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The Old Reliables, The Finest Guns in the World, and Guns of Lasting Fame

The Old Reliables, The Finest Guns in the World, and Guns of Lasting Fame

A parker shotgun with a bird hunter in the woods.

Parker Shotguns and other classic American shotguns evoke images of the ‘glory days’

Hunters have been discussing classic American shotguns for as long as wing shooting has existed in our country. They’ll pass around tales of the glory days of hunting around October campfires. Legacies such as L.C. Smith, Ansley H. Fox, Ithaca, Uncle Dan Lefever, and the legendary Parker shotguns evoke black and white images of old time hunters clad in heavy canvas with full game bags. Faithful pointers and setters proudly accompanying them as they venture through musty old orchards and mazes of crumbling stone walls.

Hunters such as W.H.Foster, Aldo Leopold, Burton Spiller, George Bird Evans, Corey Ford, and Nash Buckingham forged the path of American wing shooting lore with these fine old guns. Writers such as Gene Hill spoke of them with as much reverence as the men who shot them.

These days, a quick Google search will unveil a veritable novel’s worth of opinions and arguments over the merits and shortcomings of each classic gun. I’d recommend taking much of it with a grain of salt. In the depths of these often heated debates, you will find grown men reduced to name calling and squabbling over who’s pet brand of gun is the best made, looking, balanced, or most valuable. 

In my opinion, these grand old companies are still the pride of many a gunner’s safe. They might even see as much use as they did back in their hay day one hundred years ago. As long as these guns are still in service, I don’t think we can really argue about which one is best. Maybe when all the Parker’s complex mechanisms fail for good, the Fox guys will finally be able to shout, “I told you so!” But I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

My experience with the guns are pretty limited compared to other people. Yet in over twenty five years of upland hunting and missing clay targets at gun clubs, I have had chances to enjoy most of these classics. And as far as my aesthetic taste goes, I can’t find much to complain about with any of them.

Yet I confess that I’ve been passionate about the Parker Gun specifically from an early age. My lust for the Parker didn’t start when Burton Spiller shot his little VH 20. It didn’t start with the pictures of Corey Ford patiently cleaning his 12 gauge GH alongside his beloved setter, Cider, before a roaring fire at his hunting cabin, Stoneybroke, in Vermont. Neither did the flame ignite while reading William Harnden Foster’s account of his uncle’s 16 gauge hammer gun in The Little Gun. These tales only stoked the fire already burning.

I often spent weekends at my grandparent’s house as a child in the 80s and 90s. My grandpa was an avid bird hunter, then and now. He let me go afield with him at a very young age. I remember him cursing in the grouse woods, shooting an old Remington 870 Wingmaster 12 gauge with a full choked 30″ barrel or a 26″ barreled Harrington and Richards single shot 12 gauge. He shot this gun well and carried it into the grouse woods more than any other. My grandpa grew up during the Great Depression and never thought of spending the money on something more than these perfectly adequate firearms. If he did, he kept it to himself. He would, however, casually mention that a “little Parker 20 gauge” would be the perfect grouse gun.

A few years later, I found myself accompanying my stepfather to various gun clubs, delivering supplies for shooting and reloading. I was getting old enough to begin thinking about owning a shotgun. At the time, you had to be about 12 to hunt small game in the great state of Michigan and I was very excited about the idea of graduating from my cherished Crosman 760 Pumpmaster air rifle. It might have been the bane of many neighborhood sparrows and starlings and squirrels, but it did not have real firepower.

One Sunday morning during a delivery trip, a small crowd gathered around the back of a pick-up truck belonging to a well-known grouse hunter. As I made my way to the front of the pack, I overheard one fellow tell his buddy, “John’s Parker finally came in.” The crowd hushed as John brought out the small canvas-covered case and gingerly placed it on the tailgate like a relic. John carefully removed the fancy new double from its handsome leather trunk. It was the first shotgun I had ever seen stored in such a manner. The little Parker Reproduction 28-gauge revealed that day inspired the envy of all the gathered. The gun remained the topic of much discussion at the club for some time to come.

I started seeing so many advertisements for it showing up in the backs of magazines my grandpa subscribed to: Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield. The advertisements depicted the Parker Reproductions neatly nestled next to an unlucky grouse, or carefully placed on top of a tweed shooting jacket. It didn’t take long for these pictures to start conjuring images in my head of crowds gathering around me at the gun club. There in my mind, I’d be popping the latches on the case containing my new “repro” and would proceed to shoot 25 straight with the little gun. I just knew that if I had one of these doubles, I would be the wingshooter who garnered even my grandpa’s respect. My game bag would be full of ruffed grouse, American woodcock, and the occasional ring-necked pheasant during the day’s hunt.

Unfortunately, my dreams of being the toast of the gun club came to an abrupt halt one day. I had finally worked up the courage to ask my stepdad if my first shotgun could be a Parker.

“I don’t think so,” he said. He had the same look in his eyes he had when I asked if I could paint the family van camouflage.

I wasted no time and began trying my luck with Grandpa, but the result was much the same. I offered to mow lawns and help load the heavy bags of shot into the truck to be taken and delivered. When I learned the price of a Reproduction, I realized just how far beyond it was beyond my family’s means. My stepdad soon bought me a little Winchester 20 gauge pump with 26″ barrels. Though it was far from the Parker of my dreams, it was all mine.

And although I was never the toast of the gun club, I did take my first grouse on the wing with the petite pump.

