Why I would never sell my Arrieta side-by-side shotgun.
I cannot recollect where I was at the time my father asked me to choose which double barrel shotgun I would like to inherit. I was only ten or eleven, and truthfully the two guns looked the same, but I selected the twenty gauge Arrieta for the strange colored mottling of the metal around the trigger. It was the only distinction I could make at that age. The gun was a personal favorite of my grandfather’s, and a perfect choice for me. I was a tiny girl, but I understood that I was inheriting a piece of the great and historical gun world that my grandfather had built. The Arrieta was not the only gun that I was given, but it is the only one I could never sell.
My grandfather’s collection was like an empire with no end. If he had selected this gun for hunting on a regular basis, then it was special. He must have had hundreds of them. The Arrieta was bespoken for by my grandfather. That means that it was made specifically for him directly from the factory, Arrieta, in Eibar, Spain which is in the Basque Region of Spain. The choke, length, and dimensions were calculated by him. It is no coincidence that the gun fits me like an old glove, like a familiar friend.
My grandfather, a lover of traveling, safaris, and hunting, enjoyed using his Arrieta on quail in South Carolina where he hunted on a plantation with his friend Hardy ZurSchmiede and on grouse and woodcock in Northern Wisconsin with his friend John Morton and with my father. All this I am told.
My grandfather passed away many years ago, and I have had to learn of his legacy through my father. I do remember him though. He was powerful and ambitious; a stout man with dark features and a mysterious look in his eyes. He built his empire from nothing. He was self-employed, and wealthy. His only indulgences, however, were his safaris, hunting trips, and his guns. My father frequently tells me that, “Your Papaw would be so proud to see you out hunting with his Arrieta.”
Unfortunately, I would not be able to hunt with my Arrieta for many years. I was so small, and so new to the sport, that my father found me a little Stoeger “coach” gun, as they nicknamed them. Coach drivers kept them under their seat in case of a roadside robbery. My father took it a step further and shaved down the wood stock so that the gun could fit comfortably in my shoulder. It was a rude instrument in comparison to the Arrieta, but I needed it to learn how to hunt. I was ripe with experience after several years with my Stoeger Coach Gun when I had my coming-of-age as a hunter.
The day was particularly warm for the season, the sun was bright and clear, and the land was decorated in a multitude of fall colors. This was my first hunt of the season. We had our Gordon setter, Guinness, out and he was working well. An old road carved through the aspen groves on the plot of public land we nicknamed “Beaver Dam.” We walked amiably along this for awhile, but the dog continued to draw us into the heavy brush. It was a good year for grouse, and we had already flushed a large amount of birds. Guinness went on point again just after a woodcock flush. This time it was a grouse. I steadied my stance once the dog went on point. I grasped the gun with my leather gloves and slid the safety off. Seguro, it said on the engraving underneath. The Spanish Arietta was poised and ready to shoot.
My father stomped around in the spot where the dog’s nose clearly pointed. Suddenly the grouse burst from the ground. The loud, “thump thump thump” of its beating wings surprised me, but I pulled up and shot.
I don’t remember pulling the trigger or hearing the shot. I only recall the curl and taste of gun smoke after I popped the empty case out of the barrel and placed it in my coat pocket. The dog bounded ahead, excited by the noise, and shortly after he found the body of the young grouse. This too I placed in my game pouch. “Nice shot,” said my father. I smiled.
Upon returning home, we clean and dress the birds and place them in the freezer. Then my father rolls out a soft green felt on the table, and removes the individual gun cases from the safe. The Arrieta is always securely enclosed in an English leather trunk case. Soon the thick smell of the gun oil diffuses from the room. It is the scent of the past; the scent of my grandfather and his house. Cleaning rods, cloths, and towels are strewn about the table by the time my dad is finished.
If you asked my father about the Spanish Arrieta, he would reply with a slew of details and measurements. For example, he would tell you that the gun has 25 inch barrels and 2 ¾ inch chambers with improved cylinder and modified chokes. Or he might tell you that it has double triggers with an articulated front trigger and selective ejectors.
Perhaps, if I was to sell this gun, these details might matter, but I was never interested, and could never remember these facts. In my eyes the Arrieta’s finer details include the Purdey Rose and Scroll engraving that traces around the side locks, illuminated by color case hardening that lends the metal a lustrous blue and purple hue. The stock, carved from Turkish walnut, is equally exquisite, and a fine piece of wood. The grain, like tiger stripes, is beautiful and rich. There are few pieces like my Arrieta.
Hunting with the Arrieta isn’t about the physical act of shooting birds. It is about the experience and knowledge I gain from my past generations, which is delivered through the understanding of this antique. A clear fall day in the woods with my father, and conversations about ethics and adventure, are far more important than filling the game pouch. Although a good grouse dinner is always enjoyed. I could never sell my Arrieta because when I look at it, or hold it, or reflect on its fine quality, I see my grandfather. And that kind of deep family history and pride can never be replaced.
A Decade Later
Since the original publication of this article, when I was about 18 years old, my life has changed dramatically. Between college in Berkeley, California, and later, graduate school at the University of Washington, the luxury of weekend hunts with my dad has faded. Living in West Coast cities across the country from where I grew up has made it challenging to find time for such a cherished hobby as upland hunting. But my father and I have made it work by planning bird hunting trips together to Montana, and more recently to the Pierre Grasslands of South Dakota.
Bird dogs were always a tenant of family and hunting life growing up in Wisconsin. My dad was fond of setters; both English and Gordon, but we hunted over the years with a variety of different breeds. I think in my heart I always knew I would one day get a bird dog myself, but academic life kept getting in the way.
Our hunting trip to Montana a couple years ago was a major turning point for me. Our guide, Kash, had a beautiful string of hunting dogs including an English Pointer, a German Shorthair, and at least four Brittany’s. It was on that trip that I made up my mind to start inquiring about Brittany puppies. Life has a way of bringing things together when they are supposed to happen, and in less than a month I was driving out to Ellensburg, Washington in the pouring rain to pick up a 7-week-old roan-and-white male Brittany puppy. I named him Thomas.
Hunting, for me, has really taken on an entirely new dimension now that I have my own bird dog. Thomas spent almost two months last summer with my dog trainer, Dan of Dunfur Kennels, getting in shape for our trip to South Dakota. Each time I drove out there to collect ‘my baby’, my heart just swelled with pride as the trainers showed me the incredible progress he had made.
The South Dakota trip this past September was four days of sharptail grouse – and prairie chicken -infused joy. The prairie makes for easy walking. The skies were big and open, and the GPS collars on the dogs logged upwards of 12 miles, day after day. The dog training aspect of upland hunting used to be more abstract for me. I was never too involved; more of a spectator and beneficiary. Now, I hawk-watched over Thomas’s progress each hour we spent in the field. I noted his range, communicating with him through the ecollar when needed. I know that for him to be successful, we need to work together. And instead of looking forward to the moment when a pair of chickens might flush from the grass, I’m relishing the moment just before when my young Brittany locks up, one paw in the air, making his first point on a hunt with my father, his Gordon setter, and of course, the Arrietta.
*This original part of the copy appeared in The Double Gun Journal August 2007
Last modified: December 2, 2018