The Old Man and His New Gun

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All shotguns have stories and the story has to start somewhere. We all have shotguns that have such a story… my grandfather’s L.C. Smith Ideal Grade 20 gauge conjures a crystal clear vision of Archie in my mind even though he died the year before my birth. The connection of hunting and carrying his old Elsie is truly metaphysical. And with the backdrop of that gun, this story begins not with a vintage double, rather with a vintage hunter and his new Parker Reproduction.

My father Isaac began hunting with his father Archie, and the mythical L.C. Smith Ideal grade back in the 50’s. The L.C. Smith was a gift to my grandfather by his local Rotary Club for dedicated service throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In the coal fields of Southwest Virginia, the amount of money to purchase a brand new L.C. Smith was substantial in his community, and a testament to Archie’s contributions to their small society. In so many ways, my father idolized Archie both for his leadership in the community but also in the manner which he never seemed to miss on quail, grouse, pheasant, or partridge with the sweet Elsie. 

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Isaac Freeman with his Parker Reproduction DHE.

Throughout a hunting career that spans now roughly 70 years, Isaac has only purchased one new shotgun for his own use. A Winchester Model 23 Heavy Duck in the 1980s. He has purchased other new shotguns including a Ruger Gold Label, a few Caesar Guerinis and the odd SKB at a charity event. They were, however, not for his use. Heck, until Isaac purchased his Winchester Model 23 Heavy Duck in the 1980s he was still shooting the Stevens 311 20 gauge that Archie bought second-hand for his 15thbirthday. 

So in honor of a memorable birthday, his 75th to be exact, Isaac’s wife of over 40 years decided he was due for a very special gift. 

As the purchasing consultant for my dear mother, she asked what exactly would interest Isaac. I knew of only one requirement, it had to be a side by side with a straight English stock. So with that very limited constraint we began a months’ long quest online and my local side-by-side shooting group to find the perfect gun for him. 

Spanish guns were initially at the top of the list that I had compiled, with an oddball English 2½-inch chambered gun thrown in for good measure. But Isaac’s gun interest never laid with a European. Rather he really valued an American or American engineered gun for his personal use – L.C. Smith, Stevens, Ruger and Winchester Model 23. So back to the drawing board for ideas.

We ultimately settled on a Parker Reproduction for a host of reasons. First, they carry the mark and design of an American classic with precision Japanese engineering. Second, there is substantial enough trading of Parker Reproductions that the right gun eventually comes onto the market. And finally, two-barrel sets of Parker Reproductions allow for hunters to pivot from soft birds like grouse, woodcock, and quail requiring open chokes to hardier birds like pheasants and huns necessitating tighter chokes while not being cost prohibitive. 

The wonderfully industrious owners of Robin Hollow Outfitters of Rhode Island had been given access to a number very well preserved and virtually unfired Parker Reproductions. We were able to find a Parker Reproduction DHE two barrel set with 26” tubes choked IC/M and 28” tubes choked IM/F. And though not as traditional as some would like, it sports a Miller single trigger which works best for certain hunters like Isaac. The wood is like a layer cake with undulating waves of honey and amber. The stock dimension of the Parker Reproduction’s was more modern than traditional, with drops around 1⅜ inches at comb and about 2⅛ inches drop at heel. The stock measures only 14¼ inches, which is on the short side for a high-combed stock, but for Isaac’s style of spot/snap shooting it works just swell. The checkering on his Parker Reproduction DHE was sharp. The dogs head steel skeleton butt plate was perfectly inletted. The forend’s metal fittings are delicate, accurate and beautifully set in the California walnut. Isaac’s Parker Reproduction really did not look as if it had been handled, much less shot But as the photos had attested, the bluing was deep, dark, and consistent all over the action. And finally, in true Parker style the concave rib with its intricate filing and engraving…is there anything as sweet in the sporting world? 

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The Parker Reproduction DHE (photo: Robin Hollow Outfitters).

On the appointed day of his birth – I received a very gleeful phone call from Isaac detailing every element of the shotgun his wife had given him. Proud of his new shotgun is an understatement. 

What better way to start out a new year of life than with a new double gun and a week’s long hunting trip to the American West. Westward Ho to Minnesota and Montana.

