By: Randy Tucker
It had a cracked walnut stock that had been repaired decades ago. When I took it waterfowl hunting, shells often stuck in the chamber when you broke the gun open.
Yet the old Harrington and Richardson shotgun my grandfather bought second-hand back in the late 1920s took more game than all the shotguns and rifles his son, grandson, and great-grandsons have taken combined.
Forrest Evert Tucker was my grandpa. He had a sense of humor, and the lightest practical joke had him coughing in a few minutes from laughing too hard.
He grew up in eastern Arkansas, the son of John Forrest Tucker, my great-grandfather who I never had the chance to meet.
Cotton, rice, and catfish remain the livelihood of tiny Lee County, Arkansas. The hamlet of Mariana is the county seat, and nearby Forrest City is the largest town in the area, with the city of Memphis, Tennessee about 60 miles away to the northeast.
Grandpa grew up on wild game. Ducks, geese, pheasants, raccoons, deer, bobwhite quail, and especially squirrel were regular menu items on the dinner table. The ubiquitous ponds, streams, and rivers teemed with catfish, bream, crappie, and bass. Grandpa and my two great uncles had propane power fish fryers, similar to barbecue grills everywhere else. They turned on the burner, put in some oil, and as a kid, I waited with baited breath for the fish to boil golden brown, then rise to the surface.
Grandpa was a sure shot with his 20 gauge Harrington and Richardson. It was just a single shot, but he could shoot three rounds almost as fast as the guys hunting with him could fire a pump. His secret was keeping two shells between the fingers of his left hand. He would shoot, break open the breach, pop a shell in with his left hand, shove the shell tight with his thumb, close the breach, flip the safety, and fire with blazing speed. I tried to do it many times, but couldn’t come close to his speed.
Long ago, the ejectors were slightly bent. Sometimes the shell flew out and sometimes it didn’t. Grandpa kept a three-inch piece of rebar in his hunting jacket. If the shell didn’t eject, he tossed the rebar down the barrel and it knocked the shell loose.
In later years, when I shot the gun, it jammed on me, too. My dad kept grandpa’s hunting jacket, but none of us could wear it because he was a much smaller man than my dad or I. The rebar is still sitting in that jacket, though he passed away in 1978.
Instead of a piece of steel, I pried the stuck shells out with my pocket knife. If you caught an edge clean, it came loose right away. But you didn’t always catch it clean.
My son took his great-grandpa’s gun, and when it jammed on him, too, instead of a piece of steel or a pocket knife, he took it to a friend who is a gunsmith. The gunsmith studied the problem and whacked the shell chamber sharply on the side with a little ball-peen hammer. A little rust fell out of the gun ,and with a squirt of gun oil, the ejectors haven’t failed since.
My son Brian owns the Harrington and Richardson now. A vestige of the 19th century in the hand of a very scientific, 21st century hunter, it’s what grandpa would have hoped for.
My hope is that Brian’s great-grandson proudly displays it a century from now.
Guns passed down are more than heritage, they are a lifeline from the past the future. Pundits and their clueless followers will never know the connection a special firearm has in linking generations; it is uniquely Americana.
Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.