The end of the year often finds me reflecting on my life, what I do and how I will move forward in the future. Right now it is about 4:00am. It is still dark and my wife and dog are still sound asleep. As I sit here, cup of coffee in my hand and a fire going in the pellet stove, I’m staring at an old shotgun and wonder what kind of stories it could tell. Stories that we will never hear; stories locked in the recesses of cold steel and wood.
There are many people that have influenced me over the years. From Native elders to “old time” farmers, they have all taught me valuable lessons. One person in particular has influenced me; that man being my mother’s father, and it is his old double-barreled shotgun that I’m looking at. This is where it all started. While I never met this man, indirectly, he is a big reason why I became the man that I am.
A few years ago both of my parents passed away. They were both in their 90s and had rich full lives. After their passing my sisters and I were left with the task of cleaning out their home of over 50 years. One of the treasures found during this massive undertaking was an old 12-gauge shotgun. This was my grandfather’s shotgun and it was given to my mother after his passing well over 50 years ago. I remember this gun being in the house as I was growing up. It was my first contact with a firearm and as a child I would spend hours breaking it down and cleaning it, even though we never fired it. The shotgun was never hung on the wall; instead it was kept in the closet. As I grew older, the gun was forgotten about, by me anyway.
“How”, you may ask, “does this have anything to do with how I turned out?” Well, it was my mother who first got me involved in the outdoors and it was her father who taught her. My mother was born in 1920, so she was hunting and fishing long before it was fashionable for women to do so. Times were tough for my mother’s family while she was growing up, so my grandfather hunted and fished to help put food on the table. His respect for the outdoors was passed on to my mother, who in turn passed it on to me.
This shotgun that I now hold in my hand was the firearm he used to feed his family. Little did I know as a kid, this shotgun helped to define the life I now lead. I decided to do a little research on the shotgun to see just exactly what I had. It was made by J. Manton & Co. The shotgun is a 12-gauge, double-barreled side-by-side. It has a walnut stock and Damascus steel barrels. The hammers are large external ones and it has double triggers. From my research I found that J. Manton & Co produced what are considered “low-end” firearms in Belgium. They were imported by H&D Folsom Co. between 1890 and 1910. These firearms were sold at local hardware stores throughout the country, which is something we don’t see today. Back then a firearm was a tool, just like a shovel or an ax. Now we have to ask ourselves who is it that decides whether a firearm is “low-end” or not. Obviously, this shotgun has lasted over 100 years and it was used heavily early on in its life. We should all hope that items manufactured today will last that long.
This shotgun is definitely not the fanciest firearm I have ever seen, but fancy is not what puts meat on the table. The person using it does. The fanciest, most expensive shotgun in the world is worthless if the person using it can’t shoot. My grandfather’s shotgun was made to do a job and it performed the task it was designed to do.
Most of the items in my parent’s home were sold per their instructions, but this piece of family history has a new home with me. This one item says a great deal about my family and thus, about me. It makes me feel good to realize that this apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree.
By Dana Benner