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A Taste of Old
October 2010
Gerhard Schroeder

Long-time friend Glenn gave me an old shotgun about a year before he passed away. It’s a single shot, in 12 gauge, with a manly 30-inch barrel on it. Its overall condition certainly reveals that the gun has been used, has been around for awhile. You could call them signs of abuse, pits on what was once blued metal, and rough stuff inside the barrel as well.

This Davenport – that’s the name engraved on it – in its day had been made with a few ‘pretty’ features as compared to what one would find on a modern-day New England or H&R. But those things mean nothing. To me a gun is a tool, and the old Davenport appeared functional, even though its front bead was missing.

If capable, what stories could this piece tell? How many critters succumbed to its thunder? Maybe the original owner got his investment back in just one season or even weekend prior to the laws that ended market hunting. Considering that the stock is stained from sweat and the steel is equally dark from oxidation, I can only imagine.

OK, she’s a little loose in the action. And knowing little about the quality of steel at whatever time this specimen was manufactured, now compromised further by neglect, it remained in the back of my safe.

Then one day, while searching in Hodgdon’s manual I noticed some 12 gauge loads with significantly lower pressure than max allowable. Those recipes seemed great candidates to get that old Davenport back into action. I settled on a light load with only a 7/8 ounce payload, for which I had the corresponding components on hand.

The day soon came to take gun and shells outside the horrid valley heat, along for a summer weekend camping trip on the rim. Tilt down those 30 inches, drop in a reload, close ‘er up, cock the outside hammer, shoulder and pull.

Bam.

A piece of semi-rotten branch on the forest floor, maybe fifteen steps away, tore apart as my shoulder received a shove. That was it. Nothing blew, broke or hurt. The empty hull even took flight when I tilted the barrel yet again, allowing the ejector to do what it was designed to do.

Oldie had come back to life. Of course I fired a few more times, each with similar results. Judging by the narrow rips left in brown needles and oak leaves on the forest floor, the long barrel is tightly choked. This old boomer fit me well enough, too. Soon one thought lingered: “now what?”

We, and the things we gather, ought to have a purpose. An answer came quickly. I have always liked guns with outside hammers. There’s something purposeful and positive about them, not to mention safety. Cocking a hammer leaves no doubt that serious business is about to follow.

The coolest rig to me would be a double barrel with exposed hammers. But no, ‘progress’ on today’s guns has hidden them somewhere inside, where they’re cocked every time the barrels are tilted down. I don’t get enough of an allowance to acquire an original. This Davenport, however, got me as close as I’m likely to ever get.

So maybe its an age, our times where “retro” is in, as the success of the trend-setter VW Beetle and the Mini demonstrates. 98 Mausers won’t die, still the most-copied (oops, modified) rifle going. Whatever. This Davenport is a real deal, somehow ‘rugged’, by no means past its own time, clearly not worthless.

OK then, why not hunt with the darn thing! No, it would not be the most effective scattergun to go after feathered beasts with. Weight is acceptable, though. This mattered because the old Davenport does not have sling attachment hardware. That’s huge for me. My hunting guns need slings, for I carry them considerable distances. Plus a long gun carried by its sling points the barrels in the least-dangerous direction. I did not add such modification, though. Maybe I’d get a taste of what it might have been like, many decades ago, to be out with hopes for a meal, with an affordable scattergun in hand, literally, chamber loaded, and hammer down.

Doves were the first cooperative species. Arizona’s traditional September season provided an opportunity on opening weekend. With morning light barely legal the first dove escaped unharmed. I did not even fire. Because as I threw the Davenport up, my right thumb simultaneously hunted for the hammer, but found the opening lever instead.

I chuckled, then practiced that hammer-cocking business two to three times. The very next dove at least heard thunder, but my lead hail must have gone elsewhere. Shell number three that morning did knock down a bird, a passing shot at that. If given the choice I much prefer to take birds flying away. With this gun ‘should have hit’ misses came more often than I’m used to. That may have been due to the lack of a front bead.

