Lost

We impart a piece of ourselves on the things that we carry.

My father’s knife, my grandfather’s block plane, the gun that I have carried across a dozen states and hunted nearly every species of upland bird in America – these things do not define us, but they are significant exhibits that help explain us as people.

My gun was a light, quick handling Italian 20ga, made by I. Rizzini and imported by B.C. outdoors as a Verona. It came with a spare set of barrels in 28ga. More important than all that was that I shot it well. So much better than everything else, that in the years since I have rarely hunted with anything else.
Light parade, Jason, Boys, Matt, Thomas
My wife bought it for me on my 30th birthday. Completely unbeknownst to me, she ordered it, went to pick it up, didn’t like the one she got and sent it back for another one. The one that I ended up with was perfect for me and I loved it even more for its origin. There are few things in life like getting a truly special gift from the person you love most.
I’ll miss shooting that little gun and the confidence that I felt when I swung it on flushing birds. I regret that I never got to restock it, for once sanding, fitting and checkering a gun that would always be mine. More than that, I regret that I won’t have it to pass on to my sons and tell them about how their mom bought it for me.
It’s been a week since I drove off and left it behind in a nondescript parking spot near Arimo, Idaho. A week since I rushed back hours later in a panic, only to find it gone. It’s been a week since someone else picked up my gun, the one my wife gave me and that I held in trust for my kids.
It’s been a week since I filed the report with the sheriff, called every gun shop for a 100 miles. A week since I told my wife that I had squandered the effort that she put into that special gift all those years ago.
It’s been one day since, shooting another gun, I missed 12 shots in a row. And no, that is not a typo. 12.
I try tell myself that it was only a gun, but it was more than that.
Maybe someday, whoever picked it up will read this and the gun will find it’s way home. Maybe the serial number will come up somewhere or a gun shop will recognize it. Maybe I will have a chance to buy it back. Maybe a guilty conscious will deliver it to the sheriff, who will return it to me.
Or maybe the Verona with the faint crack in the wrist and the worn bluing on the action, the gun that I carried and left my mark on, will simply go somewhere else.
Somewhere out there, someone has a gun that I was holding in trust for my kids. It is part of a narrative that helps explain who I am and what a special person my wife is. It is an exhibit that means more than birds and miles and hunting. It has been imparted with my story and I want it back.

Direction

Compasses are fascinating things, with much to teach for being an inanimate object. I’m speaking of course, of an analog piece,  little changed for centuries, not the app on your phone.

There can be a number of things that affect the proper reading of a real compass, causing one to lose direction. Unlike your phone, a dead battery isn’t one of them.

compass
The Tru-Nord pin-on compass. Generally more reliable than I am.

Other things in your pocket may be interfering, pulling the needle from true. Take this as a sign that you may have too many things in your pockets, and that it might be time to simplify. Don’t let other things confuse your compass and cause you to lose direction. True direction is the highest priority.

It seems inevitable that cheap compasses develop bubbles over time. These too will affect the needle. Don’t trust your life, whether it be your ultimate safety or only your current direction, to cheap things. You’ll get exactly what you paid for.

Compasses are only useful when you can see them, and the less accessible they are, the less likely you are to use them. Keep your compass handy and refer to it often.

There is an old adage to the effect of, “if you keep checking your course regularly, it’s much harder to get lost than if you wait until you’re not sure where you are.”

Sage advice.

Let’s Go

First frost in the valley, patches of golden aspen beginning to pop on the hillsides, the occasional mountain maple, as if overnight, lit up like those neon Rolling Stones lips, blowing seductive, semi-obscene kisses your way through the living room window.

This is no tme for staring at a laptop.

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A couple handfuls of purple shells.

A stout, trusty pump gun with an action scarcely changed in a century (thank you, John Moses Browning). A straight stock and a forend of scratched, pedestrian-grade walnut.

The old, simple canvas vest seems right for this, not the fancy, feature-laden modular one. As if it’s a choice.

Briefly wonder what choke is in the gun, but then figure that it really isn’t that important – whatever choke you left in it at the end of last season is probably just fine. There’s a danger in over-thinking this.

Jeans and Red Wings and a wool shirt.

A shorthair beside himself at the emergence of a long gun case from the closet.

Let’s go.

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The Dark Side

Finely-finished wood. Detailed, craftsman engraving. I confess to loving well-made, beautiful guns.

But I also confess to hating the painful experience of seeing a nice gun that I’ve spent hard-earned money on getting scratched up. I know this is silly, and I believe that guns are meant to be used, not sit on the shelf. If you’re buying a gun for hunting you should expect that it’s going to start looking well-used after a while. But still, every time I put a new scratch in a nice piece of walnut, I feel the pain.

