By Have Dash
My teenage son’s entry into shooting sports began two years ago when my grandfather approached a cousin and asked him to pass down a vintage shotgun. This was noteworthy because my grandfather died in 1977.
Like many ghost stories, this one involves a dark and stormy night. I was driving home in the rain, thinking about a new 20-gauge I’d eyed a few days prior. It would be a great entry-level piece for my son who had been mentioning that his experience at Boy Scout camp got him interested in shooting. I’d grown up with guns, but life and kids and work had intervened for most of my adult life.
The cell phone rang on the seat next to me and I saw it was my cousin. It wasn’t safe to talk at the moment, but I heard his voicemail, which asked me to give him a call when I had a chance.
A few years prior, over dinner, he’d mentioned that it was actually my grandfather who got him interested in shooting back in the early 1960s. As a young boy, he’d go into the marshes with my grandfather and learned how to duck hunt, how to safely handle a gun, and the joys of a quiet morning out in nature.
His own father was a wonderful man who loved the outdoors and was an avid fisherman, but never touched a gun after the war. He had returned with a back full of Japanese steel that stayed with him until his death, fifty years later.
The night before my cousin called me and a few days after I went window-shopping, my cousin had a dream. He was in the marsh and my grandfather appeared, looking as he did in 1962. He asked my cousin if he still had the old 20 gauge that he bought for him. My cousin said he did. My grandfather then asked him to pass the shotgun down to me so that I could use it for my son.
My cousin awoke, disbelieving what had just happened. He went to his safe and opened it, making sure the pump action gun was still there. It was. He knew he had to call me.
My jaw dropped when we described this and he was stunned at the timing of my shopping trip. We met up and transferred the smoothbore a few weeks later. I took it to a gunsmith to have it inspected since it dated back to the 1930s, hadn’t been used in some time, and my cousin warned me the safety had been missing for decades.
The gunsmith gave it a tentative OK, but said that he couldn’t recommend firing it yet since the chamber unlocking latch was also broken. He pointed me in a few directions to look for parts and said he’d do the same.
After a few days of calling around, I found a small gun store in the midwest with seemingly the right part in stock, but the older gentleman who owned the store said he didn’t know how to send a digital photo to me to verify. I called the gunsmith to get his thoughts, and he warned me that what seems like the right part often isn’t on older, less-common guns. Still, he suggested I give it a try.
I walked in a week later, put the part on the counter, and he said, “You are one lucky son of a bitch. That’s it.”
We took the shotgun out in June, on Father’s Day, and I brought my grandfather’s World War II Navy cap with us. The shotgun did great and I’ve been babying it with low-recoil, low-power loads ever since. It’s not a regular-use piece. That role has since been filled for my son by a Mossberg pump and a Browning over-under.
We’ve had countless great times at the range and on the sporting clays course. He’s a better shot than I am and that’s perfectly OK with me. He’s since taken to pistols as well, using the Ruger I got from my father at age 16, and he’s even joined a rifle team.
It’s all brought us closer, brought us outside, and helped carry on a legacy of shooting. One of these days he’ll discover girls, or he’ll tire of his father’s company. But until that point, and hopefully after that period is over, we have a priceless gift from my grandfather to thank for giving us the priceless gift of time together.
This post was originally published in 2017.