I had been in this little shop only a few times previous, and in fact I had come this time just to use their FFL service to receive a gun through the mail. I hadn’t expected to find anything of interest, so I may have even done a double-take (no pun intended). But to lovers of shotguns with more than one barrel that distinctive twin-tube profile stands out like the prettiest girl at the dance; I walked around to see what was on the other end.
The barrels belonged to a Stevens 311A: 20 gauge, 28-inch barrels, un-checkered walnut with original butt plate, case colored action. And very clean; the barrel bluing was still nearly perfect, the case colors strong and bright, the wood nearly unblemished except for a couple of deep gouges in the forend, a little out of character with the overall condition. I thought: Wonder how that happened? A fall, or leaning it somewhere it didn’t belong? Bet someone was upset with themselves! Still, it was very crisp, one of the nicest I’d seen in a while. The few blemishes showed that the gun had been carried and shot, but it obviously had been well cared for. The date code stamp read N, denoting the year of manufacture as 1962. I was surprised when I looked at the tag and saw the very reasonable price, knowing the numbers one sees on even lower-rung doubles like this one in the shops and at gun shows, especially in the smaller gauges.
The gun was solid and tight; it would make someone a dandy little shooter or rainy day back-up, but I already had those bases covered more times than I cared to admit. The last thing I needed was another shotgun like this one, but somehow I couldn’t just leave it there, where it so obviously did not belong. The fellow manning the shop wasn’t the owner, and he didn’t know anything about the gun’s history. “Can’t do much on price without talking to Jim,”he said, but he played the game just enough that I could hold my head up knowing I hadn’t paid sticker price, and the little double came home with me.
Most old guns have a story to tell; some like to tell theirs plainly and directly, some prefer to demure, adding a bit of mystery. The typical Stevens doubles are choked modified and full, so I was surprised when this one measured improved cylinder and improved modified. The chokes didn’t appear to have been altered, and anyway I doubted if anyone would have bothered to open them up. A special-order Stevens (did such things even exist?), or just the luck of the draw on less than exact manufacturing tolerances? This gun’s story was leaning to the mystery side, and given the lack of available information on Stevens doubles, I knew I’d probably never know the answer to that question.
The part of the story I found most interesting, though, appeared when I pulled the forend and saw the initials G.S. and a year, 1962, carved into the wood on the underside. Well. Who are you, G.S. – a George, a Gordon or Gary?Since the gun apparently was born the year you added your monogram, I’m guessing you were the original owner; how old were you when you lifted this brand new shotgun off the rack, or took it out of the box when your mail-order came in? Maybe you found it under the Christmas tree, or maybe Dad decided you were old enough to have your own gun and took you down to the Coast-to-Coast to let you pick it out yourself. I’m betting he didn’t know it when you took out your pocket knife and “personalized” it; fathers from that era usually took a hard line toward doing things like that to a gun.
When contemplating any mystery one’s mind begins to create all sorts of scenarios; questions began to arise: G.S., are you still around here somewhere? Maybe you know somebody I know. Are you still a hunter? Did you sell the gun, or trade it in when you graduated from this simple gun to something else? Maybe, I thought, you succumbed to the lure of repeating shotguns, leaving this old double behind, or maybe you simply lost interest and moved on to other things, the way some kids do. A lot could have happened in these forty-plus years, and not all of it good: Illness, war, accidents, theft. Looking at those initials, and thinking about how much this gun must have meant to G.S. once, I decided not to think about those things.
I decided to give the shop owner a call to see what I could find out, but he was no help at all. “Maybe I bought it in a lot at auction,” he said, “Or maybe not. Just can’t seem to remember where I got it.”
I am not much of a gun trader, and I’ve actually never even sold one. This gun was in much better shape than my own 20-gauge Stevens, but that old friend has far too many memories in it to ever forfeit its place in the cabinet. But any gun – especially a good old shooter like this one – deserves to be outdoors in the crook of an arm, not just left leaning in a corner. I took some photos, wrote up a description, and posted it around my small circle of gun-related contacts, but didn’t find any interest. I even carried it to a gun show or two, but I always came home with it.
I’m looking at G.S. 1962 now; it still stands in my study, in that odd corner by the wing chair. I’ve never taken it afield, never even shot it. Truth be told, I probably never will; too many guns, too little time. I’d like to see someone have it who will appreciate it for what it is, but if I’m honest, I haven’t tried all that hard, either. I guess I just can’t shake this crazy feeling that G.S. is out there, somewhere, and that for some unknown reason I’ve been given the charge of taking care of his shotgun.
So if you, like me, are a fan of these simple old shotguns, and if you’re looking for a nice little bird gun, I’ve got a honey for you. It’s apparent that somebody loved it once; if you’re ready to love it too, it’s yours. Maybe you’d like to carve your initials there beside G.S.’s; I’d be OK with that. Better yet, G.S., if you somehow stumble across this little tale, let me hear from you. I have something that belongs to you, and there’s a story I’d like to hear.
Phil Yearout is a part time writer, artist and musician, and full time grandfather. Born and raised on the Great Plains, he feels fortunate to have grown up in a time when a boy could grab his gun, his dog, and just go huntin’. Continuing his life-long love affair with the prairie, he lives in Kansas with his very tolerant wife of 42 years and a modest collection of guitars, banjos, shotguns and fly rods.