The Old Gun

by Will Rickerby
(Published New Zealand Outdoor, March 1998)


WJ pheasant Te Kauwhata 19.6.1955“Look what I’ve got”.
Johnny Addison held up a pair of cock pheasants to his bed bound wife.
His wife folded back the bed sheet and exposing her newborn son said,
“Look what I’ve got!”

 It was the first of May, 1918 and  the opening day of the shooting season.

Several hours before, to get him out of the way, Johnny’s expectant wife had said, “You go for a shot and don’t worry about me. Mum’s here”.   Mother-in-law was a Midwife  after all, so Johnny had taken the Browning 12 gauge, five shot, semi-automatic shotgun and ‘went out for a shot’.

Six years earlier, a customer  had called at Johnny’s blacksmith shop with this shotgun and  reckoned it couldn’t shoot.  Looking the gun over, Johnny said “Bring that tin and we’ll go out the back”.  At the rear of his shop, he asked  for the tin  to be tossed up in the air. With one shot the tin was hit and the gun was then bought for 10 pounds.

Johnny Addison was my grandfather,  and on opening day 85 years later, I was holding the same gun.  My thoughts were interrupted  by the sound of ducks swooping down.  But where? Visibility was  around 20 to 30 meters and,  as it happens in the fog, the ducks suddenly appeared in the creek,  about four paces away.  It was 6.20am,  meaning that in ten minutes legal shooting could commence for this 1997 season.

In grandfather’s time, the shooting season always started on the first day of May and  while a shooting license was required, one could fully  load the magazine with five shots. Grandma used to tell me that he would take 5 shells, fully load the gun, go up the hill  behind their house and come back  later with five cock pheasants.   A lot of farms in those days had teatree and fern on them, making ideal cover for game, and though there were plenty of pheasants, quail were the only birds granddad would  shoot on the ground.  Even the hawks, who raided the fowl run and were enticed by  bones put out in the paddock at the back of the house were shot on the wing.  He used to say, “Always let them take to the air first; always give them a sporting chance”.

As two shots sounded nearby, the ducks at my feet exploded into the air and disappeared into the fog.   Several more groups of ducks passed over very close, then a mob of five landed in the creek at the same spot as the others had minutes before.  The time was 6.28 am.  I stood up and as the ducks took off the water, I sighted them with the gun until the were out of sight.  If it was good enough for my grand father to be sporting, it was good enough for me, too, but it was five minutes after the official starting time before any more ducks flew buy.

When my uncle Harry was born on that opening day in 1918, grandfather had a 1914 Cadillac. With this car he ran a local taxi service with some trips even to Rotorua and Gisborne, via the  notorious Motu hill. During the shooting season many birds where taken on ‘the rounds’, the Browning rested on the seat of the Cadillac while English setters ‘Spot’ and ‘Boss’, sat on the running board.  To compensate for any small delay, clients often were delivered to their destination holding a freshly shot cock pheasant.

The air resounded to the whoosh of wing beats, I didn’t dare look up,  then there was the ‘siss’ of ducks landing on water. I eased the safety off and stood up. Five ducks took to the air and I was able to bag a double rise.

The old gun had pulled off some good shots over the years and I can remember the four times I had fired one shot for two birds on the wing. Using the same gun in the 1950s, my dad had done this twice, two.

In the 1930s, Uncle Harry had spotted four hares playing in a paddock.  Collecting the gun, he sneaked under cover around behind the hares, aimed at the furthest, fired one shot and three hares fell.

Probably one of the best displays by grandfather was, while finishing milking one late afternoon, he saw four ducks land in a drain not far from the cowshed.  “We’ll have a go at those “, he said.  Collecting the gun and several shells, he got into the drain and walked up to the ducks.  One duck rose and he fired, knocking the bird down, then another rose, another shot and downed that bird. All was set for the remainder to rise, but nothing happened.  He crept up further and found that he had hit three ducks with the first shot.  Although none of this economical shooting was  ever planned, it is known in the family, that the line of the old gun’s handlers’ have been very thrifty!

Grandfather used Ajax cartridges at first then he started reloading his own.  His son Harry got very keen in the early 1930s too, and they even made their own gunpowder!  Harry put this knowledge to work when fireworks were not available soon after World War 2, by making fireworks for the neighbourhood kids.

After grandfather died, my dad used the gun for several seasons and then grandma came to visit.  At the dinner table that night, she said that after a family discussion, the shotgun was to be left to me.  I couldn’t believe it.  My own gun for the coming shooting season!  I’m not sure if dad was too pleased because he had to buy a gun for himself!

On my first hunting trip, dad gave me some old cartridges that had come from my great grandfather and they were loaded with black powder.  I was now “big game” hunting and although I carted the gun around on several excursions before even firing a shot, I sure felt good.

One day,  when I was about 12 or 13 years old, dad and I were hunting a gully covered with fern and scrub.  I was told to wait at the end of the gully while Dad worked down from the top with Ben, an English setter.  I stood beside a manuka bush while watching the dog work his way down the gully.

Out of the corner of my eye something moved.  Two brown quail ran along an exposed clay patch.  I hesitated, looked towards dad, but he was busy with the dog; all was clear and I could shoot!    I fired and a large circular cloud of smoke hung in the air.  I crouched down and looked under the smoke to see a quail lying on the ground.  Amazing, I did it! Look at the smoke!  I can’t remember dad’s reaction but I do remember I could hardly talk and bursting with excitement, just held up the quail for him to see. I can remember the smell of that gun smoke too.

A few hunting seasons after I had used the gun, dad got me to test fire a few cartridges to check  the shot pattern, as I hadn’t had a very high success rate.  We found that at 40 yards, in a two foot six inch circle, the gun put 98% of the pellets inside the circle: that’s a tight choke!  It was general talk at the time that the Browning Auto’s were hard hitting at longer ranges and this was not surprising with such a tight choke.  As most of my targets were around the 20 meter mark, I switched from No 5  to  No 7 shot with an immediately improvement to my bag.  Later, I had the choke reamed out to modified cylinder.

As soon as I had saved enough money, (about 1960) I took the gun to a gunsmith at Waihi,  and had it stripped, checked over and re-blued.  However, the only major break- down happened in the early 1930s when the fore end split which my grandfather had repaired by wrapping and riveting a piece of brass to hold it together.

a evening shot

While the gun was away at the gunsmith’s, I had fixed the fore end, making the brass band unnecessary, but something was missing, so in memory of my grandfather’s handiwork, I replaced the band of brass and it’s still there today. In the years that followed, I have been fortunate to take many limit bags.

One memorable day, my young son Rob,  (fourth generation member to use the shotgun) had taken his first duck in flight with the old gun. On the same day, my older son, Richard, also took a mallard using the old shotgun too.

Quite a history I thought, and now 85 years later, I had my limit of 10 ducks by 10.30am. It had been a great morning and one I wished I could have shared with my sons, dad, and grandfather.