And with that pain, the dark thoughts began creeping in. Thoughts of a gun I wouldn’t have to worry about so much. Thoughts of a field gun that *gasp*  – didn’t have nice wood or a fancy receiver. I don’t exaggerate when I call these “dark” thoughts, as they became filled with visions of sacrilegious black synthetics.

I’ve had these thoughts for years, but have never gotten around to acting on them. I always rationalized the idea to myself with the notion that it would merely be a dedicated chukar gun. That harsh, nasty, devil-bird country would be the singular application for which I wouldn’t prefer to have one of my nice wood guns in my hands. And I kept telling myself that as I tracked down the model I wanted and tentatively pulled out the credit card. It would still be a few weeks till the first chukar trip, so I figured I would take it out that afternoon for grouse and just, “see how it shot.” The first thing I noticed is that it was light. Very light. As in a 1/2 pound lighter than my esteemed Browning “Superlight.” I could carry this gun all day and hardly notice it, I found myself thinking.

And as these seductive thoughts started to pervade, I saw the dog slam on point. Three birds got up and the gun flew to my shoulder like it was meant to be there and with the very first two shots out of this dark new piece of machinery I dropped a double on sharpies. Holy shit, I mumbled. Far more than just being a pragmatic choice for limited applications, this gun really shoots. And with that, the dark thoughts dug their roots in further and began to grow.

By the time I got home, concerns that my dirty little affair might blossom into something more were taking hold. I broke down the gun and cleaned it, finding the task no more complicated than disassembling and cleaning an O/U. My old bias about semis being a chore to maintain was thrown out the window. I went out again the following afternoon with the same gun, and again limited on a double. And with that second outing, the lid was permanently blown off the Pandora’s box and the deal was sealed.

I’ve even started to see a certain unconventional beauty in this new gun. A sleek, stark, functional aesthetic, combined with design that is no less craftsmanship for being modern. And I began to acknowledge that this might not just turn out to be a dedicated chukar gun. That lamentably, some of my “nicer” guns might just be spending more time in the closet. That this might become the gun I grab whenever I want something lightweight and well- balanced, that I shoot as well as anything if not more so, and that I don’t have to worry about. Which is to say, pretty much all the time.

There. I’ve gotten it off of my chest. I own a black gun. Nothing ‘traditional’ about it. A testament to pure performance. And dammit, I’m loving it.

Unrequited

It’s not you, it’s me.
You are great – beautiful, classy, refined – but it just wasn’t meant to be.
I knew it couldn’t last when we met. You were out of my league – unattainable. Through some bad decisions on the part of your previous owner, I lucked out and we ended up together.
What we had was beautiful, but we both knew it wasn’t forever.
Let’s just go our separate ways and cherish the time we had together.
I’ll go back to my old, lowbrow ways. You will go on to someone special.
Someone with a gunroom, and maybe a collection of leather-bound books and an apartment that smells of rich mahogany.
I wish you all the best, and I will remember you fondly…

– GM

In Praise of Working Guns

It is the gun I take into harsh, unforgiving, devil bird country without thinking twice. The gun that gets grabbed to ride in a scabbard lashed to the side of a saddle. It has broken my fall, more than once. It has taken doubles on wild chukar in near vertical terrain. It has been carried on in the pouring rain without thought of turning back. It doesn’t get cleaned much, but then again, it really doesn’t seem to need it, either. It doesn’t shrink from dirt and dust, it seeks it. It is, in short, a working gun – one who’s sheer, stripped-down functionality is it’s primary virtue.

There is a part of me that would love to be so resolutely practical as to own only this one gun, and in many ways, I’d probably be all the better for it. As the saying goes, “Beware the man with one gun, he probably knows how to use it.” But the truth is, I own others; guns which are nicer, though stop well short of aristocratic – a line that my pocketbook and my ego are loathe to cross. But this simple, unadorned pump has a well-earned place in the gun closet. Perhaps a place disproportionate to its cost given the company it keeps, or more likely a direct result of it.

And while I’ll probably never be self-disciplined enough to limit myself to this one gun, I’ve developed my own, similar adage – “Beware the man who doesn’t have a simple, working gun in the gun closet at all – something’s not right.”

– Smithhammer

Appearances

I always thought of it simply as a hat.
In the days of my youth ‘cap’ meant a ball cap, preferably with Texas A&M embroidered on the front.
‘Hat’ meant stetson.
If worn, stained felt it meant shelter from the sun on hot days and protection from the sleet and rain of winter.
Clean, with sharp corners on the brim was for dances, dominoes and Shiner beers on Saturday nights.
Now, my hats are mostly worn and stained and reserved specifically for days afield. They are still just hats. At least until Chad Love rechristened them in a blog over at Mallard of Discontent.
Now, they are dork hats.
So, to defend how cool I am, I dove into my photos archives looking for proof.
I did find this cool old photo of my dad on a pheasant hunt wearing his dork hat.

