Biographies and Stories

Cigar smoke mingled with fragrances of autumn, marking the twenty-first annual weekend of convivial sporting-clays competitions in the mountains of Virginia by the exclusive Green Jacket Club.

Our friend Silvio Calabi gave us a heads up that the book he co-wrote called “Hemingway’s Guns: The Sporting Arms of Ernest Hemingway” was about to be published. Having seen some of the chapters in advance, we were excited about the new information revealed from the in-depth research. Silvio gave us permission to run a chapter titled “The Winchester Model 21 Shotguns,” which appears following  the introduction below.

Michael McIntosh, one of America’s foremost shotgun writers died on Saturday, August 14, 2010, at his home in Iowa. He was 66 years old.

Other people called him Mike, but I never did. To me, he was always Michael – and if a finer friend than Michael McIntosh ever existed, I have yet to meet him.

This story is the first in an occasional series called “Confessions of a Target Setter” where we speak with the men and women who try to confound us at every turn in sporting clays.

It’s August 27, 2010 and the summer heat wave that wracked the country seems to have finally broken here in the hamlet of Wellsville, Pennsylvania – home of Central Penn Sporting Clays. Owner Harold Stoneberger and his young helper, Ben Rickland, are scrambling to set targets for a 3-bird shoot the next day, and I’m here in the field with them as they share their tricks of the trade racing from one trap machine to the next, wrench in hand.

Common wisdom says one thing, Bobby Fowler Jr.’s trophy case says another.

Since he first started shooting competitively in 1993, Fowler has won about 150 titles in sporting clays and FITASC. He’s dominated the sports so thoroughly, that his middle initials should be HOA. Every gauge, on both sides of the Atlantic, in his home state of Texas – no tournament is safe from Fowler’s monumental skills in achieving the highest overall average.

Story and photos by Mike Childress

Last Friday was atypical. I got an invitation from my brothers- and father-in-law to come out to the property and take my chances against clay pigeons thrown from the back of an old International Harvester pick-up.

It’s been a while since I shot clay birds. More than a little while actually, from the days my dad and I used to reserve our Sundays for the local trapshooting club. And, after a day of office work, it was a welcome change. After rummaging around for what seemed like an eternity I found my shotgun, shells, and even some “birds” that my father-in-law had given me for a birthday present the year before, still unopened. My wife and I made quick preparations for the 15-minute trek north. Car seats, check. Diaper bag, check. Guns and ammo, check. We were off.

Wouldn’t it be great if four-time Olympic shooting champ Kim Rhode finally appeared on a box of Wheaties?

As legend has it, if it had been up to Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, Kim would’ve been beaming her warm smile on the Breakfast of Champions back in 1996, when at age 16, as the youngest member of the U.S. Summer Olympic Team, she won her first Gold Medal for double trap.

Anyone who shoots a 16-gauge shotgun should send Doug Oliver a big cigar.

As founder of the 16 Gauge Society, Doug has been keeper of the flame for a shotgun orphaned by the industry.

Over the years marketing decisions within the shotgun industry have relegated the 16 gauge from the second-most popular shotgun to an icon of perfection among a small band of bird shooters. They marketed the smaller 20-gauge rival, despite the superior ballistics of the 16 gauge. At the same time, the 12 gauge has been gentrified from its bruiser, meat-market heritage to a relatively comfortable, all-purpose shotgun.

The world of tournament shooting has also conspired against the 16 gauge. Simply put, there are no 16-gauge competitions in major clay-shooting events – depriving the 16 gauge of the credibility and high-profile marketing opportunities to sustain a thriving market.

Still, the perseverance of devoted 16-gauge shooters has kept the shotgun alive. And you could easily make the case that Doug has emerged as the voice of the 16-gauge shotgun community.

“If I were trapped on a desert island, I would want the 16 gauge, because it won’t beat you up and it kills birds without killing you,” Doug said.

Maybe it’s a confluence of happy circumstances that Doug, who owns a graphic-design firm in Bell Canyon, California, fell in love with 16-gauge shotguns to the extent that he started the 16 Gauge Society web site.

16GA2
Doug Oliver

He fondly recalls shooting 16-gauge shotguns as a kid in Newton, Kansas with his father.

“From the age of 10, I started hitting birds, and I became joined at the hip during bird season with my father. We’d hunt quail, pheasant, doves…,” he said.

