As I was cleaning my Beretta O&U 12 bore this morning for end of game season storage, I recalled an impressionable conversation that I had had recently with an elderly Gun on a partridge shoot in Kent.
It was pouring rain and we had taken shelter between drives waiting for the precipitation to abate to a steady drizzle before commencing the next drive.
My fellow Gun was shooting with a lovely old Boss & Co. side by side. The barrels had been replaced about ten years before but the worn Turkish walnut stock was original and even though cared for lovingly, carried the scars of many a day in the field.
This old gentleman was the only one of eight Guns shooting a side by side. The remainder were armed with the usual mixture of highly efficient, ever reliable modern over and unders that dominate the British shooting field these days – three Berettas, two Brownings, one Miroku and one Caesar Guerini.
I asked my octogenarian friend if he would ever consider changing to a modern style over and under of Italian or possibly Japanese manufacture.
He thought momentarily and knowing of my like for classic English cars gleaned from an earlier discussion over breakfast, answered with a wry smile and the following analogy, “Sir, if you had been fortunate to have been given the privilege of driving an old Jag for many years, a real classic, would you ever consider changing it for something as pedestrian and automotively advanced as a new Fiat or hybrid Toyota?” “I think not”, he replied sagely to his own tautological question.
He went on to explain that occasionally the old gun does let him down and they have to retire to the sidelines for the next drive. But he would never consider changing guns and “benching” his old friend. That simply wouldn’t be cricket – would it.
And there we have it. Most of us that day, and indeed throughout Britain and possibly the world, have usually selected our guns based on their ability to assist us in harvesting game birds.
This elderly gentleman had been given his gun as a young lad after he returned home from the war.
To him his shotgun was not simply a firearm, it was a lasting and much cherished symbol epitomising what British game shooting was all about – traditions and enjoying the outing with old and new chums.
For him, the team and individual bag sizes were never a consideration or a factor in how good the day had been. That was judged on the hospitality of the host, how the birds had been presented and had flown, the calibre of the craic in the Gun wagon, convivial lunch time conversation and the dog work of the picking up team.
Though the technology and concepts may have changed in shotgun making, I am hopeful of using my Beretta for the next 30 years so I can enjoy the same right of passage that my friend and his Boss have endured and enjoyed.