Unfortunately, I personally was not vindicated. I found stacks and stack of photos of me looking like a complete and utter tool.
Dork hat indeed.
On a positive note, I did not find any photos of myself looking sunburned, cold, wet or otherwise more than mildly miserable.
So, I declare a hat victory for all dorks, not for coolness, but for utility.
I embrace my inner and outer dork.

– GM

The MOF Whiskey Review

Matt Crawford:

I love Redbreast Irish Whiskey for a few reasons:

* It’s immensely “flaskable.”
* You can drink it in coffee, too
* You can call it Scotch and piss off the Scotch snobs

Greg McReynolds:

Famous Grouse

A better bargain-priced, blended scotch you will not find.
The grouse is ideal for drinking when it’s raining, especially while surfing gunbroker.com or reading the greatest American novel ever written.
I was drinking it when I met my wife, so it’s pretty classy to boot.
Plus, it’s named after the king of gamebirds.

Tosh Brown:
If we are truly products of our respective environs, then that pretty much makes me a beer swiller. It’s hot where I live, and I rarely find the need to pull warmth from a bottle.
But, if I had to pick a favorite distilled product, it would have to be a Macallan single malt. A buddy gives me a bottle for Christmas each year, and I usually try to make it last until the next one arrives. I suppose owning a bottle of pricey scotch could spawn guesses that I might be more of a highbrow “Scotch Snob” than I appear. That’s why I make a point of leaving the red bow and the gift card attached.

Bruce Smithhammer:
I’ll admit to enjoying the occasional bottle of Laphroaig, if only because how often do you get the opportunity to simulate falling face down in a peat bog and not being able to get up?
I also used to dabble in the Irish Whiskeys, until an evil voice at the bottom of a bottle of Jameson’s whispered in my ear that 2nd story balcony railings are great places to dance. Surgery and 6 screws in my ankle later, I have an immense amount of respect, mixed with fear, for residents of the Emerald Isle.
But lately my tastes have gone firmly in the Highland direction, and I can’t get enough of the fine products emanating from the Glenmorangie distillery, even when I’ve been repeatedly told that I’ve had, “more than enough.”

Lamenting empty pockets

A pair of .22 rimfire case heads adorn the pivot pin, covering the cracked walnut scales. The quick and dirty repair job has held up for nearly two decades now. Abused it may be, but still the most useful tool ever invented.

It can slice cheese, open boxes or trim sheets of paper. It can cut rope or trim arrow shafts from straight-stalked dogwood.
Last year, it boned out a 3×3 muley and cut a mesquite thorn from my swollen pinky finger.
Years ago, with the help of several glasses of whiskey and a Zippo, it seared a relief hole in a friend’s blackened finger nail at a bar room table.
Countless times, I have used a half-open knife to pull a piece of cholla cactus from the dog’s leg and sometimes from my own.
Every once in a while, I head into the workshop and build a new folding knife for myself.

Always though, I end up giving the new knife away and returning to my old standbys. A two-bladed Case that was a gift and the carbon bladed slip-joint knife my dad gave me decades ago.
There are others, an auto I built on a whim, several variations of factory-made liner locks, lockbacks and other stainless steel contraptions that were made for intentions other than whittling and minor surgery. They lie in a drawer, unused. Pointless in their existence.
It’s the little brown knife that proves most useful, though I fear even it faces an uphill battle.
Knives are steadily becoming relics, feared weapons of mass destruction.
Only a few years ago, I traveled on flights all across the country with a modest knife in my pocket.
I took it to school every day from the 4th grade on. Now, I can’t go into the Post Office, the County Courthouse or dozens of other places because of a small carbon-steel blade that doesn’t even lock open.
How do I teach my sons to carry knives? How will they be able to trim a nail or cut a toothpick when a Swiss Army knife can get you kicked out of school?
The post 911 era has brought some worthwhile security reforms, but in my opinion it has limited what I consider a basic right.
In the grand scheme of things, my 3-inch knife is not any more dangerous than a ballpoint pen or a medium-sized rock. It’s certainly less dangerous than the two-ton cars which we routinely let 17-year-olds drive to school.
That schools trust kids with cars and condoms but can’t trust them with a pocket knife baffles me. That adults can’t be trusted with a knife in many public places blows my mind.
Who are these people that think a pocket knife is to be feared?
Maybe the more pertinent question, who are these people that don’t carry a knife and what do they do when they need to cut something?
The people without a knife are foreign to me, unknown and unknowing.
Familiar is the feel of smooth walnut and filed tool steel.
Adrift in my pocket, surrounded by loose change and lint, the little brown knife awaits its next task.

– G. M.