Though not a top-tier shotgun, the Harrington and Richardson Topper 58 is still a fine single-shot shotgun for multiple hunting applications
I slowly made my way into a clearing of a white oak flat in Maryland, shotgun in hand. It had rained the night before, so my careful steps were further muted by the wet ground in the early part of the Free State’s squirrel season.
Being on private land and just two weeks into the season, I knew the squirrels weren’t too sketchy but I still made it a point to walk tenderly through the woods as to not spook one up a tree. I knew they’d be drawn to the white oak acorns at this time of the year from experience, not to mention this spot on the property was my honey hole for grey squirrels.
Within a minute of reaching my spot, I caught a glance of a bushy tail-flick on the left side of a tree. Knowing it would turn the trunk at any moment, I lifted my Harrington and Richardson Topper 58 12-gauge and waited. Within seconds, the squirrel popped around the tree and I took my shot, the familiar thud greeting me.
At that moment, a long-time goal had been achieved. But first, a little bit of background on the H&R Topper 58.
The history of the H&R Topper 58
Harrington and Richardson spans back to 1871 when half of the namesake, Gilbert H. Harrington, created a top-breaking revolver. From there, the company began to expand, opening a factory in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1893 where it began producing the firearm the company name became synonymous with: the auto-ejecting, single-barrel shotgun.
The Topper 58 was manufactured from 1974-81, redesignated from the Topper 158 (released in 1962), in 12- and 20-gauge with 3-inch chambers, 410-bore with a 3-inch chamber, and 16-gauge with a 2 3/4-inch chamber. Further, barrels came in full or modified. It also came with a walnut pistol grip stock and screw-retained foregrip and had a standard length of pull (13 1/2 inches), as well as a standard drop (1 1/2 inches).
While sturdy and reliable shotguns for multiple applications, the Topper 58 was so mass-produced that, in today’s world, it’s more of a nostalgia piece than a top-tier gun to be held in high esteem. They’re tough but aren’t particularly well built.
Because of these problems, the Topper 58 is what most may call a “farm gun”–a firearm that was inexpensive and was looked at as a tool for its utility rather than its prowess as a fine gun. Because of this, many Topper 58s have been fallen into disrepair.
The life of a 1977 H&R Topper 58
Despite the problems that come along with the Topper 58, it shouldn’t be looked at as junk.
Truthfully, it’s still a good gun to run around the woods with. I’ve used mine both in West Virginia and Maryland for small game, as well as in Oklahoma for bobwhite quail. It’s also an incredibly light gun–which you can feel in your shoulder after a decent hunt–which makes it easy to tote around on long hunts.
According to my grandmother, my 1977 Topper 58 likely came from a gun store in Connecticut before eventually landing in her north-central West Virginia farmhouse. My dad remembers it being around, but never gravitated to it–he was more interested in his Savage Model 24. So there it sat in a closet until, eventually, my dad took it to my childhood house where it sat in another closet.
Then, one day, I thought it had reached its inevitable death. When I was 16 years old, I was shooting clays with my friend on his property when, on my 10th shot, the barrel went flying 10 yards downrange and the foregrip about 3 yards to the left. I’m not sure what led to this, but the brazing on my foregrip screw lug broke clean.
For years my father tried to find someone to fix it, but no one would risk it. Finally, I found someone comfortable taking that risk and, thankfully, it was worth the reward.
Following the fix, I took to cleaning it. Despite its age and life up to that point, it was still in great condition. There were a few tiny spots of rust on the barrel that were easily taken off with steel wool and oil, and other than those the case hardening was immaculate and the blueing was excellent. The walnut was also in great condition with no cracks or scuff marks, but I still treated it to give it an extra layer of protection.
In the following weeks, I took it out three times and walked away with plenty of squirrels. While eating a hearty breakfast of squirrel and biscuits, I couldn’t be happier that mine and my dad’s long-time goal of getting the H&R fixed was complete.
The Topper 58 has been my go-to for many different hunts and will continue to be. It’s not the best gun in my collection, but it’s one of the most fun to take out and allows me to build upon a clean slate. I hope it doesn’t break again so I can one day teach my kids with it, but if it does I’ll at least know it lived a good life.
Andrew Spellman is an award-winning photojournalist and author, as well as the editor or ProjectUpland.com and managing editor of both Project Upland and Hunting Dog Confidential Magazines. A 2017 graduate of West Virginia University's Reed College of Media, Andrew's work has appeared in multiple newspapers and magazines. He is also an avid hunter and angler who enjoys chasing varying game in his pocket of Appalachia.