Passing shots, surprisingly, connected more than anticipated. Anyway, soon I was in the Davenport groove, as dead birds and misses emptied a box of reloads. For sure I was enjoying some sort of therapy, forgetting schedules and finances and car troubles and things that needed attention around the house. I was hunting, concentrating on the next dove with its erratic flight. The Davenport never registered as a handicap, although I pledged to have that bead replaced sometime soon. It was the instrument during that early hour, and it did its job if I did mine.

Dove hunting, certainly during the early season near Phoenix, is mostly an ambush affair. Find a location where the birds fly near you, and let the scattergun do the talking.

For my last three birds that morning I wanted another experience. So Davenport took a walk with me, through the vegetation to kick up some birds. Here it became obvious that this oldie had the right stuff yet again. Light enough to not demand a sling, balanced perfectly on its front stock where my left hand clutched it, and coming to my shoulder as doves flushed.

No, I did not drift into a pseudo world of decades ago, or survival on the frontier. I was simply hunting. When the last bird hit the ground to make my limit I felt like a spoiled child, having to quit what had been great fun.

Of course things are rarely black or white. Was it just a great morning hour? Was it the cool air and fresh wind ahead of a summer monsoon downpour that would hit me on my way back into town? Was it hunting withdrawal undone by the first chase since last February? Was it this simple old singleshot? I did not care and returned home with a fat smile. (and forgot to take a picture of the old thunderstick with dead doves all around).

Last October the Davenport came along twice when the 4Runner was heading out of town. On one of those trips a covey of quail mingled in the road ahead. I stopped, exited, and gave chase on foot. The old scattergun boomed three times that morning. But the quail must not have heard that. They kept flying. Of course I felt like blaming the missing front bead again. But since even I want to grow up sometimes, I installed something to take the place of the bead. No more excuses.

Later that fall Glenn passed away. In memory I took the Davenport to an HSC event. There the old thing showed again that it’ll break clay if I swung it right.

Now it is dove season in 2010. You guessed it, old Davenport came with me for the first outing. In 2010 Arizona had changed the rules. Even in the southern areas we could hunt doves all day again. So the Oberst and I headed out of town after work on opening day.

The doves were already heading back to wherever their roost might have been, someplace east of us. Finally ready, gun in hand and ammo in our pockets, we had about an hour of legal light left. It took old Davenport and me about six missed shots before the first bird came down hard. It turned out to be a great evening. Doves came almost steadily, often only as singles or in pairs.

The single shot occasionally acted as a handicap, preventing a second shot as birds kept flying. No, I’m not as proficient with that thing as with my Laurona stack barrel. About 35 shots later, and with just minutes left I had downed my limit.

In comparison to the Oberst and his A5, that old Davenport was not much worse of a tool. That’s because we hunted a place with quite a bit of ground vegetation. Unless you marked your downed bird and immediately walked over there to fetch the critter you had a hell of a time finding the bird later. The Oberst is deadly with his A5 (in itself by no means a young gun) but he isn’t as good of a bird dog as I am, so we about got our limits at the same time. Of course, I forgot the camera again.

The second Sunday of the season gave me one short opportunity to finally get pictures for this story. Except not a single dove came by. Yes, they still call this hunting, and not shooting.

Reflecting on these hunts I have to admit that I prefer the old thunderstick on doves over anything more modern. OK, maybe I’m not too worried about a limit of dove, and old Davenport simply prolongs the experience. Plus I absolutely like guns with outside hammers. That Davenport has low weight and I find its simplicity inviting.

I’m ruling out any single shot for quail, however. One has to work for so much harder for quail, and they taste too fine to burden myself with any type of handicap. This holds even more so for any other feathered game such as duck or grouse. But that Davenport will be my dove gun for as long as it holds up for the job.

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