• Richard Murff

Side x Side with Pops

Labor Day’s opening dove shoot is behind us and fall has arrived. Granted, it’s the hotter than hell Southern version, but fall nonetheless. The quail project on a neighboring farm looks promising, which isn’t my affair but quail aren’t known to be sticklers about survey reports. Gentleman Bob will build over the fence line without asking.

To handle these and other game, I’ve been shooting a Remington 1100 for years, I still use the one I got when I was fourteen. This, I understand, makes the gun something of a classic, being manufactured when Remington’s quality control was better. Perhaps, but I haven’t fired a new Remington shotgun since Reagan was in office so I couldn’t say one way or the other. Other that the fact that my classic shotgun was bought new just makes me feel old.

It was not, however, my first gun. To be precise, my first gun wasn’t mine in any sense of the word; my maternal grandfather – Pops – dug it out of the back of the case in Clarksdale, Mississippi. This was a double barrel, but not a Purdey or a Holland & Holland – it wasn’t custom fitted to Pops or anyone else, and it wasn’t half of a pair. This was a shop gun, a nameless 12 bore, double trigger. Because I was ten, and someone had actually given me a real gun to shoot, I thought it was the greatest weapon ever devised.

Pops told me no one should ever learn to hunt on a semi-automatic because it made you a lazy shot; It was just too easy to take pop off another round. Pops was a true outdoorsman, so maybe that was it. I’ve always suspected there was more at play – like not wanting his ten-year-old grandson eat up all his shells by midmorning. I’ve also suspected that there was some rite-of-passage style hazing afoot.

As recoil goes, double barrels – at least those of that vintage – are pretty unforgiving. Semi-automatic shotguns recycle a lot of recoil energy to power the ejector mechanism. With a double barrel, the only place all that energy has to go is into the your skinny, prepubescent shoulder. Perhaps it was a bit of both, because the way I had it sorted in my head – and the upper-right quadrant of my body – was that there was an immediate and undeniable price to pay for pulling that trigger. Even a kid as hardheaded as me will quickly learn to think it through and chose his shots with care.

That gun beat me eight ways from Sunday for a few seasons, but it’s not the sort of thing about which a boy in inclined to complain. I could whine with the best about having to wear those pants to mass, but dislocating my shoulder with some ancient arm cannon, I felt, should go unremarked. My shoulder looked like a butcher’s special steak. Mom was horrified, Pops and dad had a good laugh.

As double barrels go, the over/under is easier to handle as both barrels run along the same center axis of the gun, as opposed to on either side of it which makes the side by side unwieldly. From the pure physics of the arrangement, this is true. That’s the beauty of your first gun – you didn’t know any better, so you just learn to handle it. Until I heard someone say it, about 20 years later, it never occurred to me that side by sides were unwieldly.

Maybe to old guy’s low octane hazing had a point. The reason I think of that shotgun at the start of dove season is fairly simple. In all the years that I’ve been wing-shooting with that 1100 semi-automatic, I’ve never hit a bird on the third shot, so I quick taking them a long time ago. It’s rare that I pull the trigger twice. Purists might say I was lucky to have good training. And they’d be right. Therapists might say that I’m suffering from juvenile post-traumatic stress. And they might not be wrong.

At this point does it even matter?