By Phil Yearout, ShotgunLife.com
They looked out of place in the rack – that pair of side-by-side shotgun barrels there amidst those belonging to single-barreled pumps and autoloaders, a bolt-action rifle or two, and a few “black guns” that I couldn’t identify.
I had been in this little shop only a few times previous, and in fact I had come this time just to use their FFL service to receive a gun through the mail. I hadn’t expected to find anything of interest, so I may have even done a double-take (no pun intended). But to lovers of shotguns with more than one barrel that distinctive twin-tube profile stands out like the prettiest girl at the dance; I walked around to see what was on the other end.
The barrels belonged to a Stevens 311A: 20 gauge, 28-inch barrels, un-checkered walnut with original butt plate, case colored action. And very clean; the barrel bluing was still nearly perfect, the case colors strong and bright, the wood nearly unblemished except for a couple of deep gouges in the forend, a little out of character with the overall condition. I thought: Wonder how that happened? A fall, or leaning it somewhere it didn’t belong? Bet someone was upset with themselves! Still, it was very crisp, one of the nicest I’d seen in a while. The few blemishes showed that the gun had been carried and shot, but it obviously had been well cared for. The date code stamp read N, denoting the year of manufacture as 1962. I was surprised when I looked at the tag and saw the very reasonable price, knowing the numbers one sees on even lower-rung doubles like this one in the shops and at gun shows, especially in the smaller gauges.
The gun was solid and tight; it would make someone a dandy little shooter or rainy day back-up, but I already had those bases covered more times than I cared to admit. The last thing I needed was another shotgun like this one, but somehow I couldn’t just leave it there, where it so obviously did not belong. The fellow manning the shop wasn’t the owner, and he didn’t know anything about the gun’s history. “Can’t do much on price without talking to Jim,”he said, but he played the game just enough that I could hold my head up knowing I hadn’t paid sticker price, and the little double came home with me.
Most old guns have a story to tell; some like to tell theirs plainly and directly, some prefer to demure, adding a bit of mystery. The typical Stevens doubles are choked modified and full, so I was surprised when this one measured improved cylinder and improved modified. The chokes didn’t appear to have been altered, and anyway I doubted if anyone would have bothered to open them up. A special-order Stevens (did such things even exist?), or just the luck of the draw on less than exact manufacturing tolerances? This gun’s story was leaning to the mystery side, and given the lack of available information on Stevens doubles, I knew I’d probably never know the answer to that question.
The part of the story I found most interesting, though, appeared when I pulled the forend and saw the initials G.S. and a year, 1962, carved into the wood on the underside. Well. Who are you, G.S. – a George, a Gordon or Gary?Since the gun apparently was born the year you added your monogram, I’m guessing you were the original owner; how old were you when you lifted this brand new shotgun off the rack, or took it out of the box when your mail-order came in? Maybe you found it under the Christmas tree, or maybe Dad decided you were old enough to have your own gun and took you down to the Coast-to-Coast to let you pick it out yourself. I’m betting he didn’t know it when you took out your pocket knife and “personalized” it; fathers from that era usually took a hard line toward doing things like that to a gun.