This old, reliable workhorse shotgun is synonymous with upland hunting … and forever will be
There are few guns that illicit airs of superiority among the circles in which I frequent. Perhaps that is more a statement about the company I keep, rather than the fact that utilitarian firearms rarely invoke ideas of wealth and privilege.
I can tell you that our subject today was coveted by my father and me when we perused gun show tables and one that we certainly did not expect to find deals on. You see, we focused our sights on guns in the sub-$200 range that needed varying levels of tender love and care.
You might have heard of “two buck chuck wine;” we were 200 buck dad and lad searching for our next deal, and ‘Old Reliable’ only ever came close enough once in more than 10 years of searching.
Parker Shotguns are as much a fixture of the uplands as are pointing dogs, aspen, alder, and brass bells. They have been celebrated by gun writers for years and possibly, more importantly, carried by sportsmen for generation after generation in pursuit of game.
The history of the Parker Brothers Gun Company
The Parker Brothers Gun Company began production in the 1860s, though early efforts were of the martial nature: arms for the civil war. After wartime production ceased, founder Charles Parker and his sons set out to create a gun of manufactured parts, but hand fitted. In those days, that meant parts produced on machinery en masse, then fitted to final form by hand.
The original production in Meridian, Conn., would continue until 1934 when Parker Brothers was sold to Remington Arms Company, and, like so many other American gun makers, would eventually cease production. Of note was the brief span when Winchester resurrected the Parker name in the 1980s, though this report is focused on one of the earlier versions of the gun.
Introduction of the Trojan
The Parker Trojan was the ‘field grade’ Parker Shotgun. It carried the Parker Brothers name on its action like its graded siblings but was not in all ways similar to those guns. On first inspection, one might notice the lack of engraving on the Parker Trojan. Typically, these less expensive guns did not possess any engraving other than the Parker Brothers name on the side of the action, very similar to the L.C. Smith whose field guns also did not contain any engraving.
The Trojan was introduced in 1912 as a cost-conscious option for sportsmen of the day. Parker prices were typically on the high end of the scale even for comparable doubles of the times. Along with the budget price came a reduction in frills like engraving, options such as gauge, and a few mechanical changes as well.
Trojan guns were only offered in 20, 16, and 12 gauges, with 26-, 28-, and 30-inch barrels. They were all also double trigger, extractor guns. I am speaking in generalities here; anything is possible as custom guns could be ordered to any set of specifications. Stocks lacked grip caps and had straight butt plates rather than the Parker Dog Plates with spur. Stock wood was also a lower grade than any of the lettered guns.
Finally, the doll’s head extension that is present in graded guns was eliminated in the Trojan. Early Trojan guns did have a barrel extension – the 16-gauge Trojan I have in my hands is evidence of that. Although from what I can tell, unlike the extension in A.H. Fox or L.C. Smith, the extension appears only to fit into a slot in the action but does not have any action component that acts upon it. That is to say that it is not actually another point of lock-up.
The doll’s head on both the 20-gauge VH and 12-gauge GH Damascus on my bench both have angled surfaces that mate with similarly angles surfaces in the action that would seem to act upon one another, and help bring the barrels on face when closed. An interesting feature of some of the graded guns was a wedge attached to the doll’s head with a screw – a wear part that could be replaced to bring the gun back on face.
Of note is that the Trojan also had a different forend latching mechanism. Graded Parkers had a Deeley-style lever release inlet into the forend. This was a lever-actuated mechanism that gripped the barrel lug under spring tension. This nicety was omitted in Trojan guns in favor of a press-on, cam-style forend with no additional inletting required.
Overall, Trojan guns were still very similar to their graded siblings, and manufactured in the same factory, by the same skilled craftsmen and women. Some 33,000 Parker Trojan guns were produced second only to the V grade (top lever hammerless) guns and were a success in the market. Today, Trojan guns still command high-dollar values compared to other American Doubles when comparing field grades. It is worth noting that like all field-grade guns, finding Trojan guns in good or high original overall condition is difficult. These guns were made to be used, and most saw extensive use over the years.
A well-respected company with a rich history
Parker shotguns have been in the hands of many storied individuals, appear in literature, films, and the hands of royalty. It is not unsurprising why Parker shotguns are so collectible.
Buffalo Bill presented a Parker to Annie Oakley, who regularly shot Parkers in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Some of our favorite authors like Foster, Ford, and Spiller toted Parkers in the field and wrote about them frequently. So did Ernest Hemingway and Zane Gray. Gary Cooper and John Phillip Sousa were Parker fans as well. Not to mention the famous clay shooters who performed feats with their Parker guns, presidents, and generals who all owned and shot the famous guns nicknamed “Old Reliable.” Parker guns are synonymous with upland shooting, and will forever be.
The three Parker “Invincible” Grade guns, made to celebrate the production of the 200,000th Parker Gun are in the National Rifle Association Museum Collection in Fairfax, Va. The only three in existence, the Invincibles are said to be worth more than $5 million.
As always, let me know what I got right and what I got wrong. Shoot me an email or message and tell me about your favorite Parker Trojan. And thanks for stopping by the Gun Room. See you soon.
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The Gun Room Podcast is presented by Upland Gun Company
Joel Penkala is an Upland Bird Hunter and outdoors enthusiast from New Jersey. His love of all things upland has led him to travel and hunt around the United States and fostered his affinity for double guns and bird dogs. He runs English Setters in his home covers chasing Woodcock, Grouse, and Pheasants.