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"The Last Trojan Pheasant"
Unread 06-13-2020, 10:56 PM   #1
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Dean Romig
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Default "The Last Trojan Pheasant"

The Last Trojan Pheasant

In my youth Danvers was still a rural farming town some twenty miles north of Boston and was widely known as “Onion Town” because of the reputation it had earned from the high quality of onions produced for market from its rich and sandy soil. But there were other kinds of crops raised in Danvers then, and most vivid in my memory were the cornfields bordered by woodlots, streams, weed fields or maple and alder swamps that abounded before being overtaken by ‘progress’. This was perfect habitat for the ring-necked pheasant and there were a lot of pheasants in Massachusetts back then, I mean a lot of pheasants.
I grew up in the influence of pheasant, duck and rabbit hunting - upland hunting in every sense, and I would often watch from the upstairs hall window of our home as pheasant hunters would march down between the rows of corn in our own little family garden. There were mornings I remember being awakened by the staccato reports of gunfire in and around the woods and fields of our small acreage. And I remember on especially calm days stepping out of the back door as I left for school and being met with the pungent odor of burnt nitro powder drifting on the air of an early November morning. It became common knowledge in my family that upland hunting would be a big part of my life just as soon as I was old enough to handle a shotgun and buy my own license.
My twelfth birthday was marked and measured by the brand-new twenty-gauge, single-shot Stevens given me by my father and mother. Its issuance was the mark of trust I had sought from my parents for so long. It meant that they believed I was ready to accept the responsibility I knew I was ready for. Rabbit season was still open for another month, so the very next Saturday morning I took up my new shotgun and went hunting in the weed patches between our cornfield and the woods. Almost immediately a bunny streaked from cover and turned hard to my right. As he broke into a clear patch I swung on him and touched off. He tumbled for about six feet then lay very still. I was elated. I picked him up by the hind feet and sprinted for the house and as I passed the dining room windows I became aware that my Dad had witnessed the whole thing by the smile I saw on his face through the glass.
I shot my fair share of rabbits, pheasants, woodcock and ducks in the first couple of years that I owned that little Stevens. I learned to shoot with that gun but soon became envious of the other much nicer guns I regularly saw being carried by hunters older than myself while I hunted in and around my neighborhood.

