Scratching the Surface
by Terry Wieland
There’s nothing quite like moving your home, office, gun room, and library to bring home to you, in crushing reality, how many books you own. Hundreds! Thousands! I didn’t actually count them as I was carrying them out to the car and, later, into the new abode, and down the stairs, but I know for certain the latter number is closer than the former.
At any rate, it got me thinking: If I had to winnow it down to, say, six or, perhaps, a dozen, which would I keep? Of course, there would have to be categories—shotguns, rifles, big-game hunting, and so on. One assumes that, given the old desert-island scenario, there could possibly be but six all told, or even three.
Forty-some years ago, through a sequence of events best forgotten, I found myself on the island of Bonaire, off the coast of Venezuela, with nothing but my American Express card, passport, a short and forgettable biography of Jack London, and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt. In a second-hand shop, as I was searching for footwear to replace the fleece-lined boots in which I had fled Toronto in February, I came across Jack Kerouac’s Visions of Cody, in what I at first thought was English but which turned out to be Kerouac instead.
Since then, I have never—never, I say—left home for any reason without more than enough reading material to see me through any situation. Not to knock Dr. Thompson, but after a week I had it memorized.
But here we are not dealing with such an apocalyptic possibility. It’s more along the lines of, when you are finally assigned to assisted living in a room eight by twelve, with one chair and reading lamp, and two feet of bookshelf, what do you want to have at hand to smooth your declining years?
This being fall, with the leaves swirling in the wind and, with any luck, birds bursting from the undergrowth, let’s start with a Shotgunners Dozen and see how that goes. These are in the approximate order I would acquire them if I didn’t have them already.
1. The British Sporting Gun and Rifle—Pursuit of Perfection 1850-1900 by Donald Dallas (Quiller Press & Stackpole Books, 2008.)
This is really the history of the breech-loading shotgun, which begins and ends in England (okay, and Scotland) in the latter half of the 19th century. Illustrated with gorgeous photographs from the English auction houses, it can be read, re-read, or simply admired as you turn page after full-color page. And intertwined is a cultural history of both gunmaking and wingshooting. To quote Meat Loaf, “too much is never enough.”
2. Shotgunning, the Art and the Science by Bob Brister (Winchester Press, 1976.)
No better book has ever been written on the subject of shotguns, how they work, how patterns develop, and what is required to shoot them well. Brister was shooting editor of Field & Stream, so you know he writes as well as he shot, which was damned well indeed. He was a world-class competitor at live-pigeon as well as clay targets.
3. Best Guns by Michael McIntosh (Countrysport Press, 1989.)
McIntosh believed, as do I, that the history of the shotgun lies mainly in the British Isles, but that doesn’t mean good guns have not been made elsewhere, and in this book Michael covered them all—American (Parker, et al), German (Sauer, Merkel, etc.) Italian (Beretta and many others), as well as the usual English suspects, with passing reference to the fine guns from the Basque Country of Spain, and chapters on France and Belgium. Michael being Michael, he wrote about more than I’ve mentioned here, and also, Michael being Michael, it’s eminently re-readable—essential for our premise.