During that period, he started out with a .410, and passed through a 16 gauge on his way to a 12 gauge. He remembered liking the 16 gauge, although for the bigger part of his life he shot 12 and 20 gauge.

“The 16 gauge is absolutely the perfect shotgun,” he explains. “It has a perfect load for wingshooting. Plus a 16 gauge will typically be a pound lighter than a 12 gauge if you’re carrying it all day in the field. The 16 gauge shoots like a 12 gauge but carries like a 20 gauge. It’s a great gun.”

When Doug turned 50, for his midlife crisis instead of a Porsche he bought himself a shotgun. It was a 16-gauge F.A.I.R. Rizzini over/under. It was a better gun than he had known at that point.

On a flight from Los Angeles to New York, he had been reading an article in Double Gun Journal about dove hunting in Argentina. Until that point he had every intention of buying a 20 or 28 Beretta, but the article deflected him to the 16-gauge F.A.I.R. Razzing.

Doug found himself smitten by the lovely 16 gauge. In doing his “homework” for that 16-gauge F.A.I.R. Rizini he realized “that 16 gauge was a stepchild,” he explained. “Information at the time was so hard to dig out and that’s where the 16 Gauge Society web site came in. I though I’d just design and throw up 16 gauge web site and maybe sell a couple of hats. The project itself was fun and informative.”

After a few months of hard work, the 16 Gauge Society web site went up in 2002 at http://www.16ga.com.

It now has approximately 1,500 members of the 16 Gauge Society, plus another 2,400 people who frequent the site’s forum which serves as a clearing house of information for everything 16 gauge. Over 60,000 posts have been recorded on the site.

ARRIETA
A 16-gauge Arietta 557

As Doug relates about the forum “You can throw a question out about a gun and 10 guys will answer you – civilly.”

There is a one-time, lifetime $25 membership to the 16 Gauge Society. But for Doug, the organization “is not a moneymaker. It’s a passion.”

Last autumn, one of the members of the 16 Gauge Society organized a pheasant shoot in North Dakota. A dozen or so members met for the first time there. “It was fun, everybody got pheasants,” he said. “A good time was had by all.”

In a way, that was a trip back to the good old days of 16-gauge hunting.

Doug is an active 16-gauge shooter. Of the 10 shotguns he currently owns, four of them are 16 gauge. He still has that F.A.I.R. Rizzini, in addition to a 1959 Beretta Silverhawk and two Browning Sweet 16 A-5s.

He recalled that when he began hunting there were a lot of 16-gauge shotguns on the market. Winchester Model 12s, Ithaca and Remington pumps, and the Browning Sweet 16 A-5s dominated the market, alongside a smattering of Fox, Parker and L.C. Smith doubles.

Although many a young hunter was started in the field with a 16 gauge, by the late 1950s and early 1960s, the 20 gauge, and later the 20-gauge 3-inch magnum, simply buried the 16 gauge shotgun in the U.S.

Doug now thinks that the 16 gauge is experiencing a renaissance. “After a 50-year decline in popularity, the sixteen is making a well-deserved comeback. And in a number of production lines, too.”

Today, although sometimes difficult to find, the industry still offers the standard and high-velocity lead and non-toxic loads from all major manufacturers. “Yet even though this situation has improved in the last few years, most serious 16-gauge shooters custom hand load their own shells. This is true of many shooters regardless of gauge,” Doug observed.

Affordable 16-gauge shotguns are available from a number of manufacturers including Griffin & Howe, Arietta, A. H. Fox, Browning, Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company’s Model 21, Cortona, Arietta, Dean, Grulla, Stoeger and a handful of others.

And of course, there are also thousands of used 16-gauge shotguns in search of a new home.

Noe Roland is a frequent contributor to Shotgun Life. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Useful resources:

http://www.16ga.com/

http://www.griffinhowe.com

http://www.arrietashotguns.com/

http://www.connecticutshotgun.com/ahfox1.html

http://www.connecticutshotgun.com/model21.html

http://www.browning.com/

http://www.cortonashotguns.com/

http://www.dhshotguns.com/

http://www.grullaarmas.com/es/

http://www.stoegerindustries.com/

www.douglasoliverdesign.com

Shotgun Life Newsletters

Join an elite group of readers who receive their FREE e-letter every week from Shotgun Life. These readers gain a competitive advantage from the valuable advice delivered directly to their inbox. You'll discover ways to improve your shooting, learn about the best new products and how to easily maintain your shotgun so it's always reliable. If you strive to be a better shooter, then our FREE e-letters are for you.

