Christmas Day, 1981 remains my best Christmas ever. That was the Christmas my parents determined I was mature enough to be a responsible gun owner.
I tiptoed down the steps that Christmas morning, the first of the four siblings to wake up. Christmas Eve was the only night my mother would allow the Christmas tree to stay on all night. It was the only light in the living room and cast a fantastic spotlight on the four piles of loot in our living room.
I was able to easily pick out mine. The steel barrel of a .12 gauge single shot, break-down action shotgun was unmistakable glinting against the light. The gun was an Ithaca, which at the time I had never heard of, and the model engraved on the barrel said “SuperSingle.” I was so excited, I could barely contain myself. I opened the breach and closed it repeatedly. The sound of the closing was music to my ears. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Ironically, I hadn’t asked for a shotgun. I had never given a thought to actually having a gun all my own. For the last couple of years, since I had been allowed to hunt by myself, I was using an old shotgun which belonged to a great grand father. The stock was actually held to the metal frame by electrical tape from a bygone era. The ejection mechanism for spent shells didn’t work very well and usually the shell had to be priced out of the breach with a pocket knife after firing. The gun had taught me the importance of making the first shot count. It also had the only word he ever knew how to write, his name “Nat”, carved into the stock.
Soon everybody else was up and we opened all of our presents and soon the exchange of gifts was over. Normally I’m sad when we reach this point in the holiday. My brother would always pronounced in a low and downer voice, “Christmas is over.” Then punctuate the occasion with a long sigh. But on that day, even my brother’s melancholy announcement of the end of Christmas couldn’t get me down.
I dressed, strapped on my boots, grabbed a handful of number 5 shells from my room,and headed out the door. I hunted that Christmas day for hours. I kicked every brush pile on our farm at least twice and stomped through every overgrown fence row for miles. I was flushing quite a few rabbits, but was having to adjust to the new stock and hammer which was considerably harder to draw back than “Nat’s” old shotgun. Soon, I got the hang of it and nailed two rabbits on the run. I rolled into the house with my bounty and our meal the day after Christmas was two rabbits since Mamma already had a turkey in the oven for Christmas Day.
Since 1981 I couldn’t count the number of times I hunted with that shotgun. I’m certain well over a thousand squirrels and rabbits fell to the countless shells I sent down the barrel. I used it to kill the only two grouse I’ve ever taken. Killed a turkey and although I didn’t kill a deer, I did use it for deer hunting a time or two. I also shot geese and ducks. That shotgun was in my hand for almost every hunting trip I made as a boy growing into a man. I used it one summer to dispatch a coon and opossum which broke into the chicken house. I killed a couple of rats in the corn crib. It was loaded and by my side when I got my first apartment. It nearly caused my landlord a heart attack when he decided to enter the apartment unannounced thinking I wasn’t home. No, I didn’t shoot him–but if he had been a true burgler or intruder I’m fairly confident I would have.
Over the years, the old Ithaca became scratched and marked with loads of briers and limbs which have hit the stock. It’s been wet from a rainy fall morning in the squirrel woods and ice cold while hunting in a snowstorm. I took care of it and never let rust develop.
Today, it looks out of place sitting among the more pricey and fancy shotguns and rifles in my gun safe. It doesn’t have a glossy finish on the stock or a mirror gleam on its steel barrel, but even today, it remains one of my most prized possessions. It’s my first shotgun and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Hopefully more more kids will find such a gift this Christmas morning and hopefully they’ll spend the afternoon in the woods cutting their teeth on what can become a lifetime of wholesome enjoyment.