My First Gun Was This LeFever Nitro Special. What Was Yours?
Russ Chastain 05.18.20
What was your first gun? Chances are, it’s the one that made the biggest impression on you, but it may not be the first one you fired. In my case, the first firearm I could call my own was a side-by-side 410 shotgun, which I first carried in the woods nigh on 40 years ago.
The story goes that my father’s father managed to get hold of a couple old 410 shotguns for cheap. They had to be cheap, because there was never much money to go around. Somewhere around young adulthood, my father became enamored of firearms and laid claim to them both; there was a single-shot and a double barrel. His mama made him give one to his brother, so naturally Dad kept the double. It was a LeFever Nitro Special, essentially a mass-produced shotgun of good quality.
My first forays into the woods in search of game were taken with this very shotgun clutched in my bony little hands. I toted it for many a mile and I’m sure I gave it my share of wear & tear, but someone before me had put many more miles on it than I ever did, even wearing away the engraving from the steel receiver — and erasing every trace of the case coloring that used to adorn the receiver’s surface.
I have no idea what caused the deep gouge in the left side of the stock wrist, but it looked really old the first time I saw it, lo those many years ago.
The butt plate offers more testimony to this gun’s hard life, with chips missing from both top and bottom. During long hours walking and sitting in the Florida woods, I got to know every mark on this old shotgun. Since the gun was made around 1924, it had ample opportunity to become well-worn even before Dad got hold of it.
I asked my father about the different look of the checkering, and he said that he’d used a pocket knife to “freshen up” the well-worn checkering before he knew any better, but had stopped before he got very far. Looking at photos of other Nitro Specials, the checkering was simply decorative and the diamonds were never pointed.
I used this scattergun to make my first kill: An armadillo. There’s no telling how many squirrels I bagged with it.
The barrel markings are also hand-worn, and the barrel rib has a cool pattern of interlocking ovals rather than a more typical grooved design.
My first gun-cleaning experience was with this gun and Dad’s over/under 12 gauge. We would go hunting for a weekend with those shotguns, and when we got home it was my job to break them both down and clean them.
Plastic shotgun shells were modern back in the early 1980s, but I usually hunted with what we had, which was old paper shells. These are some of those old shells, in numbers 6, 4, and 7-1/2 shot.
This Nitro Special 410 was only chambered for 2.5-inch shells, but Dad had a gunsmith friend bore this one out to accept 3″ shells. This allowed the use of longer shells which carried a bit more shot.
Sometimes, Dad and I would call ourselves deer hunting, and would go find a place to sit in the woods. I’d load the old Nitro Special with slugs (no kidding) on the off chance a suicidal deer or hog appeared, which never happened. When I got a chance at a squirrel, I would slip the slugs out and slide in some seven-and-a-half shells.
Breaking the barrels open allows loading & unloading, cocks the internal hammers, and operates the single extractor, which pulls the rear of both shells backwards to aid in removing them. Dad made me carry this gun broken open for safety’s sake, and he also advised that I keep shells in the chambers… so I learned the hard way how easy it is to lose 410 shotgun shells and have to backtrack 1/4 mile or more to find them.
I also learned how to handle a fairly long gun; this shotgun is not very large, but it does have 26-inch barrels.
To little ol’ me, this was one heck of a fine firearm, and I was extremely proud of it. Which made it heart-breaking when some scumbag stole it because I’d loved it so much I had it on display in a gun rack on the wall of my room in Mom & Dad’s house when I was 17 years old. Amazingly, a Tampa city detective recovered this old family heirloom at a pawn shop months later, but as far as we know the crook was never apprehended.
This old popgun represented a whole lot more than some wood & steel. It stood for responsibility and my path to trust and respect on the way to manhood. It was an emblem of self-confidence and a useful tool that could be used to feed one’s family or to fend off predators — like the time when, as a boy, my father watched his father shoot a chicken-killing hawk off a fence post with this very shotgun.
Dad said it seemed like that hawk was a mile away, and he was mighty impressed with that shot. In reality it was about 30-40 yards, which is still plenty far for a 410 to reach out and touch something.
After two or three years of close association with this little shotgun, I graduated to a centerfire rifle and sure-nuff deer hunting with a Ruger 44 Magnum Carbine… but this little old scattergun remained dear to my heart. It also came in handy when it was time to introduce my nephew to guns and hunting… and apparently that worked well because he’s now my favorite hunting buddy… a title only ever bestowed upon two humans, the other being my late, great father.
Sorry, my eyes are getting a little blurry for some reason… guess I’d better stow the old gun back in the safe and stop ruminating on the past. But it sure is nice to remember the good times, ain’t it?
What was your first gun? Please let us know in the comments.