Shooting Tips, Gear & Shotguns

Most people agree that baseball is the all-American sport. But after spending three days in San Antonio, Texas at the National Shooting Complex, I would argue that the sport which best captures the heart and soul of the American spirit is skeet.

Professional baseball has been battered by drug scandals, crass commercialism and outrageous salaries - giving a black eye to the American core values of fair play, self-determination and mutual respect.

By contrast, tournament skeet remains firmly in the stronghold of the shooter who competes for the love of their sport and a burning desire to win fair and square. While these birds certainly don't have feathers, the hunger is still there to feed that great American quality of redemption - that you can always pick yourself up by the bootstraps to make a comeback target by target. It's the grit of the individual and their gun forging their own destiny.

While professional baseball now finds itself pulsing through the digital infrastructure onto big-screen TVs and multi-media web sites, skeet holds fast to the ideals of craftsmanship in the hand-finished shotguns that still produce a streak of 500 or more consecutive broken targets.

Although the predecessor to the baseball bat may have helped primitive man fend off sabre-tooth tigers, it is the gun that won the American West - a part of the country I found myself in for three days in March.

As an avid recreational clays shooter, I became immersed in tournament skeet through a remarkable program developed by the National Skeet Shooting Association (NSSA) - the sport's nonprofit governing body.

The NSSA and its sister group, the National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA), in conjunction with the state-level associations, keep track of just about every major skeet and sporting clays tournament in the U.S. The NSSA-NSCA is the repository for all registered scores shot in both large and small clubs throughout the country and in the world.

NSSA shooters often enter the realm of tournament skeet through grass roots organizations such as the 4H, which actively promotes skeet competition; through various instructors who want to see a promising student take their skills to the next level; or through local clubs where the NSSA sanctions competitive shoots.

But NSSA member, Stuart Fairbank, saw another way of opening the door of tournament skeet to recreational shooters. It's called Shoot with the Stars, and it has been held at the annual Toni Rogers Spring Extravaganza, one of the earlier Top 10 shoots in the country that shooters use to open the tournament skeet season for three years. This year it took place March 27-29 at the NSSA-NSCA National Shooting Complex.

Although Stuart says the concept for this type of program had been around for the past 20 years, it was in 2007 that he teamed up with NSSA Secretary/Treasurer, Bob DeFrancesco, to really make it happen.

As Stuart explained it to me in the club house "There were always people who felt that the shooting games were exclusionary. They belong to a home club where they feel comfortable, but in terms of tournament shooting they have a hard time getting started. It can be confusing at first especially when you travel away from home and don't know anybody at the shoot. And there's the apprehension associated with meeting, and being squaded with, and competing against the big shooters. We want to make it as easy as possible for the new folks to experience a first-class tournament, meet and shoot with some of the best in the game, and do it all on manageable budget."

For example, for someone like me who's managed to shoot his fair share of 25 straight in skeet, it would be an absolutely intimidating proposition to go up against the likes of some of this year's stars...

  • Sam Armstrong, whose 12-gauge average in 2008 hit 0.9920 (meaning that he broke slightly more than 99 out of 100 targets in each competition).
  • Dave Starrett, whose 12-gague average in 2008 was 0.9963
  • Billy Williams, who had a 2008 12-gauge average of 0.9907
  • Tami Meyers, with a 12-gauge average of 0.9826 in 2008
  • Bob DeFrancesco who racked up a 20-gauge average of 0.9958


Of course registered tournaments do not directly pit the new shooter against these stars, or the other stars who participated in the program including John Shima, Stuart Fairbank and John Herkowitz. A classification system that ranges from top-ranked AAA to E shooters ensures competitive equilibrium. I had been ranked D, given that I had registered for a single tournament skeet shoot in 2007.

Turns out, I was exactly the kind of shooter that Stuart wanted to attract through Shoot with the Stars.

Stuart believed that the sport needed to create "ambassadors," or recreational skeet shooters who were given the opportunity to mingle with the stars, and then go home and spread the good word.

So in 2007, Stuart and Bob posted the first Shoot with the Stars call on the Internet, attracting three shooters. Over time, a selection process was put in place. The names of up to 27 shooters would be drawn - three from each of the organization's nine regional zones.

