Category Archive 'Grouse Shooting'

26 Apr 2018

“An Element of Immortality”

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William Harnden Foster, New England Grouse Shooting.

Terry Wieland, in Vintage British Shotguns (2008), writes:

There is, at the root of all this, a passion. For years I pondered the question of why I, and others, become emotional about firearms, new and old. Almost always, the passion is directed at finer guns. They could be the largely hand-fitted, hand-finished Winchesters of 1900, or the Colts of the same era, or the best bespoke Purdys and Lancasters. Or, they could be medium-quality boxlocks of the years before 1914. Different guns appeal to different people, but there are common threads.

The common thread here is hand labor –the skill and knowledge that flows from a craftsman’s head through his fingers, into the gun that he is making. That magical quality stays throughout its life, and that life can be very long — virtually infinite, in fact. These guns are made with steel and wood, crafted in a vise with a file, tempered by fire. A thousand years from now, that gun can still be shooting, or made to shoot once again, provided a man exists with the skill and the knowledge and the vise and the file and a piece of steel.

The magic simply does not exist with a gun fashioned from polymer, stamped out by a machine. No matter how well it functions in the short term, it is still a product of a disposable age. Fine guns are not disposable. They are made to last forever.

A man and his dog go out to hunt grouse, and he takes with him a hundred-year-old English shotgun. He may be the gun’s sixth or seventh owner. Each of these participants –dog, man, gun, bird — is an essential element in a timeless ballet, but each participates within its own cycle. A grouse may live for three seasons, a dog may hunt for ten; the man will hunt for 50, but the guncan go a-birding for a century, and the grouse as a species outlasts them all.

This metaphysical reality of hunting is one of the things that intrigues serious bird hunters so much, and gives us all a feeling of participating in something much larger, and older, and more important than ourselves. There is an element of immortality about it.


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