Things soon began to fall into place almost systematically. Having met David in the first grade, he and I had become close friends and hardly a day went by that we were not together after school or on weekends either at his house or mine, though we would spend most of our time out of doors around my home exploring and learning the habits and travels of the small game that abounded there. Pheasants took center stage as they were the most predominant game bird there but the occasional woodcock drew our interest for the simple reason that he was so odd looking and appeared to be so tame. (Little did we know back then.)
Dave wasn’t the hunting fanatic that I was but accepted the fact that if we were to be together in the fall and winter, we would be hunting and trapping. He didn’t own a shotgun so we shared mine but he preferred that I carry it most of the time, probably because he could sense my desire to hunt, but Dave shot some pheasants too.
One summer day Dave and I were at his house and, for whatever reason, had business to attend in his basement. As I remember it Dave went down the stairs ahead of me and went off into the other end of the basement while I stayed by the stairs. I began to snoop around in the stuff lying under the stairs around the side of the chimney. An old army cot, an old cased axe, a wooden box with some battered old decoys and then, under most of this junk I found a well-worn canvas case with leather edging containing something very interesting. I felt what I thought was a gunstock through the canvas, and barrels too in the side compartment. I opened the flap and drew out the stock section. It was a gun all right. I took out the barrels and after a few minutes figured out how they went together. Attaching the forend, I called to Dave,
“Hey Dave, look what I found! A big ol’ gun!”
He quickly came to the stairs, looked at it and said,
“Oh yeah, my granddad’s old gun. You better put it away, my father doesn’t want anyone touching any of that stuff.”
I objected saying,
“This thing needs to be used. It shouldn’t just lay here like this.”
“Well,” he said, “you better ask my dad then because it’s not up to me.”
I asked Dave’s father as soon as he got home from work and he reasoned,
“It’s up to your father, if he says ‘okay’ then it’s okay with me.”
One thing led to another and before long I had that old shotgun on loan, “indefinitely.”
As it turned out, it was a Parker Bros. Trojan, twelve gauge with twenty-eight inch barrels choked modified and full. I don’t remember the serial number but it was an early one with the characteristic rib extension. It was clean and tight, had nice, sharp checkering and nearly all of its case color. In fact, I don’t remember that there was any appreciable wear at all. There were two small patches of rust on the left barrel about two inches from the breech but no pitting. I didn’t tell anyone then, but I knew it was too much gun for a kid my age. After all, I was only about a hundred and five pounds.
I had some money saved up from my paper route earnings and asked my Dad if he would take me someplace where I could buy some shells for it. We bought a box of “sixes” on the advice of the man in the hardware store who said they were good enough for any game we might find “around these parts.”
Dad took me hunting the following Saturday morning on a farm up the road a couple of miles where, obviously, everyone else “around these parts” hunted. We hunted for about three hours and saw only what I guessed was a pheasant streaking through the tall grass in a very direct line away from us. We never saw what caused the tall grass to move that way so, I guess you could say we never really saw anything.
About the time we thought we would head back to the car we came over a little rise in the contour of a mowed cornfield and immediately spied a flock of starlings on the ground arguing over what little grain remained there. They hadn’t seen us yet and I, having not yet fired the Trojan, asked Dad if I could shoot at them to see how many I could hit. They were about fifty yards away but what the heck did I know about shotgun ballistics and patterns? And besides, I thought a twelve gauge could do just about anything. Dad nodded and said,
“Go ahead, you need to know what that gun is capable of.”
So I put the old Trojan to my shoulder with the bead in about the center of the flock and touched off. I had expected to see a significant number of birds lying dead on the ground after the sky had cleared of the confusion of panicked starlings, but only one bird remained flapping weakly there on the ground between the rows of stubble. I thought something was drastically wrong with the gun and I asked Dad how that could have happened. He told me that I had probably fired the barrel with less choke. Well, I didn’t remember which trigger I had pulled but it didn’t much matter because I didn’t even know which trigger fired which barrel.
After a supper of pan-fried starling breasts (Dad’s rule: whatever I shot I ate) I took the Trojan to my room to clean it and to become more familiar with its workings. I broke it down to its three major components, cleaned and oiled it and went right to the task of determining which barrel had the most choke and which did not. I tried to fit a penny into the muzzles… no go. I searched my pockets and came up with a dime and tried to fit it in… no go in the left but, there, it went into the right barrel with room to spare. I thought, “Okay, remember that.” Now to find out which trigger goes to which barrel. Somehow I figured how to close the top lever because I couldn’t pull the triggers with it in the open position. I firmly pressed my fingertip on the left firing-pin hole and pulled the forward trigger, “ping”, nothing. I kept my finger pressed tightly on the hole while I pulled the rear trigger, “Oww!”
“Okay, remember that too. Rear trigger, left barrel; rear trigger, full choke; rear trigger, long shots.” and I kept repeating it to myself.
It would become as automatic as cocking the hammer on the little Stevens 20 gauge whenever I threw it to my shoulder.
I took the Trojan out pheasant hunting almost every day after school and on Saturdays and for that first season I did very poorly with it. In fact, I killed nothing with it until the following year. Besides its being too much gun for me (I’m sure I developed a nasty flinch, the thing clobbered me so hard) I couldn’t get used to the wide plane of the side by side barrels. But I kept at it and finally learned to keep the bead between the breech balls, not on top of one of them as with the single barrel Stevens I was accustomed to.
The following season I began to take game pretty regularly as I became more comfortable with the Trojan. I think the fact that I had grown quite a lot during the year, four inches in height and a little over twenty-five pounds, helped me to grow into the gun and to better absorb the impact of the recoil. I was sure to always be very careful with this borrowed gun and I cleaned and oiled it after every outing. I was shocked when one evening while taking the forend off a sizable chip of wood broke right off the front of the forend. The next day I brought it to a neighbor who was a good gunsmith by avocation and I watched as he reshaped the wood to appear as if it had never broken. The fact that it was now nearly a half-inch shorter would probably never have been noticed but I told Dave about it anyway.

