The question, then, is how did I come to own so many guns? Ten years ago, I owned none – they scared me. Now, I have a gun safe that’s bursting with firepower. And here’s the embarrassing part: I’m a little obsessed. I want more.
I need someone to blame for this.
How about my dearly departed Dad? I know, nice, huh? Blaming someone who can’t fight back?
Dad was a serious gun nut. He had all kinds of guns, and he raised my sisters and me to keep our hands off of them – to expect that every gun was always loaded. It wasn’t just a safety strategy, either: Every gun always was loaded.
That healthy fear he instilled in us scared me away from guns for most of my life, until Dad died in 2003. Dad’s most precious gun was one that used to belong to my Grandpa Roy (Mom’s dad): an 1896 .30-40 Krag. Grandpa had bought it from the NRA when he came home from World War I. Mom wanted to make sure it would stay with someone in the family who would appreciate it.
Guns scared me, but the history on that one was too much pass up. I told her I’d take it.
It was just one little gun, though. Can I really blame Dad for that? Looking back on it, it seems more likely that it was my boyfriend Hank’s fault.
Hank started hunting when we lived in Minnesota, and from the very start he invited me to join him. I patiently rebuffed his advances for several years.
Then, we moved to Northern California and he started hunting ducks, and that changed everything. Wild ducks were delicious. Hank would dress them whole, skin on, then salt them, brown them in a cast iron pan and roast them until they were medium rare. We’d sit at the table tearing into these birds, delicious fat dribbling down our chins, eyes rolling back into our heads, the cat circling our little table like a shark who’d found blood in the water.
Oh yeah. It was good. I wanted more. And the best way to get more duck was for me to take up arms and join the cause.
I asked every hunter I knew – all two of them – what kind of gun I should get, and the consensus was a 20 gauge, probably an autoloader. Hank and I went to our local hook-n-bullet shop and I started trying on guns like I’d try on shoes at Nordstrom. “Hmmm, lemme try this one. No, that doesn’t feel good – how about that one?”
I went in totally willing to buy an affordable gun, but I hated the feel of the pump I tried, and none of the American shotguns felt right. In the end, my Nordstrom tastes won out: I chose a nice Italian gun, a Beretta 391.
And for several years, she was the only one in my life. I adored her.
Now is probably the right time to make a confession: I am not a great shooter.
Strike One: I lack natural talent.
Strike Two: I’m cross-dominant – right-handed, and left-eyed – but not strongly so. This means that even though I shoot left-handed, I still have to shut my right eye to keep it from wrecking my sight picture.
Strike Three: I have a really long neck. Imagine a giraffe shooting a shotgun. You can see the problem, right?
Yes, this is it. Herein lies the cause of my unlikely gun hoarding.
After four years of hunting ducks with my 20 gauge and never becoming terribly proficient at it, I swallowed my pride last year and decided to get a 12 gauge. You can kill ducks just fine with a 20, but there’s no getting around the fact that a 12 gauge shell holds more shot, and more shot would increase my chances of hitting more ducks. Yes, by compensating for my lack of skill.
Shortly after duck season ended, I went to a California Waterfowl dinner and spied a perfect candidate: a 12 gauge Beretta 3901. It was the raffle prize for people who entered the drawing by making a $200 payment toward their life membership.
Perfect. I had three payments to go on my life membership, so I pulled out my credit card and got my raffle ticket. I asked the guy managing that table to give the ticket his blessing. Then I asked his little daughter to kiss the ticket. And would you believe it? I WON.
This was not a pretty gun, with her synthetic black stock, but I fell in love, and I named her Sarah Connor, after the gun-toting heroine of the Terminator movies. At my old shooting instructor’s urging, I got an adjustable-comb stock that I could crank hard to the left without moving the butt of the gun – perfect for my giraffe neck. I started shooting skeet just about every week, challenging myself with doubles at every station.
The result? I had an astonishingly successful dove season last September, and I killed more ducks last winter than I had the previous four seasons combined. One day I got my limit of seven with just fifteen shots. I was bad-ass. It was me and Sarah Connor, all the way.
The story might’ve ended there if I hadn’t won shotguns in my next two Cal Waterfowl life member drawings. Hey, I take out a lot of new hunters – I need spare guns. Boy, my safe is full.
Hank just got a new shotgun too – a Benelli Super Nova - and I’m starting to see the advantages of pump shotguns, which I dismissed so quickly five years ago. Three shots, but way easier to clean than an autoloader. Then there’s the pump, which forces you to slow down a bit, rather than go bang-bang-bang ineffectively, like I do sometimes with Sarah Connor.
No, Holly, no. You have enough guns. You’re doing great with Sarah Connor. Sometimes you hit your target without even mounting the gun. Stay the course. Stay the course.
The other day I was visiting Mom and she had questions about some of the guns Dad left behind – she wanted to know which ammo went with some of the less familiar guns. I know more about guns now than I did when I took the Krag, so I offered to take a look.
I picked up one odd-looking one: Huge caliber – way bigger than my .270.
“But how do you load it?” Mom asked. Weird: It wasn’t bolt action; it had a hammer. And what was this switch? Break action. Huge chamber…
Holy smokes, it was a Harrington & Richardson single-shot .410. I’d never seen one before, but I’d read enough stories to know that single-shot .410s were a lot of boys’ first guns. Had this been Dad’s first gun?
I don’t need a .410. I’m so happy with my 12 gauge. But it sure would be fun to take this puppy out to shoot skeet once in a while. I mean, it was my dad’s. How cool would that be?
I think I could make a little more room in the safe…
Holly A. Heyser is a hunter, forager, writer, food photographer and college journalism lecturer. She writes a blog about hunting at http://norcalcazadora.blogspot.com.and shoots food photos for boyfriend Hank Shaw, who writes a blog about wild food at http://honest-food.net.