Playing Favorites

Your BFF Shotgun
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Pastor Bob Ford fell in love with his 16-gauge Fox Sterlingworth the first time he shot it. Photo: Bob Ford

I met my friend Kevin at the skeet range and when I pulled out my Parker VH 28, he asked, “Do you ever shoot anything else?” Hmmm, I thought, a good question. My gun cabinet back home has as much diversity as a writer’s budget will allow, but with the exception of hunting sea ducks, I grab the Parker every time. She comes out ahead of the other semis, O/Us, and pumps I own, mostly because she fits me like a glove and I shoot her well.

Kevin laughed and pulled his Ithaca Model 37 from the case.

“I see you brought your Ithaca,”

I said.

“Wouldn’t leave home without it,” he said.

“Do you ever shoot anything else?” I laughed.

“Well played,” he laughed, “well played.”

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Whenever Jim Turlington pulls out his J.C. Higgins .410, he thinks
of his dad and the wonderful times they had hunting together.
Photo: Jim Turlington. Don Mallicoat didn’t leave his baby in
the corner and once he loaded low compressions shells, the
Russell Arms Company hammergun rarely left his side. Photo: Don Mallicoat

Why Not?

When it comes to shotguns, many of us play favorites for good reason. We spend good chunks of time, effort and money searching for a Holy Grail in gun shops, gun shows, auctions or online. When we finally find our sweetheart, it’s tough to shoot anything else. Here are some of my friends’ favorites.

Lion Country, Penn. — When Pastor Bob Ford isn’t preaching the Gospel, teaching Sunday school, or visiting shut-ins, he’s chasing rabbits with his pack of beagles. He’s a writer, too, the author of a dozen books and columns on beagles, field trialing and rabbits. When Pastor Bob heads for the woods he usually grabs his 16-gauge Fox Sterlingworth. “I bought that Fox for a song because there was a hairline crack in the pistol grip,” he said. “By the end of the first season that crack got worse so I took it to a local gunsmith. He said I needed a new stock, but my pastor’s salary wasn’t going to cover that expense. I was bummed as that Fox quickly became my favorite gun.”

Ford placed the Fox in the back of his cabinet. He went on to shoot a number of other shotguns he owned, but the experience just wasn’t the same. Then a miracle happened when Ford’s nephew retired from the United States Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. “My nephew was looking for a part-time job and went to gunsmith school,” Ford said. “Wouldn’t you know that one of his school projects was to build a stock for an old firearm? He offered to build me a new stock for the cost of the wood, so now I’m back to using my favorite shotgun. I must confess the stock is no longer perfect. I’ve added a few scratches and dings of my own.”

Deltona, Fla. — Jim Turlington, a well-known sporting artist in Central Florida, always hunts squirrels with his .410 J.C. Higgins Model 1011 single-shot hammer gun. “Whenever I walk out the door to hunt squirrels, I reach for that shotgun,” he said. “My father bought it from Sears, Roebuck and Company when I was old enough to start hunting. Savage Arms made the private label shotgun in the late 1940s. Because of its age, most people believe it’s an heirloom and I should leave it at home.

“I never do, because I shot my first quail, wood duck and rabbit with that shotgun. It carries a lot of fond memories from my childhood. The full choke lets me reach squirrels high in the trees. Sure it gets wet and muddy, but I just give it a thorough cleaning when I return home. No new gun could possibly make me think of the fun times I’ve had learning to hunt or of hunting with my dad.”

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Don Mallicoat didn’t leave his baby in the corner and once he
loaded low compressions shells, the Russell Arms Company
hammergun rarely left his side. Photo: Don Mallicoat

Ashville, NC — Don Mallicoat isn’t opposed to hanging fine firearms on a wall, but sooner or later he takes them down and puts them to use. “When I owned my gun shop, I bought a nice little shotgun from an older gentleman,” Mallicoat said. “It was a Belgian trade gun made in Liege for the Russell Arms Company. The side-by-side shotgun was old enough to have two external hammers, and the twist barrels were made from Damascus steel. But the action was tight, the hammers were intact, and the bores and barrels were perfect. It was such an interesting piece I purchased the shotgun and hung it on the shop wall for several years. But one day I handloaded a box of low compression shells and took it to the skeet range. Now it goes everywhere with me, for it is nimble, fits well, and handles like a dream. I use it regularly when hunting grouse, woodcock and dove.”

Columbia, SC — When it comes to shotgunning, Brian Raley always reaches for his Ithaca Flues 20 gauge. “The 26″ barrels balance perfectly in my hand and I like the double triggers for barrel selection,” he said. “The fixed chokes are Improved Cylinder/Modified, and I can change effective distances by loading different shells. For dove I’ll use a standard ⅞-oz. load and for wild quail I’ll use a ¾ oz. in the right barrel and a ⅞ oz. for the left. The spread is more open on the first shot and reaches out a bit further on the second shot.

“I like the Ithaca for two reasons. First, it’s always a pleasure to hold a well-crafted firearm with a high-quality walnut stock, well-constructed design, and precise fit and finish. But the second is tradition. Older firearms connect me to their previous owners and to the times they spent hunting game with family and friends. That’s a tough connection to beat, which is why my son and grandson are going to inherit my entire firearm collection.”

The one great thing about shotguns is there are a lot of different makes and models from which to choose. There’s a lot of competition to be the one known as “the one that we always shoot.” And the path to finding the one? You know the answer: It’s a heck of a lot of fun.

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