This year there were 15 recipients including myself, since I was the only one to apply from Zone 2.

The 2009 sponsors were Ms. Toni Ann Rogers (Title Sponsor), Federal Ammunition, Browning, Rio Ammunition, Kolar Arms, Remington Arms (.410 bore), Winchester Ammunition (28 gauge), While Flyer targets, leathersmith Al Ange and the NSSA as sponsors.

With sponsors and organization in place, the 2009 Shoot with the Stars gave us newcomers 100 shells in each gauge (12, 20, 28 and .410 bore) for use in the competitions, plus they waived our entry fees in each event of $50 and the nominal target fees that came to $6 per day. The Shoot with the Stars program also provided the experience of a lifetime (for skeet shooters this is tantamount to playing golf with Tiger Woods).

My Shoot with the Stars adventure started when I landed at San Antonio International Airport at about noon on March 26th. After renting a car, I headed directly to Blaser USA in San Antonio, the U.S. arm of the German manufacturer that makes the marvelous F3 shotgun.

Story3insideF3
The Blaser F3 American Skeet Combo


Having shot an F3 before, I knew it would be the gun to shoot. Here's why...

  • The F3's 100% mechanical, single-selective trigger functions at a light 3.3-lbs trigger pull. The hammers of the F3 move in a linear plane - straight forwards and then backwards when the gun is re-cocked. Typically, most hammers pivot around the pin in a lower efficiency arc. This design gives the gun a crisp, confident feel every time you pull the trigger.
  • You can adjust the trigger blade length for a precise fit.
  • The gun's Inertial Block System prevents double, or fan, firing. It's coupled with a mechanical trigger group that doesn't rely on recoil to set the second shot. If you get lucky and hit your first shot with a poofer, the next shot will fire regardless.
  • The F3's receiver measures a sleek 2.415 inches high at its tallest point, making it one of the lowest-profile shotguns on the planet. Blaser managed this engineering feat by streamlining the conventional lock. The gun's low-profile receiver, and its low axis, help reduce felt recoil by directing the shock wave through the most dense part of the stock. This would be important in shooting 200 competitive rounds per day, plus several rounds of practice.
  • The balancer in the stock is a cylindrical weight on a long threaded screw. You can move the weight up or down to find your perfect balance. The additional weight in the stock also helps absorb recoil.
  • With Blaser's Ejection-Ball-System, the ejector springs are cocked automatically when the shot is fired and the gun is opened. This feature virtually eliminates hulls sticking when you crack open the gun.
  • The grip has a substantial palm swell.
  • At 8 lbs, 7 oz, the gun has a near perfect weight for recreational skeet shooters (tournament skeet shooters are known to add weight that could bring their guns to over 9 lbs for controlled swing momentum).


Norbert Haussmann, CEO of Blaser USA, had arranged for me to pick up the perfect 12-gauge model for Shoot with the Stars. It had a Monte Carlo stock complemented by an adjustable comb. The barrels were 30 inches in length. The lid of the hard case held three sets of Briley Revolution tubes in 20 and 28 gauges and .410 bore. Along with a full set of chokes, Blaser packages this F3 as the American Skeet Combo. And I have to say, it is really impressive.

After a Blaser tech tweaked the comb for me, the gun came up just right. If ever I were going to shoot a great game of skeet, this F3 would be the shotgun to make it happen.

Mother Nature, however, had other things in store.

Before leaving for San Antonio, I had checked the weather. It was supposed to be sunny, mild and in the mid-80s. It didn't exactly turn out that way.

The next morning saw prevailing winds of 20-30 mph with gusts to 40 mph. For a flying disc such as a skeet target, winds that high create crazy turbulence.

Story3INSIDEflag
Winds hit 40 mph


Air density, drag coefficient, angle of attack - everything is up for grabs as the wind blew across the open, flat terrain of the National Shooting Center.

If the target is going with the wind, it can race out of the trap house with an afterburner burst, and then get driven into the ground even before it reaches the opposite house.

If the target is going into the wind, it can simply rise and stall - one of the worst things that can happen to a shooter who uses momentum to swing through for the target break.

Then there's the ongoing debate as to whether or not it's best to break a target in the wind sooner or later. Some experts believe that you should break the target as soon as possible before the wind knocks it off the line of trajectory. Others, meanwhile, say you should wait until the target adjusts to the wind before pulling the trigger.

