The Shooting Life of Presidents

Not Just For Show?

It’s an election year and firearms will be a primary talking point on the campaign trail. Guns have been integral to our country since November 15, 1620, when Miles Standish and his troops carried matchlock muskets to explore Cape Cod and the New World. Throughout our country’s history, notable athletes, actors and actresses have been hunters, shooters, or both. As the most powerful person in America is our president, let’s have a look at some of their favorite firearms and the fun they have had while shooting them.

President Harry Truman’s percussion SxS shotgun (below) was a London-made percussion guild gun handed down from his father. According to a cousin, Truman’s dad fell from his horse onto the shotgun and thereby damaged the hammer.

Tale Of Two

The National Rifle Association’s National Sporting Arms Museum located at the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo. is where you will find firearms owned and shot by two American Presidents. Of particular interest are the two shotguns of Grover Cleveland and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

• Grover Cleveland owned a rare Model 1883 Damascus-barreled Colt 8-gauge shotgun. Part of what makes Cleveland’s gunning iron so unique is it’s the only 8-gauge Colt ever produced. It’s engraved with full-coverage factory craftsmanship, inlayed in 18-kt gold, and carries Cleveland’s name on the trigger guard.

• While many equate Eisenhower with golf, he was an avid hunter and, in particular, a quail hunter. Robert Woodruff, the president of Coca Cola, presented the Winchester Model 21 side-by-side 20-gauge shotgun choked skeet in/out to Ike with an inscription: “To a straight shooter from a friend.” Five gold stars indicative of Eisenhower’s military rank were engraved in the bottom of the receiver. When Ike wasn’t shooting skeet on his backyard range in Pennsylvania, he hunted quail on Woodruff’s Georgia plantation and elsewhere. While you’re at the National Sporting Arms Museum, be sure to see then-General Eisenhower’s personal sidearm, a Colt M1911A1.

Eisenhower might have installed the skeet range at Camp David in the 1950s, but John F. Kennedy sure enjoyed using it. Kennedy was known for his enjoyment of shooting and had a sizable gun collection as well. There are photos on the internet of JFK shooting skeet with two notable celebrities, British actor David Niven and Ben Bradlee, a journalist. At the time,
Bradlee worked for Newsweek.

Presidential firearms appear in other parts of the country, too. Harry S Truman was an avid hunter, shooter and firearms collector, but one firearm held a sweet spot in his heart. It was a London-made guild gun, a percussion 12-gauge side-by-side passed down from his father John Truman. According to Mr. Truman’s cousin, Fred, Truman’s dad fell from his horse onto the shotgun and thereby damaged the hammer. The shotgun is marked as being made by one George Goulcher. Goulcher was an expat Brit living in New York who made components used by gunsmiths unable to create their own parts.

The shotgun (right) is marked as being made by George Goulcher, who was a gun parts supplier in New York.

Actual hunters?

Jimmy Carter is better known to the public as a fly-rodder but he is also allegedly a shooter and a hunter as well. According to various sources, he owns two handguns, four shotguns and three rifles and hunts for big game, small game and waterfowl.
It’s common for fathers and sons to hunt together, but what happens when father and son are both presidents? Then you’re likely to find George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush hunting together. Their home state of Texas is well-known for quail and they are the favorite game-of-choice for these two patriots. But as fathers and sons frequently differ, Bush 41 is a side-by-side man while Bush 43 favors over/unders.

Barack Obama grabbed headlines for many policies, none so much as his 2012 interview with the New Republic. He stated for the record he shoots skeet “all the time” at Camp David, and the White House supplied support through a famous series of pictures. Historians can hash out the apparent differences in his political-versus-personal view of firearms, but one thing is for sure; his gun mount needs some work.

Throughout our history, some of our presidents have enjoyed shotgunning, bird hunting and waterfowling. Here’s hoping we see more trade their vests and chaps for a business suit and become elected officials.

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