By Scott Linden
I was boxing up a couple of shotguns to return to the importer and as I clicked the forearm into place on one, was magically transported to the place I last shot it: a narrow defile that could have inspired the set designer on a Lord of the Rings movie. Massive rock walls towering on both sides, a narrow slit and rocky path at the bottom. It was the gateway to a memorable chukar hunt with a good friend.
That’s what guns do for me. More than photos or video, sterile and realistic, handling guns gives texture to the memory. I live and work in the world of accurate, high-definition portrayals on television, so when memories are kindled by other real stuff, they come back richer, with dimension, and (sometimes) a little different than the real thing. Which is okay.
Sealing the box on that over-under and reaching for the next, I traveled in my mind to a lush swale a couple hours northeast of this keyboard. Among the clumps of Great Basin Wild Rye, a ringneck skulked, hiding behind each but betrayed by his long tail. That 28 gauge is a talisman for every pheasant that has outsmarted me over the decades.
In my gun safe are memories great and small, triggered (pardon the pun) by the heft and smell of shotguns. A side-by-side that taught me to shoot in dry, dusty Idaho with a friend who I’d taught to dead drift a weighted hare’s ear for trout. My first “real” gun, a bloated 12 gauge that introduced me to sporting clays and a league team that have since become good friends. A gouge-stocked-and-scratched Basque-made side-by-side that has put birds in the bag in seven states> Every quail, each sharptail a vivid picture of foreign places and new experiences.
Sure, many of those exploits took place in front of a television camera. But the most vibrant memories, the ones that conjure up the fondest recollections, come not when I watch the show. They bubble up when I shoulder the gun I was carrying that day. It is tangible evidence, a tactile reminder of an experience etched in my deepest memory. It may have been ephemeral like the smoke lifting from barrels, but putting my face against the warm wood stock gun again conjures the experience … times two … again. Brighter, faster, louder, pungent, with stauncher dogs and no missed shots.
Science tells us two incredible memory-joggers are smell and music. I bet you and your spouse have a favorite song, taking you back to prom, or you wedding. I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard a piece of music. Or, when I close a shotgun with its distinctive “clack.”
Likewise, the lingering odor of gun smoke in the breach, even CLP on a barrel, can prompt a reminiscence of high spots in the desert or an amble through grouse woods. Sometimes, I can smell the sage or coppery air of bird innards, taking me back to a place, a person, or that special four-legged partner with me on that day.
Sure, dawdling as I paw through guns looks like I’m daydreaming. It’s true, I’m not cleaning or servicing those tools of the trade. But you’re a hunter. You know I’m really traveling back to a stunning place or dazzling piece of dog work, good friend or exhilarating adventure. Is that you I see in the distance?