All I can say is that conditions were not great to shoot the first event of the tournament, which was doubles (when the high-house and low-house targets are thrown simultaneously).

Of the 45 skeet fields at the National Shooting Complex, I was slotted to shoot on number 9. My squad star would be perennial All American Sam Armstrong from Maryland. At least it was a 12-gauge event (imagine if it was .410).

Introductions and hand shakes all around among the five squad members and we were ready to shoot. During the 100-round event, I was surprised at the ongoing chatter of encouragement. If someone made a great shot, the others shooters in the squad let him know about it. When you stepped up to the station, you were given a pep talk - "You can do it...come on, get in the groove, crush 'em now..."

Turns out it was the unspoken code among tournament skeet shooters. You helped your competitor achieve their fullest potential in the preliminaries and then faced him head on in the shoot-offs. This friendly banter contributed to a real sense of family among the shooters - even for a newcomer like me.

For Sam and the other highly ranked shots, doubles took on a beautiful cadence: BANG...1 Mississippi...BANG. It was the veritable heartbeat of doubles. Consistently, they knew the rhythm of the game and mastered it.

Story3Home
Irwin Greenstein with Sam Armstrong


My final score was 57. Not great. It turns out, I made a couple of mistakes when it came to shooting in strong winds, which were explained to me over dinner that night with Sam and his friends at a Saltgrass Steakhouse.

First, by following the school of thought that says you break the targets close to the house in the wind, I held the Blaser further back than usual. The gun swung so beautifully, I figured it would be no problem nailing that target right out of the house before the wind could grab it.

I found out afterwards that you do just the opposite when shooting in the wind. You hold further toward the center stake. By reducing your gun swing, you stand a better of chance of breaking the target as it slows down, as opposed to attempting to shoot it when it comes accelerating out of the house.

Another mistake I made was shooting the target when it stalled in the wind. For example, if I were shooting the low 1, and it stalled right in front of me, I ended up missing the target. I was wondering how was that was possible? After all, the target was stopped dead; it was close enough to be hanging right off the brim of the cap. How the heck could I possibly miss that target?

The answer was simple: I had unconsciously lifted my face off the stock to look at the unusually high targets. Break that seal between your cheek and the stock and you'll miss the target every time - even if the bird is dangling three feet in front of you.

My third mistake was trying to measure the target lead in the wind. If you look for the lead, you invariably take your eyes off the target - or worse end up glancing at the front bead. Either way, the target will get away from you.

OK, lessons learned. But would they stick? Let's see how I would shoot the next day.

Right after the alarm clock went off, I checked the weather on my iPhone. Wind was blowing at 15 mph, with gusts reaching 23 mph. Certainly challenging, but not as daunting as the day before.

When I arrived at the National Shooting Complex that morning, one word dominated the communal conversation: wind. One of the stars confided later that he had not missed a single 12-gauge target since August 2006 - until doubles the day before when he shot a 98.

Other top shooters said "the wind got to me." What did they mean by that? A strong, relentless wind can make you tense your muscles, slowing you down. Likewise, a sense of exhaustion sets in, both physically and mentally. Unlike them, I never expected to shoot 100 straight, often the threshold for entering the shoot-offs. While a 97 or a 98 would be great for me, it was unacceptable in the rarefied ranks of AAA skeet champs.

I had two events scheduled for that Saturday. I would shoot 12 gauge at 10:30 and 28 gauge at 3:00. I was optimistic. At least 12 gauge gave me the firepower for a wider margin of error in the wind. When it came to 28 gauge, I'd been shooting it for the past year at my local club. I think it's the perfect gauge for skeet, and I had recently nailed my first 25 straight in 28 gauge.

Stuart Fairbank, a multiple World Champion from Connecticut, turned out to be the star of our 12-gauge squad. An affable guy, he really kept up the chatter - giving the squad a positive vibe through all 100 rounds. My final tally for the event was 81. I have to give ample credit to the Blaser for what I thought was a good score. It performed flawlessly, giving me great site pictures, a controlled swing and a comfortable shooting experience.

Story3INSIDEstuart
Stuart Fairbank with Irwin Greenstein

With a few hours remaining until the 28-gauge event, I paid a visit to the NSSA-NSCA Museum on the grounds. The museum included a history of skeet with wonderful artifacts. There were Hall of Fame Photos for both skeet and sporting clays and some entertaining videos to watch.

