A fondness for fine things

An Ithica NID I refurbished with the help and patience of my good friend Terry Nicholson

A wise shooting instructor and good friend of mine once told me, “there are two things in life a man should never fall in love with, bamboo and walnut.”  At the time, I paid the man little mind as I stood there fondling, mounting and remounting what felt like a distinctly flawless gun I had picked up from his shop rack that was there awaiting a fitting.  There it was, anonymously stacked alongside a sea of laminate trap guns, synthetic auto-loaders, and a couple dozen Berettas and Brownings.  It practically elevated itself to my shoulder, balanced to perfection, nestling effortlessly just under my cheek bone.  BANG!

The gun turned out to a fine bespoke Purdey & Son shotgun belonging to one of his clients.  Standing there laughing at my expense, I quickly, and most delicately, handed the gun back to him after he had advised me of its value, that being more than the sum total of income I had earned in the prior two years.  I never picked up another unfamiliar gun from his rack again.  To the owner, you have my sincere apologies, yet at the same time, it would be a tragedy if I failed to take this opportunity to thank you-wherever you are.

With the passing of time, and what is now a substantially embedded obsession with fine fly rods and side-by-side shotguns, I’ve come to realize the gravity of my shooting instructors earlier admonition.  As I sit here sweating the delivery of yet another 16 ga. shotgun my wife knows nothing about, I ask myself, could this be an addiction? 

I had spent several months honing my shooting skills with my teacher for a sporting clays competition I desperately wanted to make a decent showing in.   The competition came and went.  My instructor shaped me into a prepared competitor.  With my baseline skill, it was the best either of us could expect.  I had realistic objectives, and I achieved them.  I improved.  I had posted a respectable score.  I even won a small amount of money in a wager I placed with a close friend.

With the Purdey still whispering in my ear from someone else’s distant gun vault, and with much-ado about anything in particular, in the months to follow my over and under sporting clay gun was cleaned, placed in a safe sock, and quietly relegated to the back of my gun safe, never to have been shot since (I’m sorry Betsy).  I simply could not get the elegant feel of that sxs out of my psyche.  Over the ensuing ten years, I have bought and sold several guns, always fastidious in the pursuit to tune my collection to be the best it could be, given the limits of my wallet.  I’ve owned hammer guns, English straight grip guns, European guns, and classic American guns, all side-by-sides, all shooters, all hunted with great affection.  I have loved every one of them individually, whether I own them still or not. 

My purchases have subsided to some degree.  I’ve convinced myself that I have the collection right where it needs to be.  In truth, there’s simply no more room at the inn.  It turned out to be an exceptionally good financial decision to buy the small gun safe.  Had I bought the mega 50+ gun model, I’m quite certain I would still be “collecting.”  Today, thankfully I’m following the one out : one in trade ratio program.

Now that I find my acquisitions are slowing, I’ve been spending considerable time attempting to better understand why we, as SxS collectors, have this insatiable passion for vintage shotguns.  Why is it that I have such conviction for these antiques?  Is it the history, the stories that seem to emanate from every old gun I caress?  Could it be that handling these fine works of craftsmanship gets me in touch with better days when almost everything was made with one principle in mind, to last forever?  In the end I think not.

I’ve settled on the believe that I hold these guns in such high regard not because of their age, rarity, or attractive beauty, but rather with the people they have brought me in contact with, those that share an intrinsic appreciation for tradition and a yearning for simple sport, friendships that lasts, and an aspiration to enjoy the bounty this life has to offer; a fondness for fine things.

Terry re-cutting checkering on a forend.  The Ithica NID stock in the background

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Gary…Well said my friend! I guess there could be worse things to be addicted to! Steve Smith once wrote a story about his last will and testament to his son describing all the places where his smooth bores were hidden in the house…Great story!

  2. I too suffer from this addiction. It is expensive…but easy to hide…..I get a publication from one of the support groups…"Shooting Sportsman."Fine post Sir.

  3. David says:

    Great read, really enjoyed it. I can relate with you on many levels here.

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