Vintage shotguns in the Southern Springtime
I recently watched the Barrett auto auction and saw an L6 1970 Chevelle convertible bring $230,000. In a time when everything is disposable, and something you paid top price for as state of the art last year is now obsolete, it’s refreshing to own and operate things that have stood the test of time. No one could have predicted the prices sixty era muscle cars bring but that kind of increase in value also applies to shotguns.
A Fox Sterlingworth 20 gauge shotgun sold for $25.00 when it was new in 1912 and that same shotgun in as new condition will bring about $4,000 today. True, it took a little longer for that shotgun to get there, but there were only a few L6 Chevelles and there were thousands of Sterlingworths made.
In the heyday of American shotguns, gun makers all over the Northeast built guns in factories, large and small. The guns were mostly hand made. The parts were machine made to much looser tolerances than modern manufacturing would allow and each part was individually fitted to make a complete gun. The workmanship was incredible by today’s standards and those guns often operate for one hundred years without repair.
I own a 20 gauge Sterlingworth, made in 1912. I hunted birds with it this season and it has never been repaired. It still works perfectly and, other than the wood being refinished, it is exactly as it was 101 years ago. Objects of this nature are bound to attract collectors and admirers and those who love fine old shotguns congregate every year in Montrose, North Carolina, just north of Sanford, every year. The Southern Side by Side isn’t just a collectors show, it is a competition where guns as much as 140 years old and valued at over $100,000 compete in a sporting clays tournament.
The Southern as it is called, is one of the largest events in the country of its kind. In this event there are as many as 1,100 entries, hundreds of competitors, and dozens of exhibitors. Competitors from all over the country, (almost every state represented) compete against each other.
The competition is organized in categories by gauge, and design style, hammer and hammerless. While there are some hammer guns being built today, most are about 100 years old. Many of the hammer guns are over one hundred and twenty five years old. Participants compete on a course of targets thrown to replicate hunting conditions. Normal courses of fire are twenty five, fifty, and eighty targets depending on the event.
Targets are often set to move from sunlight to shade, or in a pair with one fast and the other slow to make them more difficult to hit. The object of the person who sets the course is often to make the targets appear to be faster or slower than they are to challenge the shooter. While other shotgun games allow repetitive shots at the same target presentation, the whole purpose of sporting clays is to not allow repetitive shots. The course is changed before the event and changed again before the main event. There are few perfect scores in sporting clays competition.
The black powder event is my favorite. It’s fired on a compact sporting range. This range offers the same kind of targets as the regular course but in a small area with a tent and chairs set up for observers. During the course of the 25 target event, a shooter never gets the same target presentation twice. The shotguns are the same guns fired in the other competitions but the shells fire black powder. There is a unique sound to these shells as well as huge plumes of white smoke on every shot. When you shoot black powder shells the target disappears in the cloud of smoke. If you hit it, the chips fall out of the smoke cloud, if you miss the target sails on through. It’s exciting to see, hear, and smell.
The Southern Side by Side draws a wide variety of social levels in the participants. Many wear period clothing. Hats, waistcoats, breeks (pants that come down to the knee), and other styles of period clothing are worn. Guys in shorts and tee shirts are seen talking and joking with others wearing several thousand dollars-worth of tweed and wool. Shotguns that are worth $300.00 are capable of shooting scores that exceed those of guns that cost $100,000.00. All this makes for an interesting mix and a cross section of gun lovers that’s not often witnessed.
Another aspect of the event is the Parker/LC Smith Challenge. In this event competitors from the Parker and LC Smith Collectors Association shoot for the Challenge Cup. More than 100 shooters entered the qualifying rounds. The competition is hot but good natured and the money raised is donated to the National Rifle Foundation Youth Endowment Fund.
Of course, any Carolina outdoor event has to have barbeque and on Saturday evening at the Southern, there’s a traditional Carolina pig picking. For those who love old guns and a way of life long past, the Southern is an extended weekend of remembrance of a simpler time set against the backdrop of a glorious Southern spring.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several N.C. newspapers as well as national magazines. He’s an NRA Certified Instructor, a Distinguished Rifleman, former High Master, and teaches shotgun, rifle, and pistol at Lewis Creek Shooting School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or offtheporchmedia.com