After the Museum, I walked across to the concession and ordered a tasty pulled-pork sandwich. I took the sandwich onto the patio and watched the other events as I ate.

At about 1:30, I installed the 28-gauge tubes from the trunk of my rental car. They went in like butter. After I shot two practice rounds, I knew 28-gauge would be intimidating.

Everyone says that regardless of the gauge, you always shoot the target the same way. Keep your hold points and break points consistent, whether it's 12 gauge or .410. However, here's the rub: A standard 12-gauge 1-1/8 oz shell with #9 shot holds about 658 pellets. A standard ¾ oz, 28-gauge shell with #9 shot has about 439 pellets - or nearly 50% fewer pellets. For the highly ranked shooters, the lower pellet count wouldn't make that much of a difference. But I needed all the help I could get as the sundowner wind started to kick up, fulfilling the prediction of 23-mph gusts. In the end, I shot a 67.

My 28-gauge star was multiple World Championship winner Billy Williams from Montana, the only one of two shooters to score perfect 100's in doubles the day before. Throughout the event, Billy was a master of encouragement, leading the squad in a chorus of positive banter. Even with my less-than-stellar 67, it was a joy to shoot in that squad. By now, I was starting to feel like an NSSA son-in-law.

Story3INSIDEwilliams
Billy Williams with Irwin Greenstein


That night, the Party on the Hill was held in the massive Beretta Pavilion. A Mariachi band entertained as free Mexican food, cocktails and beer from a keg were served. From this vantage point, you could look down across the great expanse of the National Shooting Complex and the Hill Country Beyond. It was a clays shooting paradise.

Sunday morning saw me slotted for two events. At noon, I would shoot 20 gauge with star, Bob DeFrancesco, NSSA Secretary/Treasurer and many time All American from Connecticut. My .410 event would take place at 4:30 with star, Dave Starrett, another multiple World Champion winner from Ohio. The weather was a hold-over from the day before: 14-mph winds, gusting to 25 mph. In the 20-gauge event, I scored a respectable 75. My score for .410 score came in at 63.

What did I walk away with from my Shoot with the Stars experience?

For one thing, I learned that Stuart was absolutely right about the experts who volunteered as this year's stars. Every one of them was approachable, supportive and basically just a really nice person. Second, it rekindled my desire to shoot registered skeet at my local club. I discovered that the competition simply makes you shoot better. You keep a razor-sharp focus on the targets, you pay more attention to foot placement at each station and you shot the birds more aggressively - breaking them sooner. Finally, I learned valuable skills that I could apply just when I'm hanging out and shooting skeet with friends.

Tournament skeet is not for every shooter. But sometimes you just don't know until you give it a try. Based on my experience, I would urge any skeet shooter to give tournament shooting a test drive. Join the NSSA and find a club near you that holds registered shoots.

In the end, I had only one regret about my trip to San Antonio: it was having to return the Blaser F3. That shotgun sure was a keeper.

Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. Please send your letters and comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Helpful resources:

http://www.mynssa.com

http://www.blaser-usa.com/

Shotgun Life Newsletters

Join an elite group of readers who receive their FREE e-letter every week from Shotgun Life. These readers gain a competitive advantage from the valuable advice delivered directly to their inbox. You'll discover ways to improve your shooting, learn about the best new products and how to easily maintain your shotgun so it's always reliable. If you strive to be a better shooter, then our FREE e-letters are for you.

Shooting Tips, Gear & Shotguns





Bernie Liberati

It started in a pizza and sandwich shop in South Philadelphia, and eventually led to one of the great finds in the world of big-bore collectors.

Today, Bernie Liberati can legitimately claim he is the only man to own two consecutively numbered L.C. Smith 8-gauge shotguns -- a highly coveted find given that only 35 total were ever made.

The achievement is a far cry from the kid who delivered pizzas and sandwiches in South Philly. Delivering food in that neighborhood may not sound glamorous, but it opened the door into the world of big-bore shotguns for Bernie...

After working there for a while, the shop owner had taken Bernie out hunting one night.

"We didn't get anything, but I had fun," he said.

The Boy's First Shotgun

Afterwards, his boss suggested that Bernie may want to buy a shotgun. Bernie didn't own a shotgun (or any other kind of gun for that matter). The man offered to get one for Bernie, and soon the delivery boy entrusted his boss with the cash to buy his first shotgun.

