Why dibs on that side-by-side shotgun matter

“Did you ever replace that SxS (SxS refers to a side-by-side shotgun)?” I asked my buddy.

“No. Prefer over/unders primarily,” he responded.

Then, “SxS are cool, though.”

I knew he preferred over/under shotguns, just as I knew he hadn’t replaced the SxS he had tried some years back, and seemed to be fond of, and shot well. But mechanical issues ensued, and he was never able to get it to work to his satisfaction. But I had to double-check.

A fellow in Fairbanks, an ADN reader who often corresponds regarding these columns, offers thoughts and observations that often provide food for thought. Such was the case recently when I wrote of accumulating things. Being around my age, he wondered what he might do with the equipment he has accumulated, now that he and his dogs have retired from sprint skijoring.

I didn’t have an answer. But the exchange reminded me of some things I had promised myself not long ago.

Certainly, there are places to donate things like that. A venue exists for the disposal of most anything. But, when it comes to things that one has invested their heart and soul in, you don’t really want it to go into a pile where folks can pick through it and maybe use it, maybe not.


Organizations like the Salvation Army may put it to use, and for some things, that’s great. But I, for one, would like some of the things that are dear to me to go to someone I know who will “get it,” who understands the intrinsic value, and who will use it in good faith, carry on the tradition if you will. I don’t want the backpack I hunted so many mountain miles over to become someone’s diaper bag.

Perhaps this has become an old-fashioned sentiment, from the time I remember thinking about how cool it would have been to be able to keep all of the old saddle and tack from my grandparent’s days when horses were a part of life. The world is a much different place than many of us older folks grew up in. Carrying on traditions may even be an unrealistic sentiment today. At times I have trouble sorting it out.

Standing before a home full of things that composed my father’s life, and not knowing how to connect with all who might have wanted to share some of those things frustrated and even angered me. Being responsible for those things, I couldn’t reduce my father’s life to 50 cents at a time in a yard sale.

Last spring, on the wind-blown prairie of North Dakota, I decided that I didn’t want my end game to be like that. Which, given mainstream culture’s awful predisposition to reduce things to possession and never let go, it is not as easy as it sounds.

It seems like speaking of our inevitable passing has become socially unacceptable, or so I’ve been told by my wonderful partner, Christine. And yet, it is one thing we all share. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do, dying is the end game. It is not to be feared, it is the life cycle and how we accept that and open ourselves to the possibilities of going out with a song in our hearts.

The phrase, “It’s a good day to die,” has in modern times been interpreted as bravado for men going into battle. Perhaps that comes from the phrase being attributed to Oglala Lakota war leader, Crazy Horse, before the Battle of the Greasy Grass, better known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Historical reference varies, and it is possible that other Lakota warriors uttered the phrase “Hoka Hey,” during the battle.

History being so often misrepresented, perhaps it was other Native American warriors who said it. No matter what, the meaning of the phrase is that the warrior had made peace with himself, had done the things the spirits wished, and would be taken back to nature with peace and honor.

Much as I wish my end game involved riding into battle alongside Crazy Horse, that doesn’t mean my day won’t be a good day to die.

The friend I asked about the SxS shotgun is one of those rare people you come across in your life, as rare as Winchester, my dog of a lifetime, is in the dog world. We met as if we had been friends for life, even with my being 10 years older than him.

He’s the friend who says in the same conversation, “Hey, if things ever go bad, I’ll give you a kidney, and oh, by the way, I have dibs on that Winchester 101 of yours when you die.”

Had nature been kinder to us, we might have met at the Green River Fur Rendezvous in 1837, shooting our Hawken rifles in a contest for who bought the whiskey. Or we could have been Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp in Arizona Territory in 1881. In the lexicon of those days, “He’ll do to ride the river with.”

While sitting in his office a few days ago, listening to his talk of impending retirement from his law enforcement career, it occurred to me that there were some important things to do before Hoka Hey.

The side-by-side shotgun I bought a few years ago, mainly to prove I could do something that to that point I had never done, shoot one well, was made by the German gunmaker Merkel, a classic game gun made for the Jager who frequented the dark, primeval forests of Germany.

I wanted a shotgun that would have been welcomed by the watermen of the eastern seaboard in the early 1900s, a step back in time. And it has. A couple of years ago, I made my best shot on Cheyenne’s last duck hunt with it. I’ve taken grouse over Winchester’s point with this gun. I’m a long way from being done, but for me it has served its purpose.

Maybe only gun folks who have grown up the way I have will understand the significance of passing a gun on. It must be passed on to someone who will use it, respect it, and appreciate the history it shares.

In some ways the passing of this gun is selfish. Rather than wait, writing it onto some soulless piece of paper that divvies up my stuff, and never knowing the pleasure that comes from giving, I get that pleasure, and a step to Hoka Hey.

And the dibs on the 101 are still rock solid.

Of course, my friend does not know my last request will be a mission for he and Christine, a bit reminiscent of the end of “Lonesome Dove.” The thing is, I know they’ll do it.

Steve Meyer | Alaska outdoors

Steve Meyer of Kenai is longtime Alaskan and an avid shooter who writes about guns and Alaska hunting. He's the co-author, with Christine Cunningham, of the book "The Land We Share: A love affair told in hunting stories."