Who Was That Old Man?

I’m headed to South Dakota to hunt pheasants in a couple of weeks and have been practicing by shooting trap … Continued

I’m headed to South Dakota to hunt pheasants in a couple of weeks and have been practicing by shooting trap at my local range. I’ve chosen to do this using my Remington 11-87 Sportsman Synthetic in matte black with a 28-inch barrel. After much deliberation, I’ve selected the the 11-87 for the following reasons:

• It has a 14-inch length of pull, a 1½-inch drop at the comb, and a 2½-inch drop at the heel. I don’t fully understand these numbers, but I do like to toss them around as if I did.

• Its matte black finish doesn’t reflect light, so it’s excellent for tactical work I will never have to do. It’s also a fun challenge to find if you put it down in the dark.

• It’s the only shotgun I own.

I bought it more than 20 years ago after consulting T. Edward Nickens. I would love to have a whole bunch of fine guns. It seems that the nicer a shotgun is, however, the more money it costs. A lot of people talk about changing this—just as they talk about campaign finance reform or improving our education system, which is the envy of the third world—but I haven’t seen it. So, until I hit the lottery, I believe I’ll stick with this shotgun.

The other day, I went to shoot trap with Michelle, and my darn gun wouldn’t fire. I’d recently cleaned it and was mystified. I took it to the office, where three guys immediately clustered around it. They dismantled it and found that the trigger would go “click” if the barrel was removed, but not when it was reassembled. I wondered if I might have reinstalled the piston seal and/or piston upside down, which is an easy thing to do with this gun. Fortunately, I was able to pull up the gun manual on my phone as a PDF, find the relevant diagram, and check my work. I’d installed the rings properly. I knew because I checked three times. There was a long pause as the men all stroked their imaginary beards.

“You want to task Tom,” one finally said and in such a way that it was clear all present regarded Tom as the resident expert. I could see Tom out on the skeet field, where he was giving a lesson. Like so many experts, Tom did not look the part. He was a white-haired, pale, somewhat portly elderly gentleman with a pronounced tremor in his hands. I set my gun in the rack next to the bench behind the field and waited for the lesson to end.

“What seems to be the problem?” he asked. I explained that my recently cleaned gun wouldn’t fire. “It’s almost always the piston seals with these things,” he said, indicating his familiarity with the 11-87 and holding out his hand to receive the firearm. I replied that I’d checked the manual online and was pretty sure I had them on correctly. He nodded to indicate he’d heard me, then removed the barrel and set it down carefully on the wooden bench.

“Yep, piston seal’s on upside down,” he said. He reassembled the gun in about six seconds, racked the bolt, then pulled the trigger on an empty chamber. There was the unmistakable click of a firing pin doing what a firing pin is supposed to do. “Good to go,” he said.

I shook his hand, thanked him for saving my outing, and proceeded to miss clays, as usual. Tom was still close by, so I asked if he could tell why I was missing so much.

“You’re shooting high,” he said. “That’s a hunting gun, so it shoots about a foot higher than your point of aim. You need to come down a bit.”

I did this and suddenly began hitting nearly half the targets. For me, this was amazing shooting.

In short, this infirm old gentleman had quickly and unobtrusively fixed both my gun and my shooting. And when I turned around to thank him, he was—just like the Lone Ranger—gone. It made me want to have a T-shirt printed up: “Fat, Slow, Old Men—Getting It Done Since Before You Were Born.”