By Andy Duffy
As epiphanies go, mine wasn’t much. It was just the realization that someone must be smiling down on me. And besides that higher power, I’m guessing, I had the heirs of one F.J.L. to thank. It was probably they, perfidious souls who didn’t recognize a treasure when they had one, who let the gun get out of the family. Ah, well – it was their loss and my gain. I can’t make myself believe F.J.L. sold off the gun.
The fowling piece in question is an Ithaca Model 37 Featherlight Upland Shotgun in 16 gauge. I found it several years ago now while I was strolling past the used gun rack at my local sporting goods store. From the engravings on the receiver to its distinguished graying to the way it swung to my shoulder, I knew I had the gun of my dreams. Giving a clue that might answer why the gun was even there, the initials F.J.L. 1979 were scratched into the tubular magazine where they would only be visible when the slide was retracted.
Of course, I took the shotgun home with me. The only problem was that the gun of my dreams was already sitting in my gun cabinet. Such are the conundrums that befall the seeker of the ultimate bird-taking machine. We see too many lovely guns, have too little money in our wallets and have wives who watch expenses with an eagle’s eye. Still, some things go home with a person even if they’re bound to draw the ire of the amazing person who shares our sheets with us.
That find, though, put me further along the path in my search for the holy grail of firearms. It also affirmed my growing fondness for used guns.
I’m not dogmatic about buying used guns. Several of the weapons inhabiting my gun safe were brand spanking new when they came home with me. But the older I get, the more reasons I find for buying, as they say, gently used items. That includes guns.
I like used guns because when a person buys a pre-owned firearm, he’s not paying for depreciation. A well-cared-for gun should last forever, and a person will always be able to get his money back out of one. (But, of course, a person should never sell a gun, not unless his gun safe is overflowing and he wants to do a swap.)
I like used guns because many of the best are not made anymore – or if they are, they’re not the real McCoy. Try buying a real Parker Brothers shotgun or a Fox or a L.C. Smith. The only real way you can is by finding a used one.
I like used guns because of their history. Show me a gun without a history, and I’ll show you one that was never taken out of the closet it probably resided in. And even that might be a story. The only other way for a gun to have no history is if it is new.
And while on the topic of history, I should mention this: a little wear and tear on a shotgun just makes it look more distinguished.
The Ithaca I bought is a little gray around the temples. It has a few wrinkles. The dings on its stock are nothing more than age spots. Certainly, the gun was less beautiful when it was new than it is now. It’s a pity we can’t say that about everything.
Notice I haven’t written a thing about buying a shotgun that fits or going to a gun fitter and using a correctly-fitted gun.
Of course, fit is important. But people’s dimensions change over time. They also wear different styles of clothing during different seasons. We can have a gun that fits us perfectly today, but a week or a couple of years from now, it might not. Plus, the human mind compensates for a lot of less-than-ideal situations. We’ve all heard the expression “beware the man with one gun.” The mind of the one-gun man has learned to work with what it has. So a gun that fits is good, but if we find one that fits nominally well, we are probably OK. I’m just saying there’s more than one thing to consider when buying a gun. Some people worry about fit, and nothing is wrong with that. Some people are concerned about price and aesthetics. I’m in that camp. I like old things.
A person can get burned, of course, when buying a used gun. I have once.
I may have been too eager to buy.
I’d seen a beautiful Model 12 Winchester on the rack at the store. I didn’t have the cash to buy it, but the store has a great layaway plan. I could have put 10 percent down on the gun and picked it up later. I resisted buying on impulse, though.
It was nearly closing time when I left the store. All the way home, I fretted about not buying the gun.
The next morning, I figured the gun would no longer be an impulse purchase. I called the store to ask someone to save it for me. The thing had already been sold.
That set the stage for the only bad used gun purchase I’ve made. I was in a different store and saw another Model 12. I bought it without looking it over carefully enough.
I got the gun home and discovered the gun took only two-and-a-half inch shells. I got the gun appraised and was told it was nearly worthless. The appraiser wouldn’t even make me an offer for it. So a person needs to be careful.
Still, used guns are near to my heart. I tend to have a mystical attraction to them.
I look at things like this: Two ways for choosing a shotgun exist. One way I call the Consumer Reports way. Using that system, a person learns all the minutiae regarding a number of guns. He studies their locking mechanisms, the advantages and disadvantages of stacked barrels and those fitted side-by-side. He reads reviews. Once he’s done, he discovers he knows a lot of facts about the guns he’s studied, but he has no emotional connection. Hell, he might as well buy a mail-order bride.
I’m a sucker for physical attractiveness. If a shotgun isn’t pretty, why would I want to hunt with it?
So I peruse the gun racks and look for something that meets my concept of beauty. It has the right lines, the right physique, the right sparkle. After I like a gun, then I can look closer to discover if I love it or not. On the surface, that may seem like a shallow way to pick a gun. Admit it, though: Isn’t that how guys (and gals, too), pick a spouse?
Once a person chooses a shotgun, he can always have a little plastic surgery performed on it, too. He can get the stock altered. He can have choke tubes added. Modifications may hurt the resale value of a shotgun, but if the match is good, who cares? Let somebody else worry about resale value later.
The bottom line is, I favor a Zen-like approach to buying shotguns. Something mystical needs to be involved in the process. And the smiles of the fates can manifest themselves in unusual ways.
I know a guy who had a shotgun literally drop in his lap.
He knew a gal who had an abusive husband. During one of his sporadic bouts of being nice, the husband bought his long-suffering wife a fine side-by-side shotgun. One day the jerk left. The wind hardly had time to erase the guy’s bootprints from the sand outside the front door when the gal brought the shotgun to my friend and offered it to him at a price too good to turn down. Karma bites, and karma kisses. If it tosses a person a kiss, the person should be wise enough to respond.
So we have two ways of shopping for shotguns: The Consumer Reports way and the way guided by forces we don’t understand. Robert Frost had an understanding of the two methods and wrote about them in a poem.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” Frost wrote. One road bore evidence of having a greater number of travelers traverse its route. That would be the Consumer Reports way of buying guns. The other road saw less wear. That is the mystical way of shopping. Frost took the road less traveled, and so should you.