Great Guns

I was ten years old when I got my first rifle, a Winchester Model 06 pump .22. Since then, I’ve owned countless pistols, shotguns, and other firearms. And whether used for hunting or gathering dust, each one tells a story.
The author, photographed on August 22, 2006, holding a Winchester Model 97 shotgun outside his home in north-central Texas.
Photography by Michael O'Brien

I AM NOT A MEMBER OF THE National Rifle Association, nor do I collect rare firearms, attend gun shows, or subscribe to gun magazines. I am not, in other words, a “gun nut” and, in fact, can sympathize to a degree with the views of those who detest all such weapons and want them regulated. You can’t have lived in a large American city for any length of time, as I have, without seeing that such people’s opinions may have a certain amount of validity.

But I grew up in a time and a region that almost automatically sparked interest in not only guns but also the hunting of birds and beasts, in which pursuits such weapons were and still are central components. Nor did a war experienced in the U.S. Marine Corps and a functional country life during most of the past forty-odd years do anything to hamper the affinity.

This piece of writing stems from a letter I wrote to my wife Jane’s and my two daughters, who both now live far from Texas but retain an appreciation of the rural surroundings in which they mainly grew up. And both, for whatever reasons, had expressed specific curiosity about the remembered assortment of firearms accumulated by their male parent during his sojourn in this vale of sorrows, which has now lasted 86 years. Neither daughter is a gun enthusiast; they just remembered these weapons, most of which have moved along elsewhere by now, and wanted to know the stories of those that had one.

So here are the stories, with a few extras and detours thrown in as what the Mexicans call pilón, “something extra.” They are not all “nice” tales in contemporary terms. Political incorrectness, as presently defined, may be perpetrated here and there, though I hope no parts will seem like the maunderings of a Deep South redneck. But if they do, the hell with it. I am too old to fret about such matters.


My earliest pistol was a rusted and cylinderless revolver I found in the area, near where I grew up in Fort Worth, that had been the spread-out site of World War I’s Camp Bowie. And I recall a battered nickel-plated .38 of a dubious cheap foreign brand, which had been confiscated from some miscreant in Cuero, when my very casual uncle Tommy Graves had been county judge there. He reconfiscated it and gave it to me when I was quite young, but my father got rid of

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