Regrets, unfortunately, are part of life, and just like grey hair, the longer we live the more we have. We linger too long over an opportunity or situation until it slips away, never to return. No matter the level of our success in life, we all have a few regrets about something. As a firearms enthusiast and gun collector, many of my most painful regrets are about those guns I didn’t, for one reason or another, purchase. Perhaps it’s nostalgia, but those guns are the ones I dream about more than the ones I have, and for many, I still wish I owned them today.
Like so many hunters I’ve spent much of my life searching for the perfect waterfowl gun that would transform my mediocre wingshooting into something worthy of Bogardus or Kimble. The Browning Auto 5 was once dubbed the Aristocrat of Shotguns and is arguably the finest duck gun ever manufactured. I almost owned one once—almost.
I called the fellow who advertised it in the local paper one spring evening. We dickered and dodged on the phone for over an hour until I agreed to come see the gun. It turned out to be a 1950s full-choke Standard Model. What can I say about the Auto-5 that hasn't been said a million times?
I wanted the gun badly except for one nagging point: The 2¾-inch chamber seemed old fashioned, and at the time, the mantra of more pellets equaled more ducks ruled. A silly point I realize in hindsight, but it made me drive off that night without the Auto-5 in hand. The old fellow called me a week later to let me know the gun was gone, and I told him thanks for letting me know. I have regretted not buying that Auto-5 many, many times since that call.
The Deer Rifle
One frosty December morning, a neighbor flagged me down as I was driving a snowy county road. As we talked, he mentioned he was thinking of selling his deer rifle. Since I was “keen on guns,” as he put it, he asked if I knew of anyone looking for a Winchester? He’d bought the Model 94 carbine new, right after returning from Korea, and had carried it ever since. He hauled the rifle out from behind the truck seat and the plain Jane .30 WCF had plenty of honest wear on it silvery frame. We talked about the rifle and he told me about cold November hunts with long dead companions. As we talked he handled the Winchester, and I remember thinking I sure wouldn’t want to be a buck in his sights. But in those days all my heroes carried scoped bolt actions in .270, and I just couldn’t see myself with some old relic. I told him I’d ask around. It was decades later that I realized he wanted me to buy it. That well used .30 WCF is long gone now and so is the hunter, but I should have been wiser. I should have bought the gift he offered of gun and memories.
A “Modern” Sporting Rifle
Today, every firearms company builds a version of the “black rifle,” but once there was only one choice for the average shooting enthusiast: the Colt AR-15. Period. When an AR-15 appeared in the local gun shop in the early '70s it certainly sparked some attention, for about 10 minutes. The Colt was handled plenty but always returned to the rack. No one seemed interested, and the gun dealer marked it down in desperation to get it off the rack. I asked to handle it several times and marveled at the natural pointing qualities, light weight and quick sighting.
It came with a five-round magazine, and the dealer told me a scope was available. I began to seriously consider it after talking to a fellow who’d carried one in Southeast Asia a few years earlier. But after I showed my Dad, I decided to listen to my elder and the AR-15 slipped away to a far-sighted hunter in the next county. Nowadays choices abound since sportsman finally learned the platform is excellent for hunting or shooting. It sure would have been nice to have that original Colt rifle, but like so many other guns, it is only a memory and a regrettable one at that.
The Model 1907
One of my greatest regrets is a Winchester Model 1907 Self Loading in .351 I didn’t buy. The gentleman who owned it used it to fill his deer tag and had the whitetail racks to prove it. He’d installed a set of peep sights, and when shouldered, the gun pointed naturally where I looked. He was desperate to sell it and let me put a couple rounds down the pipe as incentive.
Over the years some nasty things have been written about the .351 Winchester by folks who never fired one. But in the hands of that hunter, the .351 was no slouch in the deer woods. The owner told me his price and even offered a couple boxes of shells, which by the 1970s were increasingly difficult to find. I wish I could remember the reason why that very unique deer gun is not in my possession now, but I don’t. Things never worked out, and all I have are old catalog pages to linger over.
The Smooth Double
For most hunters who follow a pointer through the uplands, the classic gun to carry is a side-by-side double. Autumn walks among the fiery leaves just seem better with a smooth double as a companion. Much of my early upland shooting was with heavy pump-action duck guns pressed into well, double duty. But they were no double gun! So when an Ithaca Model 100 in 12 bore appeared in a rack of used guns, I was sure I had found the perfect grouse gun. The gun dealer was asking a not unreasonable price, and I planned and schemed to own that gun. I could just see myself swinging the Ithaca into action as a partridge broke cover. I’d fold the big grouse, and my faithful dog would gently deposit it at my feet. The trouble was I had mortgage, a new bride and very little discretionary cash. I like to close my eyes sometimes and imagine that gun belongs to me, and I don’t have to regret not buying it.
The Model 100
I came close to owning a real swamp gun once. Winchester built the Model 100 for only a few years, mostly in.308 caliber. The one I found for sale in a crossroads general store was the less common carbine version. It was a short-barreled, slick-handling rifle perfect for the shadowy swamps where the big mossy horns lurked. But the Model 100 was stamped .284 Winchester.
None of my mentors had ever heard of the .284, and they all advised me to steer clear of it. In fact, I couldn’t even find shells for it except by special order. Well, I pondered a long time over that swamp gun. Months passed and every time I drove by I’d stop to check on the rifle. The ammo catalogs spoke well of the .284 cartridge, and the Model 100 was well liked. It came with a three-round magazine, and the store owner even said he’d order in plenty of ammo. After many long hours of considering it, I finally passed up on one fine deer rifle. And to this day I regret it mightily.
This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.