Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Growing up in suburban Houston, Texas, it seemed like almost every household had at least one shotgun. Sometimes there were many shotguns in a home, back in those safer and less burgled times people actually openly displayed their firearms in wooden and glass gun cabinets. Sometimes these cabinets were ornate, and sometimes plain, but the contents were works of art.

As a child who began shooting at an early age, I knew the rule: Look but don't ever touch. My friends and I would stare literally for hours over our youth at the contents, these firearms, and from what we could see and from what we knew about particular guns, we'd talk about the features and good points and bad points of certain guns and designs. Rifles, shotguns and handguns.

Many folks had no handguns in their collections, and some just had one shotgun. Sometimes it was a family gun, like a friend's families Browning A5 shotgun, and other times it was a simple single barreled J.C. Higgens (Sears) or H&R.  Of course, all of my East Texas relatives who lived in or sorta in the country had shotguns near the door. A big favorite was the Remington 870 in 20 or 12 gauge but again, there were all kinds of guns represented as "house guns".

Before I hit my teens, we moved to the outskirts of Houston to subdivisions being built in an extremely rural area. Lots of the kids I went to school with lived on working farms and ranches, and back then in those less violent and crazy times, there was no school rule against having a rifle and shotgun in a window rack of your truck. It was pretty common for the farm kids to have guns or cattle prods in their gun racks in their trucks, and wasn't any big deal back then in the 70's.

There was a huge influx of oil company folks from the land up yonder, north of the Mason Dixon Line, who moved to Texas in the 70's. Many of these folks did not come from gun cultures or families, and were shocked at the prevalance of guns and the guns in the school parking lot. To us from down here, it was no big deal.

But growing up in my teens in that unique rural developing area meant many friends of mine lived on large farms and ranches. We did lots of shooting and fishing on those places. There was always a place to hunt and someone was always having problems with wild hogs destroying crops or coyotes attacking calves/chickens/goats/etc at night. If we took off on a hog hunt or were laying low in the darkness of a barn waiting on coyotes or the occasional wolf to come calling in the midnight hour, most of us were carrying shotguns for night shooting.

Living in the country, one never knows when a stranger might suddenly pull in the driveway at a late hour, with police many miles and many minutes away. Critters also cause issues in the country homestead and here in Texas, it's likely to be mean, wild hogs or wild pigs, coyotes, big poisonous snakes, skunks, bad-arse stray and often ill dogs running in packs and various rabid critters acting strangely.  And if you've got livestock of any kind, then predatory creatures tend to be attracted to feed on your animals.

So it makes sense for the country dweller to have at least a couple of firearms at the ready. Most folks I know had a shotgun and a .22 rifle and a lever or bolt action deer rifle in either 30/30 or 30.06.

But the default weapon of choice, if they just had one weapon, was almost always a shotgun.

I remember trot lining with relatives in East Texas, on a dark Trinity River, and my uncle carried a H&R 12 gauge single shot with the barrel shortened to 18". That was his trot lining gun for shooting the inevitable snakes we encountered and sometimes when a gar would get tangled in his trotline. He had a little wooden rack device on the right rear inside gunwale of the boat to hold the gun in position and broken open since it had no safety, right next to where he sat running the motor and running the trotline. My uncle was a farmer and a rancher and worked pretty hard his whole life, and I had to give it to him for having the foresight to see an accidental discharge from a single shot shotgun with no safety might not be a great thing in a boat with other folks in it..

Other old timers I've fished with over the years in more swamplike and "gator-y" water still carried shotguns, but often loaded with slugs or 00 Buckshot. The first couple of shots would be birdshot for snakes which could quickly be pumped out to get to the more serious ammo if the need arose.

Tales from my farming relatives who trapped, fished  and hunted the East Texas woods extensively to literally survive frmo before the turn of the century until the early 40's. Alligators, panthers and cougars were somewhat common then, and of course the predators stayed near the water waiting for their prey to come to them. My uncle again told of missing a shot while trotlining on a river at what he swore was a mountain lion of some sort, 40 or 50 pounds worth, and other relatives told of encountering panthers and bobcats and sometimes catching them in their traps.

So most all of these folks carried shotguns when they went in the woods, not knowing if they would encounter birds or beast that needed shooting for food. As I mentioned in a previous article about combination guns, my father used to hunt with one of the family shotguns, a double barrel,  as a youth with a slug in one barrel and shotshell in the other. Ready for deer or hog or bird or rabbit. My family, although hungry and absolutely broke like everyone else in the depression and the aftermath, did have their standards, and would eat potatos for days rather than eat any member of what they considered the "rat-like" family, like squirrels and possum and of course the armadillo.

But the suburban folks I grew up around in Houston also mostly were gun owning households, and most homes kept a shotgun locked in a gun cabinet or closet but ready for home defense. In those days, most of the kids I was around had Texas roots, their folks had come to Houston seeking employment and good money from West, Central, East and other parts of Texas.

Many of my good friends all have East Texas roots similar to mine, going back generations. Some of them still have their family land, and one good friends still works that land with a couple of hundred head of cattle. We all share the common gun and hunting culture, as all of our families had very similar lives despite being spread apart by many miles in different counties from large to small.

As I began to visit the East Texas families of my friends, I found they were much like my family members in that region, although they didn't know each other. Hard working. Earnest. Frugal. They liked to drive Chevy and Ford trucks and LTD's and Impalas. And they all had shotguns in their homes, and often in their vehicles.

I've neglected much posting about shotguns thus far on this blog, but the shotgun is often the best weapon in the house for many chores. Self defense, of course, by expert or novice, is often best and most safely accomplished with a shotgun. For the rare skunk or rabid or diseased possum, raccoon or armadillo that periodically have entered our lives over the years, along with numerous poisonous snakes.

I have not shot much skeet or trap in recent years, but that's a sport I'd like to re-enter. Shotgun shooting sports are very popular in Texas and all sorts of outstanding upland and coastal bird hunting is available throughout Texas. In fact, in many rural Texas western locales it seems that bird hunting and deer hunting are the only revenue sources.

I've only hit the high points here about the prevalence of shotguns in Texas for the time I've lived here, and I wonder how it is in other states and other places where we have the freedom to bear arms.

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