In Love With A Belgian

I wasn’t doing much of anything with my life, when I met Mark. I was working on the back end of the construction trade, first as a secretary for a plumbing supply wholesaler, then doing customer service for a cabinet supplier. The Washington metro area had been in one of its housing booms, but, in what is now an eerie specter of the housing bust (though certainly for different reasons then), the market collapsed. The cabinet company I was working for fired me—I knew where all the skeletons were—then bounced my final paycheck and filed for bankruptcy the next day.

I was out of a job, but I was in my mid-twenties, had a boyfriend I was kind of sharing most of my days and nights with, and I quickly found a part-time gig. My small number of bills were mostly paid, and I figured something would come along, so I didn’t even worry about the whole out-of-work thing that much. It was actually kind of a relief after the stress of watching the company I’d work for tank underneath me.

Mark had owned and sold a company, and he was doing some consulting work on the side, so we had a lot of time to just knock around. Weekends, though, were reserved for gun shows.

Northern Virginia has a rotating circuit of gun shows, or at least it did at the time. There was one in Leesburg one weekend, followed by another in Hume, one down past Fredericksburg, and then another someplace else, I forget where. You could catch some of the dealers at all of them, some at only one. My favorite was the Leesburg show, because it was the one with the most number of recreational and sporting guns.

There were always dealers with really, really, nice guns at that show, and I, having at least part of the personality of the crow and liking bright shiny things, appreciated the collections of Browning Hi-Powers laid out on red velvet, or a grouping of pearl-handled Colt Single Action Army’s under a glass case. My personal interests were really leaning toward rifles and shotguns though, and there were two dealers in particular who had my number dialed in.

The first had this unbelievable collection of Colt sporting rifles. Manufactured in a joint effort with Sauer for just a dozen years (1973 to 1985, to be exact), they all had gorgeous wood and a raised cheek piece that I loved to press against my face. In fact, they looked a lot like (no surprise here) the Weatherbys my grandfather Evans kept in his gun rack above his desk in Pennsylvania.

But it was the bluing on the Colt Sauer rifles that always got to me. No other rifle then or now, at least in my eyes, has ever possessed a bluing job like those guns did. It was deep and colorfull, truly blue, but also black-blue, and blue-purple, and black-green, a melding of all the colors of oil floating on water. To this day the depth of that bluing sticks in my head like a photo, and I’ve never seen another gun, long or short, that carried a bluing job anywhere near as beautiful as those Colt Sauers did. I coveted those rifles, but the dealer had tags on all of them that said $1,200 or $1,500. They were well out of my price range.

A5_crop
Browning A-5 Grade 4

(Photo courtesy of Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Co.)

The second dealer I gravitated toward was an elderly gentleman who specialized in Belgian Browning shotguns. He had quite a few, never less than ten or a dozen at any show, and all were in pristine condition. I admired all of the Browning’s that man brokered, had done a little reading on Browning’s history, and so when the dealer had an A-5 at one show, it caught my attention.

That gun was as unmarred as one could hope. Not a scratch dinged the gun’s lovely rectangular receiver or its light scroll engraving, no wear showed at the pull-back bolt or thumb button or trigger tang or trigger guard. Not even the muzzle had any dulling –

clearly, this gun had been handled with care and laid in a case, not shoved in and out of a slip. The butt pad, too, was original and was still soft and pliable; not a bit of dry rot had begun. The grip of mellow, softly yellow wood was squared at the bottom and fit perfectly in my right hand. The fore-arm, sculpted a bit where it rounded in to meet and grip the barrel, seemed to have been designed to lay my thumb against it on one side and grip lightly on the other with my finger tips. That it was a little long in the stock didn’t bother me at all (though I don’t think I knew enough at the time to realize it didn’t really fit at all). I could look straight down its low-profile vented rib to clearly see the brass bead at the end. In short, I was in love. I’d found my first gun. And after two months of waiting and saving – and worrying the gun would disappear from one show to the next –

I went home with that 32-inch-barreled, fixed full choke, Belgian Browning A-5.

I shot that gun often the first year I had it. I knew what it was intended for, with that long, tight barrel, and that was waterfowling. Or it least that was what it was designed for before steel shot forced out the use of lead. But I found an alternate use for it. Trap seemed to be that gun’s second calling. Oh, I had a little trouble with the rings and light loads sometimes, but once I had the right combination figured out, I mastered that clay bird game quickly. The 32-inch barrel seemed barely to move, as I pushed the muzzle in front of those going-away birds, and the straight line I had over that famed hump-backed receiver and down the rib to the bead was trap shooters who spend a lot of money customizing a gun yearn for. I was good for strong runs of targets way back in the handicap lines some nights.

The Browning was more or less retired after I owned it for the first year. I’d moved on to skeet, having grown bored with trap, and for this new clay sport, the long, full-choked barrel was sorely disadvantaged. And so it sat in my gun closet, cleaned and polished, for several years. I missed it, for like anything you’ve loved but lost your way with, it had that distinctive and piquant blend of fresh experience and nostalgia. But the truth was, I’d outgrown it.

I took that sweet Browning out one day, looked at its still gleaming metal and wood, took a breath of the Hoppe’s that still remained somewhere in its parts—and then I slipped it back in its case and took it to the local gun store to sell it. I didn’t “need” the gun, hadn’t used it in a long while. I reasoned that cash was better than a gun taking up space in a closet. It wasn’t. I’ve sold a small fraction of the guns I’ve ever owned. That Browning was the first I parted ways with, and the one I regret the most. First loves are like that.

Jennifer L.S. Pearsall is a professional outdoor writer, photographer, and editor, who has been a part of the hunting and shooting industries for nearly 20 years. She is an avid clays shooter, hunter and dog trainer. Please visit her blog “Hunting the Truth” at http://huntingthetruth.com.
Last modified on Thursday, 13 May 2010 11:25
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