January 8, 2024: The Annual Bird Shoot
As advertised, I'm beginning this season's log with my yearly "opener," a bird shoot at Holland Game Preserve in Glade Hill, Virginia. You can see this venue if you click here in a video from—of all places—the local Public Broadcasting Station, WBRA. My friend Phil and I have been going there for some years: this is now an annual ritual. We left Blacksburg in time to be there about 9:00 AM (it's a bit over an hour and a half away). John Holland met us, then set the birds out. John has well-trained dogs and I wish I were as good at shooting the birds as the dogs are at finding them.
We bought 4 pheasant and 12 quail. I shoot pheasant because they're big enough that I can hit one now and then. Phil shoots quail, because he likes the flavor. I have nothing against quail but they're so small I almost always miss them.
Bottom line: I got 3 of my 4 birds, Phil got all his quail and a "bonus" quail left over from the previous day's shoot by another group.
I made a spectacular hit on that cock pheasant, and on one of the hens. I even did manage to hit a quail: I'm not sure which of us was more surprised.
I had some trouble with misfires in my otherwise-reliable Stevens 311 12 gauge double but had brought a single-shot 20 gauge as backup and finished the day with that. I need to get that gun to a smith, it's given me some issues before and it has to be sorted out.
Beautiful day, good times all around. The weather tomorrow will be lousy, we timed it just right.
January 10, 2024: The Stevens 311 Goes To A Gunsmith
I had to go issue a DWR deer kill permit so I took the opportunity to take my misfiring shotgun to a gunsmith. Gunsmiths are thin on the ground around here. The Sportsman's Warehouse in Roanoke tried to "repair" the gun two seasons ago; it was sent off to Utah, and they had it for six months finally returning it un-fixed and charging me a ridiculous amount. I was able to get a refund; I then took it to a very good gunsmith in Rocky Mount, a man who works on very high-dollar shotguns like Perazzis and Fabris. He fixed it, though he was pretty dismissive of it as "...not a very good gun..." Maybe it isn't, but there have been more Stevens 311's made than any other double barrel shotgun in the world, most likely. His fee was very modest.
When it started to misfire two days ago I wanted it put right, but as I say, finding a gunsmith locally is a real challenge. There was an excellent one in Fairlawn but he is now 90 years old and retired. Even if he were still working I'd hesitate to use him because there is a real chance he might die before I got the gun back.
I bought that shotgun in Washington DC in 1981; it may well have been the last firearm legally sold in DC under the old bad law that was struck down in the Heller decision. I have far more money in it than it's worth, to be honest, but it's been re-stocked to fit me, I've had choke tubes put in, I've used it for 42 years, it's taken a lot of game. In short, it's an old and valued friend. I want it to be in complete working condition. I don't want to have to replace it.
Google and Yelp had some names of local gunsmiths, most of whom clearly work mainly on things like AR-15's. The man I took it to is a genial older gentleman who lives in the country and clearly does gunsmithing mainly as a hobby, but given how common Stevens 311's are I suppose just about anyone can work on one. He said he'd take it apart and see what he could find out, then call me. He said he was "...pretty backed up..." which could be taken as either a good or bad sign. After my experience with Sportsman's Warehouse I'm pretty desperate.
January 12, 2024: Never, Ever, Ever, Use Sportsman's Warehouse's So-Called "Gunsmithing" Service
I got a call from the man with whom I'd left my Stevens 311 double. He asked me, "Which barrel did you have the most trouble with?" I told him the right one, and he replied, "Yes, that's what I thought. The firing pins were OK, the screw for the left one was loose, but the hole for the screw on the right side was completely stripped; no thread left."
When I had taken it to Sportsman's Warehouse, they told me they "...completely dismantled it and gave it a thorough cleaning..." but it's pretty obvious that whatever ham-fisted yahoo was given that job buggered it up and damaged the screw seat. See the entries for February to August 2021 for details of this saga.
The man who has it now was concerned that it might not be repairable at all but promised to try. "Maybe I can put some sort of Helicoil in, or possibly Lock-Tite or something."
So I may end up with my shotgun as a safe queen. More or less unusable, at least as anything other than a single-shot. Thanks to trusting it to the incompetents at Sportsman's Warehouse.
I am seriously honked off but there isn't anything to be done about it now.
January 29, 2024: Addendum
The gunsmith called me tonight: he says he believes my shotgun is fixed. I'm hoping he's right! He put in a Helicoil to repair the stripped threads. I'll pick it up in a day or two and see how it's working. I now have far more in that shotgun than it's worth to anyone but me.