Kyle Wintersteen, Managing Editor
Dad long ago instilled in me that if you shoot a gun, you clean a gun. A rusty shotgun, he said, reveals much about the character of its owner — or simply whether he hunts sea ducks.
That’s largely why you and I are in our sixteenth grueling duck season together, and aside from the unavoidable scars of bumpy boat rides and thorny creek bottoms, there’s barely a blemish on you. Yet my post-hunt cleaning ritual owes to more than a lifelong habit or even the desire to keep you running smoothly.
I clean you out of respect, for you, for the Belgians who machined you and for the men who ensured my freedom to own you. If you ask me, allowing firearms to wither away through mere neglect is an affront to all they signify.
I clean you because you’re a hefty, 8-pound-plus magnum, an irreplaceable relic since the market’s shift to lightweight, do-it-all shotguns. You’re as suited to the grouse woods as a linebacker to a basketball court, but you soak up recoil, smooth my swing, and smack any ducks attempting an end-around sweep.
I clean you because every opportunity to fetch you from the safe rekindles memories of the places we’ve been and ducks we’ve shot. Black ducks on the Susquehanna, mallards in Saskatchewan, bluebills on Chesapeake Bay and canvasbacks on the James River, to name a few. Call me sentimental, but I’m not ready to write a new story with a new shotgun.
I clean you because you perform as if cherry-picked from the assembly line. Your over-bored barrel throws a superb steel pattern. You’ve been wet, muddy and encased in ice, yet through thousands of rounds you’ve malfunctioned just once: Seconds after I bragged to a buddy of your perfect record. Well played, Shotgun.
No, I haven’t always treated you well. There was the sea duck hunt four years ago when, dog tired, I opted to drive home rather than clean you immediately. The result: Gentle pitting on your barrel extension, a constant reminder of my lapse in vigilance. And there was the time I lowered my arm to fetch a black duck, the canoe rocked, and you plunged into the marsh muck. I used a stick to free 3 inches of mud from your barrel, and moments later, you overcame this flirtation with disaster by deftly delivering a charge of No. 2 shot to a drake mallard.
Shotgun, I want you to know how much I value both you and what owning you represents. I will degrease you, oil you, replace your springs and buy a new barrel if yours gives out. You are my shotgun — the best duck gun I’ve owned — and I promise to never let you rust.