It turned out to be a 12-gauge Daiwa, made by Singer Nikko in Japan.

"It was beautiful," Bernie recalled.

So beautiful, in fact, the man offered Bernie $175 -- a full $25 more than what the boy paid for it. Did Bernie bite? No way. But it was his first introduction into the value of shotguns -- planting a seed that would grow into a fascination with the thunderous big bores.

Telling Dad About the Shotgun

In the meantime, though, Bernie had to contend with his father. You see, when he came home that night with a shiny new shotgun in a cardboard box, he father reprimanded: "You can't bring that in the house."

I said "I have no place to put it."

Dad: "That's your problem."

As the sun went down, young Bernie was relegated to the porch. Wearing only a t-shirt, it was like sitting in a refrigerator out there -- until his mother intervened.

"My mother was inside, complaining, ‘How could you let my son sit out in the cold?'" Finally, his father let the boy in...along with his brand new shotgun.

Bernie and his friends loved to take his new Daiwa out to a field near the Philadelphia airport. "We'd set up a skeet machine and no one would bother us. The police would come by to make sure we weren't doing anything wrong, that we weren't drinking."

Yes, those were the good old days.

Fast forward to 1992...

Bernie's father, now 78, wanted to retire from the customs house broker company he owned since 1963, Morris Friedman and Co. So rather than sell the business to a stranger, he gave it to Bernie.

A Fateful Meeting With Jim Stahl

One day, Bernie was hard at work in the office, when one of his regular contacts from U.S. Customs stopped by -- a guy named Jim Stahl. He suggested to Bernie they go trap shooting one night. (As fate would have it, Jim would become active in the L.C. Smith Collectors Association.)

They had such a good time they thought it would be a good idea to make it a regular Wednesday night ritual.

After a few times out trap shooting, Jim invited Bernie to go hunting... and they had a great time doing that too.

As their friendship grew, Jim introduced Bernie to side-by-side shotguns. Bernie was bowled over when he discovered that Jim's collection actually reached 25 side-by-sides.

"That's unbelievable," Bernie told Jim, laughing about it today and given the size of his own collection.

Bernie's Shotgun Education

In conjunction with the side-by-side collection, Jim was an avid collector of books related to vintage and big-bore shotguns.

Thanks to Jim, Bernie embarked on his shotgun education.

But Bernie was about to get hooked.

One Saturday afternoon, Jim took Bernie to visit Hollowell's Gun Shop in Connecticut.

"We're walking around and Jim says what kind of gun do you want?"

Bernie's wasn't exactly sure what he wanted, but he knew what he didn't want: a 12-gauge.

"Everybody has a 12 gauge," Bernie remembers telling Jim.

As they wandered the around the store, Bernie thought he would go for a .410.

"But there was this 10-gauge Remington. It was cheap and unique," Bernie said.

Out of the Corner His Eye...

Then lightning struck...

Out of the corner of his eye, Bernie spotted an 8-gauge J.P. Clabrough "in the middle of the table. It was the first 8-gauge I'd ever seen." After negotiating about 90 minutes, Bernie brought home the first two big bores of what would become an extensive collection.

"And that's how I started. I was fortunate in that people were not that enthusiastic about buying them, and the prices were pretty affordable," he said.

After years of collecting 4-, 8- and 10-gauge vintage beauties, Bernie was finally able to put it together: his prized consecutively numbered 8-gauge L.C. Smith Grade 2 shotguns.

The first one he purchased was number 46291. As fate would have it, Bernie bought it on Valentine's Day 2006.

Only three weeks later, another 8-gauge L.C. Smith Grade 2 became available.

As Bernie tells it, "There was a fellow who was member of the L.C. Smith Collector's Association. Unfortunately, he was going through some rough times." The man needed to liquidate his collection, and the dealer who got it immediately gave Bernie a call.

When Bernie got it, he realized it was numbered 46290.

Bingo.

Well, from the kid sitting out on the porch that one chilly night with his first shotgun, Bernie now owns about 50 big bores.

"I like the fact that they're unique, and have a history behind them," Bernie said.

But these stunning shotguns aren't mere museum pieces for him.

"I shoot them at least twice a year." 

 Bernie_and_Bernie

Bernie Liberati today with his son, Bernie. 

Useful resources:

http://www.10gauge.com/

http://www.lcsmith.org/

http://www.vintagers.org/
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