Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Shotgun Shuffle |

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Shotgun Shuffle

I turned twelve a few days after Christmas, and as I unwrapped the long box, I knew, at least I hoped, it contained a shotgun. It did! It was a 20 gauge bolt action Mossberg. I no longer had to shoot Dad’s 12 gauge and I was going to get to hunt with him next season. The gun fit me perfectly. We shot a lot of clay pigeons that summer, and I discovered I was a pretty good shot.

Wilbur Hoffman conducted the gun safety course that fall, and I hit all five clay birds during the test. He pulled me aside after the test, and being our neighbor, invited me out to his farm to shoot some more. I ran out of 20 gauge shells, so he loaned me his twelve gauge. I shot 20 or so birds and never missed. He was impressed.

I outgrew the 20 gauge by the time I was in high school. I took some of my summer wages to the Coast-to-Coast store in Pierre and bought a new Remington Model 870 Wingmaster for $89.00 plus trade. I had grown to over six foot tall and handling a 12 gauge was not a problem. Shooting became an automatic with that gun, it was point and shoot for me. I loved it. It was one of the first things I packed when I went to college. We would hunt after classes at Northern, and on weekends. It was great.

I ran into problems financially when I was a sophomore, and was forced to sell that gun, or rather trade it for a model 870 20 gauge. I could shoot that gun and was really bummed when I had to sell it too. I was without a shotgun, practically a sin back in the 60s.

After college, I found a 12 gauge Winchester Model 12 Featherweight that was in perfect condition. I shot it a couple of seasons, but it was so light it bruised me up terribly when shooting it. I was teaching and selling life insurance part time, and my insurance manager happened to be a collector of Model 12 Winchesters, and he didn’t have a Featherweight. He was drooling when he looked mine over. “How much would you take for it?” he asked. I told him if he would buy a new Model 870 Remington for me, it could be an even trade. He said he would think it over. He drove home to Sioux Falls and was back the next day with a boxed up new Model 870 Remington, ready for the trade!

I was back in familiar territory, point and shoot with the 870. I shot it several years, and in addition I bought Dad’s Browning from him. I hadn’t shot it very much but it was a beautiful gun. About that time my little sister was looking for a shotgun to give to her husband for his birthday. She approached me about selling one of my guns. I finally relented and sold the 870 to her. Big mistake. When hunting season rolled around, I discovered I couldn’t hit anything including the side of a barn with that Browning. I struggled through two seasons with it before giving up. Back to the gun shop I went, found a new model 870 Remington, and even paid extra with the trade to get back to point and shoot territory. The new gun never disappointed. It fit me like a dream, and I made some terrific shots with it.

I bought a 20 gauge model 870 for my son when he started hunting, and we spent many weekends driving country roads looking for pheasants. The last time we went out was a Saturday, and we had driven most of the afternoon with no pheasant sightings. Matthew was taking a nap as we drove by the end of a section line, and I saw a rooster poke his head out of the weeds. I shook Matthew awake and then got out of the pickup with my gun. As I did the rooster and two others flew up, one going right, one straight ahead, and one circling to my left. Point and shoot took over as I dropped the one to the right, chambered, shot the one going straight away, chambered and pulled a bead on the one trying to escape to the left, dropping him just across the road. Matthew stood in stunned silence as he watched the birds drop. So did I. Then, in my best John Wayne voice, told Matthew, “Well, go pick them up!”.

That was the last time I shot the Remington, it now sits encased in the corner of my closet. I should sell it, but I never seem to have the heart to actually put it up for sale. Too many good Model 870 memories are keeping me from parting with it. Someday.


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