The Shotgun My Father Gave Me
by Stephanie Janiczek
Clash Daily Guest Contributor
I remember the day we bought it. We’d been discussing my twelfth birthday, and I’d wanted a horse. We couldn’t afford a horse and I knew that but that’s what I really wanted. Papa suggested a shotgun. I’d already been helping him on the river, running gill nets and set lines. I had expressed an interest in hunting, unlike my sisters who would eat duck, deer, goose and other game but complained about how cruel hunting was. So it was decided that we would go to Monsoor’s Sports shop in our town, La Crosse, Wisconsin, and look at the used shotguns. A 20 gauge was already planned on. The recoil of a 12 gauge would be too much for a little girl. Eventually I knew I’d graduate to a 12 gauge but a 20 gauge is the best to learn on.
We chose the Remington, because that was the brand Papa always bought. He was a Remington man every day of his life. He was known for the 870 with the walnut stock; he barely ever missed a Mallard in Canada with it. They are durable, and easy to maintain. When we found the 1100, he let me pick it up, hold it. Heavy and unwieldy at first, it was not hard to figure out. A shotgun really is a simple weapon. You point and shoot. Once you master the shotguns simplicity the real issues in shooting always become whatever is going on between the ears.
Bill Monsoor owned the shop and when he helped us with our purchases that day, a shotgun and parka for the girl, he wasn’t too surprised. Even in the early 80’s women were starting to go hunting and shooting with their husbands and Dads. Women’s interest in shooting and hunting has been a boon for the shooting sports to. He just looked at me sternly and said, “You take care of this shotgun and it will last you your whole life.” I never forgot those words. It is funny but I also learned that all old hunters and shooters think the same because that’s what Papa’s sentiments were to.
That shotgun has been part of memories that have never quite been equaled. There are mornings I can conjure up in my mind that were so perfect that words fail them because of that shotgun. All I have to do is hold it. It is part of who I am. Other people, people I graduated High School with, College peers and people I knew in Washington DC can’t comprehend a duck blind that was just a muskrat house in the middle of a pond in the dark of the morning. The sky above Target Lake in Minnesota, a sea of stars, the moon hanging low, the planets twinkling and the whisper of Mallard wings overhead. The whisper Papa always talked about, Gene Hill’s “Whispering Wings of Autumn”. Not many people have ever heard that quiet sound. The loud Hooeeek of a drake Wood Duck calling as he flies through the trees like a bat, the startled look on a spike bucks face when he realizes he’s come to a crossing where duck hunters are planted waiting to ambush duck bandits that fly so fearlessly. If you haven’t seen a Wood Duck fly through heavy woods, it would make tears come to your eyes and a fighter pilot envious. A Drake Wood Duck is a flier. That shotgun taught me what it meant to shoot a goose, and a Drake Mallard.
The greatest step a hunter can take is shooting one's first deer. We all dream that the first buck will be the big guy. Some people are luckier and can actually say their first buck was the big one. Most can’t. Hunting teaches you that one’s first buck doesn’t have to be a giant. Being there and having the opportunity and being sure enough of your skills to follow through are all that matters.
With that shotgun I shot my first buck. The story never gets old. A clear early November morning, a drive, the wind from the northwest, a startled doe and her spike buck suitor and me. He was so close I could have strangled him had I wanted to, but I dropped to one knee and pulled the trigger. The slug, an old school Winchester, found its target and the buck fell. My brothers thought they heard me shoot. Papa in the boat waiting on the main channel didn’t think I’d seen the doe. She jumped over the bank and raced down the beach. How happy he was seeing us emerge with the deer. How shocked he was to see my brother Jon tackle me and rub blood on my face. Barbaric, maybe to the elitists out there, the so called “evolved”. But it is what hunters do to mark the first kill. The first buck is the sacred moment in any hunter’s life. The weapon used becomes almost supernatural in its power.
I eventually graduated to a Valmet double barreled over/under 12 gauge for duck hunting. I had an old 870 rigged for deer hunting till it just didn’t get the job done one year. I missed the biggest buck I ever saw in my life because that shotgun was off. I started using the Ithaca Deer Slayer II my brother bought and missing became a past issue. But even with those, and the 308 for rifle season in Wisconsin. no hunting weapon ever was as dear to me as that old 20 gauge. I still have that shotgun, too. I’ll never give it up.