An English Shotgun Passed Down by a Stranger
The shop’s doorbell jingles. A well-dressed older gentleman in his early eighties enters. He’s carrying a soft gun case. I’m drooling at all the side-by-sides the Olathe Gun Shop is famously known for. I hear the man say he wants to place a shotgun on consignment. My interest is piqued. I move closer but don’t want to appear nosy. Pretending to look at a shotgun, I watch as a vintage-style camouflaged gun case is unzipped. A single-shot shotgun slides out. “Made in England. This beaut’ looks like a twelve-gauge.” Are the phrases I hear from, Brad, the shop’s resident shotgun expert who has an uncanny resemblance to Ernest Hemingway. “Oh, I think she’ll sell quickly.”
Let’s draw up the paperwork and get you on your way. We’ll have her out first thing tomorrow morning.” says Brad. “I hadn’t shot that gun since the late 1970s. If I recall, I bought it about a decade prior. Late sixties, maybe. I had been stationed in England. I’m getting older and don’t remember things well. Unfortunately, I can’t take the shotgun with me for where I am going. Used to shoot doves, quail, and a few grouse with that little Webley” says the owner. The man’s face shows there is a deep connection with the shotgun. I vow to return the next day to get a better look at the English shotgun.
I’m greeted by the same clanging bell the following day. I go straight to the used shotguns and scan the rack. “Ahhh, there she is.” I whisper to myself. I flick the cream-colored tag over and read, “Webley & Scott 12 gauge 30” Barrel”. Handling the shotgun, I’m taken aback as to how light it is. I was expecting it to be heavier. Moving my hands up and down the singular metal tube and caressing the wood, it’s obvious there was wear and tear but minimal. She was a field gun but had been taken well care of. Stamped at the base of the barrel was “2 ¾”. I sly of relief as I was expecting it to say it took two-and-a-half inch shells. The most obvious feature of the shotgun is its rainbow color casehardening on the receiver. Hues of purple and blues danced as the light hits it. These color swirls extend into the trigger guard and into the action release lever. There’s also a grooved hammer, which is stiff but workable. I open the shotgun and peer down the steel barrel. It glistens with no imperfections. Rounding out the features on the Webley & Scott is an adjustable choke. It’s perfect. I glance at the price and know I cannot pass up such a bargain. Thirty minutes later I walk out with my first English shot shotgun.
Months later, it’s September 1st and I find myself sitting in a cut sunflower field. Like Great Britain’s famed “Glorious Twelfth,” America’s dove opener signals the start of bird season for the masses. The sun is rising fast. Its fluorescent orange rays catch shadows of flying birds. Doves. I’ve waited for this moment all summer. Across the field I see a pair of doves flying straight towards me. I ready myself and pull back on the hammer. Waiting. Just as the birds dive into my decoy spread, I emerge from the waist-high vegetation. The single barrel of the Webley & Scott is poised skyward like a silhouetted howitzer. A thunderous boom ricochets across the field. I feel the power of the twelve bore and a lone dove falls to the ground.
I open the action and out catapults a lone empty red hull. From my vest I grab one cartridge to reload and ready the shotgun. As I close the action, a quartet of doves pass over. Using a single-shot forces me to choose shots carefully as a quick follow-up is out of the question. I fix the brass bead onto the middle bird and slowly squeeze the trigger. The grey dove folds in midair and sails downwards with outstretched wings like a helicopter landing. Another shell flies out adding to the pile that lay scattered about me. I get up from my position and break-open the English gun and walk out to retrieve the pair of doves.
Both birds are placed into my game vest. The shotgun is resting on my shoulder. Bobwhite quail are whistling in the background as more doves fly overhead. I’m standing in the middle of a dove field on opening day shooting an English shotgun that a gentleman unknown to me had used for decades. As an ardent bird hunter and romantic at heart, I thrive on memories and experiences in the field. This is one of them.
Though the Webley & Scott kicks like and angry English draught horse, it is a delight to shoot. The shotgun has no rattles or loose components, and its weathered look gives it character. I feel sophisticated shooting the breechloading English gun. Carrying the single-shot shotgun is carrying history. It’s unclear as to why the gentleman couldn’t take his beloved Webley & Scott with him. But I do know he would be happy to learn that the shotgun is continuing its tradition in hunting gamebirds. I will take the W&S and go on new adventures into the uplands and make new memories.
I load the shotgun and gently close the action and walk back to my hiding spot for more birds. Hours later, my day ends with a dozen doves shot with the gentleman’s “little Webley.”
Edgar E. Castillo
Bird Hunting Aficionado & Outdoor Writer