The first segment of Isaac’s trip was to hunt for three days in the Northwoods of Minnesota for the Ruffed Grouse Society’s National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt. For those that have not experienced northern Minnesota during grouse and woodcock season, you have missed not only some of the greatest hunting in our country but some of the finest people. We have been traveling there for almost 10 years and even the down years of the bird population cycle feel like bumper years compared to our traditional coverts of the Southern Appalachians.

The 2018 season was supposed to be not a great one, but at least a decent year for grouse numbers. Isaac’s trip was stymied by some pretty intense rain and snow that washed out one day and limited opportunities the next two. But he did connect on a fine shot near a beaver pond that was memorable on all accounts. He simply sensed that a woodcock had to be in the underbrush adjacent the pond. He just knew it. So when the bird did in fact flush he quickly shouldered his Parker Reproduction and with the quiet of the woods broken, the bird fell. Rather than waiting on a dog to execute the retrieve, Isaac walked forward and picked up the small blackish looking bird. And he immediately started to have questions, since he had never seen a melanistic woodcock. He placed the bird in his Filson vest and continued on the hunt for another few hours. It wasn’t until the close of the day and presenting his bird to a RGS biologist that everyone realized the melanistic woodcock was in fact a common snipe. 

The second day of their hunt was much like the first with the only difference being a fine ruffed grouse fell instead of the lowly snipe!

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The dog head’s skeleton plate on the butt (photo: Robin Hollow Outfitters).

From Minnesota Isaac and his Parker traveled along the highline (Highway 2) to central Montana where a day of gunning includes pheasants, sharpies, and huns. Isaac hunts with Eric Olson of Bear Paw Mountain Outfitters for all wild birds hosting a team of guns for four days of shooting.  By the time I saw Isaac in Montana, he was downright gleeful about his gun. It is a light side by side by any standard, it was perfectly balanced to carry all day in the prairie, and most importantly he had two great kill shots on birds in Minnesota already. 

By all account Montana is a bird hunters paradise. Where we are lucky enough to hunt has ample space, very little pressure, and freedom to roam and hunt at our leisure. Our group has a few different personalities as all trips do, so some guys hunt hard busting down coulees and others of us simply meander the hillsides. Isaac and I are more of the latter. And in between birdy areas we tend to chit chat like when we were young and we were simply hiking in the woods seeking a rare glimpse of a grouse in Virginia. These are the times, when deep in conversation that upland birds erupt, catching hunters unaware. 

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The author (right) with his father on their Western upland hunt.

Our hillside wanderings led us to some great bird areas. There are two sharptails in particular that are quite etched in my memory. The first came as we were hunting a steep coulee near the town of Lloyd. It’s a beautiful bench land that has multiple creeks and coulees coursing to its peak. Isaac pushed a small creek by himself, and I was about 300 yards away when I glanced his way just in time to see birds lift from the creek, cross to the other side, and the staccato pop of the Parker knocking down a covey bird. The puff of feathers, even at a lengthy distance is pleasurable to an upland hunter’s eye. The second bird was taken in rather similar style, 30 miles west, 1,500 feet higher in elevation, and going downhill rather than up. But I was 300 to 400 yards away when a 30-bird covey flushed. Isaac hit the first bird as it cleared the horizon, and the remaining 29 birds came screaming down the hill towards me. What a chance…Yet missed them with both barrels as they blew past my position. I was even lucky enough to miss them again, because once they cleared our hillside they swung back around and came right past me again. This time was nothing but a repeat of the earlier whiffs. 

Being with my father as he enjoyed his Parker Reproduction was a great treat for my life. Seeing him knock down wily western upland birds was even better. But knowing that at 75 he was still hiking 15-plus miles a day on steep terrain in pursuit of game is the best feeling of all. 

Nelson Freeman grew up hunting, fishing, and shooting in Virginia with his father, grandfather, and uncles. He spent eight years as a lobbyist and spokesperson for Safari Club International in Washington, D.C. Nelson is a Professional Member of the Boone & Crockett Club, a past board member of TreadLightly, and was recently appointed to the North Carolina Sportsmen's Caucus Advisory Council. He now lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife and son.

Nelson Freeman

Nelson Freeman grew up hunting, fishing, and shooting in Virginia with his father, grandfather, and uncles. He spent eight years as a lobbyist and spokesperson for Safari Club International in Washington, D.C. Nelson is a Professional Member of the Boone & Crockett Club, a past board member of TreadLightly, and was recently appointed to the North Carolina Sportsmen's Caucus Advisory Council. He now lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife and son.