Monday, December 24, 2012


My current boss is a big hunter and shooter, and like me, has been all of his life. Once, when we were out at his family's huge place, about 300 acres, we were doing some target and skeet/trap shooting with the kids. My childhood shotgun was an Harrington and Richardson Topper single shot in .410, and his was the same in .20 gauge.

I had brought mine along for the kids to use, as did he, unknown to each other that we each owned childhood H and R Topper shotguns.

My grandfather had essentially the same gun, in 12 gauge, and it was probably a Stevens as I recall but it is unfortunately gone forever. It was one of his main hunting guns to send one of his many kids out with. Only one shot, so make it count, boy, as I imagine he would say, living poor in the country during the depression.

My father learned to shoot with that single shot 12 gauge. It would have been sometime during WWII, when he was about 8 or 10. 

He had watched his father and brothers and brothers in law shoot a variety of firearms, but had been told he would start with the shotgun when the day came for him to learn to shoot.

Shells and cartridges were way too expensive to allow him to learn to shoot in a practice setting, even for one shot.

One day came, as I said during WWII, when his much older brothers and brothers in law were away in the armed forces, his father was out tending a field or moving the herd to a different pasture and was unavailable.

My grandmother summoned my father with a whispered tone, telling him that a flock of blackbirds had just landed in a big oak tree near the pond and creek. She gave him the 12 gauge, told him it was on half-cock and was loaded with birdshot. She recommended he sneak along the treeline and approach the birds from cover, and off he went.

As he told the story, once he got more or less under the tree he aimed and let fire. Either his posture, his young age or his fear of the "kick" he knew was coming resulted in him flat on his back on the ground, knocked down by the recoil.

His shoulder smarted, but around him lay several dozen blackbirds. His mother was very pleased, and made blackbird pie for dinner that evening. Apparently that was a specialty of hers in those days when meat was scarce and was considered good eating.

He was the hero of the family that night and on into the next day for bringing home the bacon. He was allowed the clean the gun by himself, as he had helped on many prior occasions.

I got to shoot that gun several times when I was a kid, and it did have a pretty stout kick to it. Although it had a recoil pad, I was young the first time I shot it, along with other cousins who wanted to shoot one of the "family guns".

They also had a double barreled shotgun and a few handguns and several rifles of both the cartridge and black powder variety when my dad was coming up. At times, my grandfather was employed as a deputy sheriff and carried either a SAA in .45 Colt or a S and W double action in .38 Special.

That was my father's childhood. In terms of years, it was right at 75 years ago or so. It seems so distant now, but back in my childhood it was only 30 years before and the stories rang direct from my father and grandmother and other relatives about life in those days. Before electricity hit their part of East Texas. Before they owned a car.

Some forty years after the depression, when I was a kid and my father had been teaching me how to hunt and fish and find animals in the woods and various other forms of woods craft, I got to hear a lot of his stories about growing up in those days, when dollars were scarce and folks were often hungry.

So I guess that's why he started me on a single shot shotgun, the H and R Topper in .410. It's still a great shotgun, with a case colored receiver. We had other shotguns already in .410 and .20 and .12 gauges, and soon I was allowed to use them for hunting as well. But my first few quail hunts on family land with my dad in then largely undeveloped Cypress, Texas were with the .410 single shot shotgun.

The H and R line of shotguns, and many of their pistols made in previous years, are great values in guns. I see oodles of 12 and 20 gauge H and R's at gun shops in a variety of conditions but mostly very well used, and I've been waiting for a couple of those 1970's vintage guns in excellent condition.

Every person who has a shotgun for home defense or for sporting use should consider an H and R shotgun in the same caliber(s) as a backup should the need ever arise. If the primary shotgun breaks or malfunctions seriously, it would be nice to have a gun around that takes that kind of ammo to put immediately into service. Yes, it is a single shot, but better than a baseball bat for the minimalist.

Many a bird hunting trip has been saved when an extra shooter appears for the trip with no shotgun or when a shotgun malfunctions or breaks. Having the H and R as a spare saved us on one  trip when a double barrel gun's hinge pin broke.

As I recently posted, the suppressor company AAC recently modified a line of H and R Handi-Rifles for using a suppressor and shooting the 300 Blackout cartridge. It's an interesting gun and according to info on the web, will sell for less than $400 without the suppressor.

I'd like to see the "blackout" versions of these guns in .223 and some other calibers that are more standard. It'd be REALLY COOL to see one with .223/5.56 with extra barrels available in 7.62 x     39mm as well as 7.62 x 54r since both of those are great calibers and are cheap to shoot, especially the latter. The Russian calibers being the Eastern Bloc version of the Thompson Contender Rifle for the Handi-Rifle.

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