ARTICLE: ANOTHER OLD GUN by David L. Falconer
The old man’s name was Boyd Kelly and he and my friend Billy Jack had taken up with each other as fishing buddies at a boat ramp on Lake Texoma and became fast friends. Mr. Kelly was a Marine because my understanding is once a Marine always a Marine. He had been a wealthy man financially at one time and he loved to hunt and fish. He was looking for a fishing partner when the good Lord steered Billy in his direction.
Mr. Kelly was dying of cancer. Oh, he was fighting it because that was his nature, but it was not a fight he was going to win. Billy and I were going to Mr. Kelly’s home because he had a Winchester 101 20 gauge, he was asking $600.00 for and he owned the gun since some time in the late 60s or early 70’s. That meant if it was a standard grade gun even it was worth that and maybe a little more.
I had heard a lot of stories about Mr. Kelly from Billy and I felt like I already knew the old man and surely, I knew the cut of him from the old men I had grown up with. It took only a few minutes of talking with him for me to realize that it was my loss that I did not know him better.
Billy kept an extended invitation for me to go fishing with him and I had a time or two but it hurt so much to get on that lake. The loss of my friend Robert has been like an open sore and I miss him even more today than I did right after we lost him. Billy has lost close fishing buddies and he understands my reluctance and has never pushed me. He just says, “When you’re ready to go fishing, let me know!” I never got to fish with Bill and Mr. Kelly.
When Mr. Kelly pulled that sleek Winchester from the case, I felt my heart hammer in my chest. This was not a standard grade 101. It wasn’t the premium grade gun either, but it was ornate and shown the care of a man who knew and loved guns.
At the forearm there was wear where a man’s hand would hold it to fire it and a few small scratches along the stock showed it had been lovingly used. The locks were crisp and the ejectors clean and working well. This gun was worth $1300 to $1400 dollars.
Now I wanted that gun. I wanted it a lot, but not enough to cheat this old man. He had been watching me handling it and checking it out, swinging it to my shoulder with both eyes over the double barrels.
I looked at him seriously. "Mr. Kelly, this gun is worth more than $600.00. It’s worth . . . "
Interrupting me, Mr. Kelly said softly, "Son, I know what it’s worth. I want it to go to someone who appreciates it. Someone who will take care of it." He looked toward Billy. "Billy said you intended to get it for your wife to shoot doves with."
I smiled. “She goes with me and watches and sometimes she fetches birds for me, though she stops as soon as I say, "Sheila fetch!"
He laughed. "That will be a good gun for her."
"It’s a good gun for anyone. I want the gun, sir," I said, counting out the six 100-dollar bills. He took them and I looked at this gun.
"I had both barrels choked modified at the factory for doves," he said. "It doesn’t take tubes but I never needed anything other than modified in it."
"I prefer modified myself," I assured him, proud of my new gun.
We visited and talked guns for a while and then we left. A few short months later Mr. Kelly was gone.
This morning I sit at the edge of the dove field with the Winchester in my hands, thinking to myself that I started my hunting life with a Winchester Youth model 37A 20 gauge. The Old Man that taught me to shoot a shotgun is gone as well. To say I was doing some reflection of the past is an understatement.
The doves started flying later than normal because of the cloudy, overcast day. A dove crossed in front of me and I shot, missed and corrected as it came toward me.
A puff of gray feathers exploded mid-air as the dove fell across the fence. The twin hulls flew over my shoulder as I opened the gun and reloaded it.
I missed more than I hit for a little while that morning, but I was connecting around 40 percent of the time as slowly worked my way up to six doves in my vest.
Then it all came together. It was if the spirit of the gun or the spirit of that old man decided I was worthy and for the next 9 doves of my 15-dove limit I was knocking them out of the air with almost every shot. The old gun became like an old friend as it hit my shoulder and bucked with the shot that rolled another dove out of the air. As the white wings came in, I found myself once with doves all around me and only enough time to load one barrel. I had found out with a very disappointing click earlier, that the bottom barrel of the over-and-under shot first and I would stuff a shell in it and fire it like a single shot as I knocked down 4 birds with three shots reloading the one barrel as fast as I could.
I had chuckled at the unexpected double and within minutes I found myself with a full game bag of doves. Doves are a symbol of peace and I personally think that nothing says peace like dove and jalapeno wrapped in bacon with the special sauce my buddy Jason gave me the recipe just for these TRUE Texas Dove Poppers.
Standing there looking at that gun, I remember the smile on Mr. Kelly’s face as he watched me handle the gun with respect. If guns could tell their history, they would be so valuable no one could afford a used gun. That who own a gun given to them by their dad or granddad or owns one that has been passed from generation to generation knows of what I speak. This old gun had spoken its piece again this morning and I believe it knew it had come home to someone who knew and appreciated firearms. I broke the action and unloaded it, carrying it to my truck.
Mr. Kelly is gone, but I have his gun -- the gun he entrusted to me as someone who valued it and would take care of it. I know some of you are thinking – he sold it to you! Smiling as I walk to the truck, he didn’t have to sell it to me. He sold it because I understood and I would take care of his old friend – his old gun and make it mine.