Somewhere around the age of thirty, I finally saved up enough to buy myself a Parker: a little VH 20 gauge. Although I didn’t shoot it as good as I’d hoped, the bug bit me. I started spending more and more time perusing used gun racks and gun shows. I didn’t have a lot of money to work with, but I quickly acquired a modest collection of both vintage and lower end contemporary shotguns of various gauges—all suited to the grouse hunting that I loved.

After amassing some lower end guns, I would trade a few in and get something a little more expensive. Sure, they might not have been Purdey’s or A-1 Parkers, but it was starting to be almost as much of a hobby as grouse hunting itself. I avoided online auctions, because my income forced me to trade other guns in to purchase more expensive ones. It felt like a treasure hunt: scouring used gun racks for the tell-tale forms of the double guns I lusted after. 

Then one fateful day at the local shop, tucked away in one of the cabinets, I saw a little gun that caught my eye. It was a little Parker Reproduction 28, just like the one I had dreamt of as a child! Of course, I asked to see the gun and when, after checking the chambers and promptly swinging the gun on an invisible flushing grouse—a quartering away and to the left—I knew I needed to own the gun and I asked to see the price, which had only gone up from when I wanted it as a kid and nonetheless I had them take the gun off the shelf and I returned later. With cash. And a good portion of my collection to trade in on it. 

Nowadays, my safe holds a few of the Parkers that I dreamt of as a kid in various gauges and configurations. But I have something that I value more than all of these guns. My two year old daughter, the apple of my eye. I am getting a notion to start exploring some of my options concerning an English or a higher end Spanish side-lock. Should I find one I can’t live without, my current financial status dictates that one of my beloved Parker shotguns may have to make room for it in the form of trade.

One thing is for certain: should my daughter take an interest in the shooting sports (which I am doing everything in my power to ensure) there will be at least one little Parker tucked away deep in my safe for her to cherish.

View Comments (13)
  • My father was a avid grouse hunter and owned a 16 ga Parker VH model. He had the stock replaced with a walnut ‘English’ stock (no pistol grip). The gun he hunted with, however, was a 28 ga Parker. The gun was not dads, but belonged to a hunting buddy of his who was a banker and a damn fine man. He gave the gun to my dad with the understanding that who ever died first would keep the gun. Unfortunately, my dad was the first to pass at the age of 54 – when I was just 14.

    So the Parker 28 went back to Mr. Will. A few years later he died doing what he loved most – being in the woods hunting grouse. I would like to think he was using that Parker 28.

    I now have the VH. I don’t shoot it much, but I keep it in the best condition I can. Maybe one of my sons will want it someday.

  • Im confused by the first paragraph. Who are “L.C. Smith, Ansley H. Fox, Ithaca, Uncle Dan Lefever” and how come I’ve never heard of them?

  • You had me with the love for Parkers but when You said you’d consider getting rid of one of them you lost me. LOL!!!

  • Great article! It reminds me much of myself and growing up bird hunting, and I am glad to see folks my age still so passionate about it. I fell in love with the lore, the tradition, the dogs, the birds and most definitely the guns. My parker was sitting on a table at a gun show in front of a spry older gentleman for $450, I believe I was right around 15 yrs old and after promising to pay my dad back for it, the 12ga Parker Trojan was mine. What a feeling! My dad liked the gun so much he bagan collecting Parker’s and has become known locally as “the guy to call about Parker’s”

  • I remember as a young child lifting my grandfathers’s double barrel left behind the bedroom door. He rarely missed a pheasant or rabbit and feeding a large family was proof. My first was a single shot, with a paper route it was all I could afford. Later as I earned better wages, pump guns I traded up to. Traded to better pumps then when I could afford, side by sides I purchased. One day scanning the local gun store rack of used guns, I found the make and era of my grand father’s gun. I over paid but did not care as this was a long held dream from my childhood. It soon became clear that the gun was not a good fit for me, I couldn’t hit a barn wall from the inside, and boy did it kick. Didn’t take long to sell the gun after taking a few pictures for memory. Lesson learned and even more important today. Holding a gun is not a good assessment. Shooting is the only way to know if it fits and if it kicks. Todays shotguns are very beautiful and easy to fall in love with in a picture. If you purchase based on looks alone, you may keep a gun you will never use, or bite the bullet and trade. Shoot it, be sure from the start.

  • Jay,

    Corey’s Parker was actually a GHE 12 bore with two sets of barells. I inherited it after he died in 1969 and used it with light loads for 31 years.At 7lbs it became a bit heavy and I now have a DHE 20 bore that I use as my grouse and woodcock gun.
    Late in Cider’s life Corey aquired a 16 bore Model 21 which was the rage among Southern quail hunters and this was the smoothbore he used most often in his later years.

    I also had a grandson of Corey Ford’s October who was the foundation stud for a line of setters that combined Twombly,Old Hemlock and Ryman setters, I hstill have four females at age 70 and lookforward to this seasons outings with my girls!

    Ed Belak

  • I find your post very interesting. The book Corey Ford and The Lower Forty has a forward written by this actual Doctor of the group. He said it was a 20 gauge Parker. Did he have more than one one than one Parker, or was he mistaken? I personally have four.

    • Corey only had the one GHE Parker 12 bore with two sets of barrels. I think Doc Hall was mistaken.
      I have four all straight stocked and for different purposes.. The aforementioned Ford gun,( retired), a 12 bore DHE choked Imp mod and x full ( turkeys and ducks/geese), a PHE with steel bbls chocked F&F ( pheasant and prairie birds). and a DHE 20 choked cyl and mod ( grouse and quail, woodcock with scatter loads).

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