Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Black Is For Mourning

(A long-winded diatribe on a subject dear to my heart)

I realize that I’ll probably never camp again, and that if I ever hunt again, it will be on a very limited basis. Those facts are true in part because of an uncooperative wife but more so, these days, due to health concerns. Still, when the missus goes to Walmart, and I ride around on one of their handicapped scooters, I nearly always find myself in Sporting Goods at some point.

The other day, as I approached the gun section, I was struck by what reminded me of four black fodder shocks, or maybe black stacks of arms. All four of the circular gun racks were full with a selection of .22 rifles, high-powered rifles and shotguns. As for the shotguns, there wasn’t a single-shot or double in the bunch. They were all semi-autos or pumps. Only three shotguns, and no rifles, had any wood on them, though at least they weren’t black. The only other variation was a couple of camo models. Otherwise, it was as if a gang of Goth street warriors had stacked their arms and went off to play video games.

The black trend is nothing new; it’s been developing for years. I think it came about first as a way to copy the military style, both by police and paramilitary units (the latter civilian and otherwise). Then, the mindset came to some hunters and shooters that black just looked “mean.” Why THAT is a virtue I’m not sure, especially, since it gave the anti-gunners another adjective for “assault weapons”—those “black guns.” I’m not completely innocent on that charge, though; I used to have a supremely accurate deer rifle that I jokingly called “The Black Death.” I parted with it during one of my many bouts of poverty.

Things were vastly different when I was a lad. I learned to shoot with Dad’s Model 37 Mossberg, with its blued barrel and walnut stock. I took my first game with my grandfather’s mule-eared double-barreled 12 gauge at age 12. It was a fairly inexpensive Belgian import in its day, but it had an amazing amount of beautiful engraving, and its graceful walnut stock was checkered on the wrist and forearm. The butt-plate showed a forest scene with three deer. Even my great-grandfather’s muzzle-loading “chunk gun” had a graceful, hand-whittled walnut stock. Sadly, I parted with all three during a heart-breaking round of EXTREME poverty, when there wasn’t much else left to sell..

Back in my childhood and teens, gun shops (there used to be such things) were filled with blued steel and real wood. Some used guns had much of the blue replaced by polished brown, from years of loyal service. Some of the stocks showed much wear on the wrist and forearm, from years of being carried afield and aforest. Most stocks were made of walnut, but some custom guns had cherry, maple or other woods. The fancier models had beautiful rippling and waving grain that looked like moving velvet or waving flames as you admired them. Those fancier grades, even when used, normally had perfect finishes, from a life of being reverenced and babied by their owners, even being re-blued and having the stocks refinished if wear became apparent.

It was the goal of many youngsters to gradually work their way from the plain and simple models with which most began their hunting career, up the ladder as time and money allowed, to where they had some of the shiny blue guns with velvety wood stocks. In the meanwhile, even their common models were never handled in such a way as to allow their skin to touch the steel, if at all possible. To allow that would be to invite rust. Their weapon (a term now out of vogue amongst the touchy-feely folks) was always cleaned and oiled after each use, just like a good farmer or cowboy never put his horse way without cooling him off, brushing him down and watering and feeding him. The main difference being that the gun could wait until AFTER supper if need be.

Things have certainly changed during my lifetime. The BATF has managed to drive most of the smaller firearms dealers out of business through paperwork and outright harassment. Many fathers often don’t teach their sons (and daughters) woodsmanship, through hiking, camping, fishing and small game hunting. They’re too enamored with getting “the big buck” so they can have a huge rack of dead bones to hang on the wall. Mostly gone are the fathers who teach their children the wonder in a beautiful sunrise, the wildflowers that come with turkey season, the peace to be found by a babbling brook, or the charming loneliness in the sound of an owl’s hoot, as you walk from the darkening woods. A few such gentlemen remain, but far too few. The farmers have been driven from business by politics, tough economic times and government interference, so finding a worthwhile place to hunt is nigh impossible.

Most of the wood on firearms has been replaced with black plastic; most of the metal is matt-finished, or stainless. What woods remains are usually cheap species covered with opaque finishes. Double-barreled shotguns are nearly extinct. So are GRACEFUL single shots, like the ancient one that I carry on my rare sojourns beyond the lawn’s edge. Engraving and checkering are solely the bailiwick of the privileged class these days, except for a few souls lurking at the edges of that group. Inflation, greed, higher (though still worthless) wages and multiple taxes have driven the common man from that market. The working stiff often has to content himself with the guns once considered entry level for the youngsters.

The other day, I saw an actual magazine ad with a man holding to the barrel of his rifle, using it as a wading staff to help him cross a shallow stream. In my day, the rifle would have been held above the water, even if the waves were lapping at your nose! Yes, times have certainly changed. Maybe black is a good color for guns after all, since it IS the international color of mourning. © 2016


Gail said...


I'm proud to say I was taught the old way and have passed that down.

Vicki said...

So sad that the lifestyles of our parents and grandparents are rapidly fading. I remember my Dads guns, all of which he taught me to shoot an care for. There wasn't a black one among them.

M. Silvius said...

You are lucky your Wallyworld sells guns at all. None in Maine do. I never was in to the Tacti-cool or cammo guns, and I can't say I am crazy about plastic furniture on guns but it has its advantages in that it makes for a liter gun over all and you really can't damage it unless you toss it in a campfire or drive your truck over it. I will even admit to owning a couple of plastic stocked semi auto long guns. I never thought I would, but not so long ago I went to the dark side on hand guns too when I found a great deal on a plastic fantastic wonder nine. And stainless steel remains largely unaffected by moisture. Don't get me wrong, I love my J-Frame 38 with the 3 inch barrel and my two older H&R single shots. But I look at them all as tools. If they get the job done without fuss, and are comfortable to handle then they are appealing.

Gorges Smythe said...

That's great, Gail!

I'm glad he taught you those things, Vicki. I guess i'm not so much against the black guns as that I lament the lack of the traditional alternative at an affordable price.

I don't blame you, Michael. If I was going on a hunt in the wilds of the Northwest, or in another country or climate, I'd want the dependability of the plastic stock.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

Very well done! I am right there with you on non-wood stocks and military-style weapons being marketed as for hunting game. I'm sorry, I cannot fathom going deer hunting with an AR-15--even if .223 is a legal caliber to do so in the state. Alas, some common-sense could go a long way toward keeping the anti-Second Amendment crowd at bay by taking away some of their ammo.

Chickenmom said...

Can't even buy a good knife here in Jersey - the are all locked tight behind display cases.

Gorges Smythe said...

Very true, Jerry.

The FEAR of some folks must be overwhelming, Cm!