timer. Targets are electronically activated instantly." I refused to believe the young pup. I'd like to know how many birds we've missed because of bad pulls from a kid who was thinking more about girls than pulling the trap at the right time.

Maybe I think too much these days, but the silence of my dusty corner allows for little else. Sometimes when the wind blows from the southeast, I believe I can hear muffled shots coming from the old Lake Kenosia Gun Club. And my mind goes back to happier times when my hammer springs were stronger, my breach a little tighter, and the sharp smell of black powder lingered everywhere. Days of wood-stove clubhouses-times that my current roommates with their screw-in chokes and adjustable stocks couldn't possibly imagine. What a pity.