They say that time heals all wounds. It has been almost six years, but this is still a tough one to write down. Back in 2008, my brother Shawn gave me a 20 Gauge Ruger Red Label before the start of our annual week in Idaho’s uplands. At the time, the over and under was by far the best shotgun I had ever owned.
I vividly recall the first bird, a sharptail, that I took with the gun at the Royal Macnab when the birds flushed at the base of one of the many rolling hills on the property. That day, Rainey and I took our limit of two sharptails, but after that came my longest shooting slump ever.
You see, the gun did not fit me at all; it was too short. I had to aim way high to connect. After a few years of hit and (mostly) miss, my good friend Cliff, helped me put a plastic extender above the butt pad and thereafter, my shooting improved greatly.
The Red Label served me well for five or six years, despite some scars from hard hunting. The gun’s grip cracked when I slipped on a steep rocky incline while looking for a downed blue grouse and the gun bounced noisily down the rockslide. Upon inspection, the gun was still fully operational and I planned to replace the stock when the crack became too severe over time.
As a grouse hunter, I succumbed for a time to the traditional American side by sides, and turned my focus toward them for a few years. First, there was the Ithaca NID 20 ga. and later the Fox Sterlingworth 16 that held my affections for a while. After I missed numerous birds with the NID, I always gravitated back to the Ruger and realized, once again, that I could hit birds. The Red Label was my old reliable gun that I secretly preferred over the side by sides.
And then the dreaded day came in September of 2016. Earlier that year, my son, Thomas obtained his hunter’s safety and I was eager to get him into the grouse woods for his first hunt. My father taught me in my youth that when you take kids hunting and fishing you have to get them treats. A favorite for the Wayment family has always been root beer. Keeping with tradition, I bought Tom some treats and an A&W Rootbeer that he placed in the back of the Filson gamebag he wore.
That morning, I opted to use the Ithaca NID and let Tom hunt with the Ruger Red Label. We hunted with my friend, Josh May, and his awesome Brittanys, in one of his grouse coverts in Southeast Idaho. The foliage of the quaking aspens and the chokecherries was just starting to turn and the sky was clear and blue, a beautiful day to be in the grouse woods. The dogs found numerous grouse, but the cover was still thick and we didn’t get many shots.
Tom seemed more interested in sipping on his rootbeer than he was in hunting grouse. With kids, you have to take numerous breaks, especially when the temperatures started to rise. On one of these numerous breaks, Tom set the Ruger down to access and drink the rootbeer. Not used to carrying a gun, he left it sitting somewhere in the grouse woods and walked off without it. Awhile later, I noticed he was not carrying a gun.
Honestly, I about blew a gasket when I realized it was missing. We rushed in frenzy to retrace our steps, but could not find the Ruger. Realizing that my anger could ruin our relationship, let alone sour Tom to the outdoors forever, I reigned in the anger and patiently continued to search, but try as we may, we could not find the lost gun.
After the hunt, we came up with the idea to retrace our steps with the GPS coordinates from all of the photos we had taken that day and from the GPS information from the Garmin units that Josh’s dogs wore. With this information, later that same afternoon, Josh and his family traversed the woods and retraced our steps best as they could, but still came up short.
Having started a new business the year earlier, I did not have the funds to replace the Red Label. I unrealistically felt doomed to poor shooting with the Ithaca NID for the rest of my life. When dealing with clients in contentious divorces, I have often told them: “Stuff is just stuff and it is not worth fighting or getting upset over.” On this day, I had to follow my own advice. To try and ease the blow, Tom and I stopped at a taqueria in Chubbuck for lunch on the way home. I wanted Tom to know that I still loved him and that he was more important to me than the lost gun. It’s been said that it’s hard to not have a smile on your face when you’re eating a taco, and admittedly the food made me feel a little better about life on this tough day.
After this experience, I contemplated writing something on the blog to try to locate the gun, but there were some complicating factors that dissuaded me: The first being that if I wrote where the gun was lost, I would be exposing a friend’s treasured grouse covert, and the second being that I did not want to make my son feel bad about losing the gun in the first place. Not knowing how to do this without getting over those hurdles, I reluctantly decided to let it go.
However, I still wonder if some lucky individual stumbled across the gun while out hiking or bow hunting and Ol’ Red found its way into another hunter’s heart. For those who have read Nash Buckingham’s work, they have undoubtedly heard of his lost side by side duck gun, “Bo Whoop,” which he mourned the loss of in writing. Recently, we found out that the lost gun had, in fact, been found and was owned by another until it resurfaced for sale decades later. Somehow, that possibility for the Red Label feels better to me than the thought of it rusting away in the grouse woods.
Since that time, my financial situation has improved and I have all-but turned away from the side by sides. I now own the Ruger Red Label in 12 and 28 gauge and I love them both. I have shot better with the 12 than any other gun I’ve owned. Despite my good fortune, I still wish I had the old reliable 20. Then my collection would be complete. A guy can dream, can’t he?
With that said, I currently have a good relationship with my son that I would not trade for love, money, or even a treasured shot gun. I’m glad I realized that my relationship with him was more important. That, my friends, is the real moral of this story.