Shotgun Fans Converge to Shoot Sporting Clays, View Vintage Side-by-Sides
SANFORD, N.C. (MCT) - When some people think of a double-barreled shotgun, Jed Clampett of "The Beverly Hillbillies" may come to mind.
The idea of a side-by-side shotgun as the pedestrian tool for procuring food and dispatching varmints is certainly grounded in fact, but there are two sides to that coin.
During the heyday of American gun making, companies like A.H. Fox, Parker, L.C. Smith and Lefevre made some of the finest firearms ever produced, rivaling their European counterparts.
The American guns are now collectibles, the European makers are still producing their works, and all were celebrated - and fired - recently at The Southern Side-by-Side Championship and Exhibition. Inside the Deep River Sporting Clays pro shop, owner Bill Kempffer and staff were busy greeting shooters and directing traffic.
Double-barrel lovers from all over the world converged in late April to peruse vendor offerings, shoot clays and talk about guns in reverent tones usually reserved for grandchildren and vintage cars. And some of the guns on the course cost about what vintage cars go for.
Under a tent near one event, Jon Swindle was dripping sweat after shooting a round of 25 clay targets.
The Parker collector group was competing against the L.C. Smith collector group. Swindle, 65, had just finished and held an OE grade L.C. Smith double in his gloved hands. The gun was made in 1899 but looked more 1999 and was a "low end" Smith, worth perhaps $2,000, one of the more affordable guns at the event.
"Let's say there are 5,000 shotguns out here," Swindle said. "You'll see maybe 200 under $1,000."
"People usually start with pumps and autoloaders because they're forgiving and easy. Then they discover these," he said, explaining the lure of the side-by-side. "It's a brotherhood of like-minded people; mostly old geezers. These guys have big boats, nice cars and good guns."
Swindle said it was the fourth time he has attended the event, where wheeling and dealing is as much a part of the atmosphere as shooting.
"I have five or six for sale, and I've bought two," he said.
Swindle said a gun's value doesn't deter a shooter from using a piece. His most expensive shotgun is a Winchester Model 21 20 gauge in Grade 5, worth about $17,000.
"I would have zero problems shooting it out here," he said. "I've shot it in the rain."
Swindle said many factors make up a gun's value, including who made it, condition and rarity.
"Parker and Smith made a bunch of guns, but very few were upper grade," he said. "The upper, upper grades are six-figure guns."
In one vendor tent a pair of old doubles sat in a case in a long line of similar pieces. The price tag was $140,000.
Nearby, Terry Reckart, 55, of Geneva, Ohio, cradled a 1906 L.C. Smith while talking to Craig Bennett of Lewisburg, Pa. Reckart's gun was handed down from his wife's grandfather. They talked about guns and the event.
"It's part of owning history," Reckart said.
Bennett nodded. "Where was it in its past; what corn field has it been in? This is a very sentimental group," he said, nodding toward the shooting line.
"I go to a lot of shoots, and I've never met a bad person," Reckart said. "It's about the guns and camaraderie."
Out on the sporting clays course, John Bleimaier, 57, of Hopewell, N.J., had just finished his first station. He removed his pith helmet and wiped his brow. A white handlebar moustache framed flushed cheeks.
He held a modern Italian double, an Antonio Zoli. He bought the gun on a trip to the Zoli factory in Italy, where it was hanging on the wall in the board of directors room and not for sale. He declined to say what he paid for it in 1989 but said it was worth about $18,000 now.
"A gun was meant to be fired and a car, driven," he said. "That's what guns are for. I have a 1965 Mercedes 190 DC and every year I drive it at least 3,000 miles."
Bleimaier gave high marks for the event. "It's the best event o f its kind that I go to, and I've been to (events) in Maryland, California, New York and Georgia."
In one of the huge vendor tents, Kevin McCormack, 64, of Oakton, Va., stood at a table counting money. The Environmental Protection Agency retiree had just purchased an ebony cleaning rod for $160. Part of his enjoyment is refurbishing and building gun boxes and outfitting them with original accessories. A Holland & Holland double lay nearby.
"I always wanted a London 'Best' gun," he said, referring to English doubles made by Holland & Holland, Purdy (& Sons), Boss (& Co.), and others. "I shoot everything I own and hunt with a lot of them. They're works of art from the hands of masters long gone and they're made to shoot."
The organizer of the event is Kempffer . A side-by-side advocate since hunting as a youth in Missouri, Kempffer said that attendance was up this year.
"We had over 1,500 people come through the gates and over 900 entries (to shoot). We had people from Washington, California, Maine, Florida and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan," he said. "The rain held off until after the black powder (last) shoot on Sunday."
Kempffer said the allure of side-by-sides for many is tradition.
"It's a very American tradition," he said. "It's stepping back in time - after World War II over-and-unders and repeaters (pump actions and autoloaders) became less clunky looking, more user friendly and cheaper to manufacture."
Now, at least among shotgun fanciers, what's old is new again. Just a little more dear, as the English would say.
There are plenty of "modern" doubles that are perfectly functional, but to really get into the finer, older guns, it doesn't hurt to have Jed Clampett's checkbook.
© 2008, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.).
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