One of my favorite memories of pheasant hunting with the old Trojan took place on a Saturday morning late in November. It must have been the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the last Saturday of pheasant season. A strong nor’easter had dumped about a foot of snow and then had blown out to sea during the night. The morning had dawned bright and clear with no wind at all. I ate a quick breakfast, put on my boots then grabbed my hat, jacket, gloves and a handful of shells. As I went to the door I took up the Trojan I had stood there in the corner of the kitchen the night before, then went outside by way of the barn.
The sun on the new snow was nearly blinding and it took a while for my eyes to adjust to it and the sky that morning was the deepest blue I had ever seen.
Under the bird feeder were the telltale tracks and scratchings of several pheasants. Farther from the area of the feeder I found the long, sweeping lines left in the soft snow from the tails of the roosters as they had glided in to feed. I headed toward the fields and woods following the tracks left by the pheasants as they sought the safety of better cover in the brushy edges. I kicked around in the brush and weeds for a while but couldn’t roust a single bird so I moved on toward the brush-choked creek that bordered our property.
I didn’t have far to go along the creek before I got some action. What happened next is impossible to describe in a way that will justify the memory of that moment, but I’ll make the attempt.
From within or beneath a cluster of wild rose bushes a few yards from the edge of the creek came an explosion of sparkling snow, crowing roosters, and cackling hens in the most vivid array of slow-motion and color I had ever seen. The biggest rooster rose straight upward into the brilliant sunlight, his bright red cheeks, deep blue-green head, white neck band, dark coppery-red breast and long, long tail mesmerized me for more than an instant but somehow the Trojan’s butt hit my shoulder, the safety flicked off, the bead found the big rooster’s head and he plummeted to the soft snow, dead even before he hit the cushion of whiteness. I walked over and just stood there, my mind re-living the experience over and over as I admired the bird spread out in the snow.

That old Trojan had become my constant companion and I rarely even looked at the little Stevens twenty gauge anymore. I learned quite a lot from that Trojan too. Being the kind of kid who needed to know how things work - what made them tick - I thought I could learn about the Trojan by removing some screws but when I removed the second screw something from within went “klink” and I couldn’t put the screw back in. (I must remind the kind reader that I was only thirteen and subject to all of the foibles of male adolescence in all of their forms and varieties.) Needless to say, the Trojan spent the next week with the neighboring gunsmith.
I learned how to shoot a side-by-side with that gun. I shot my only double on woodcock with it – I don’t know how, it just happened. They flushed at the same instant, one going straight away, zig-zagging between the trunks of tall, young maples, which I neatly dropped, while the other made for the open sky above. When it cleared the tops of the sparsely leafed maples it hesitated for that brief moment and down it tumbled at the report of my left barrel.

All good things must come to an end and so too did my stewardship of the Trojan. My Dad took a new job which nearly doubled his income and my parents bought a new house in a town about fifteen miles west of Danvers but the move to the new house wouldn’t take place until sometime in February. It was still November so there was time to completely immerse myself, Trojan in hand, in the woods and fields of my beloved home.
I well remember the last pheasant I shot with ‘my’ Trojan on the last day of pheasant season, November 30th of 1963. It was on a Saturday and I was not pleased with the fact that I first had extra chores to do first on such an important day in my gunning career.
To make matters worse, the weather report we heard the night before called for a Nor’easter with temperatures cold enough for snow but “probably mixed with rain.” It wasn’t going to be a good day no matter how I looked at it.
When I got up that morning to get busy with my chores, I looked out of the upstairs hall window to the east and saw the tell-tale crimson streaks on the horizon just before sunrise and when I went outside I could smell the salt air even at ten miles from the coast; a sure omen of things to come.

The sun that brief November day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.


(Borrowed from the first lines of Whittier’s
epic nineteenth-century poem “Snowbound”
)

As soon as I finished my chores I ran to my room to change my clothes. There was already more than six inches of new snow on top of the frozen crust of the last snow we had the week before. The wind was blowing at a constant twenty-five miles per hour with gusts of nearly twice that.
My boots were still damp in the toes from walking on thin ice the day before and I didn’t own any clothes that were appropriate for hunting in this kind of weather but I had less than two hours of daylight left so I decided to tough it out and try for a pheasant or two. I headed west so that the driven snow would be at my back. I clutched the Trojan in my left hand as I fed the last two twelve gauge shells I found the night before after a desperate search, then closed the action and, as always, made sure the safety was on.
I walked and walked, hunting all of my favorite spots but didn’t flush a single bird. It was growing darker and my disappointment was mounting when suddenly a pheasant burst from under the new snow only a foot or two from my cold toes. The gun came up but went right down again for this was a hen and was not legal game.
I had altered my course and was now headed east, right into the driving gale, having decided to give it up and get home to the warmth of my mother’s kitchen. I had to wipe the splattering wet snow from my eyeglasses every few minutes and was not ready for the huge rooster that erupted from beneath a wild rose bush about twenty-five yards away. He seemed to be tangled in the thorny branches as he thrashed and thrashed to get airborne but soon he was out of the bush and driving up and into the howling storm. Again the Trojan found my shoulder, the safety flicked off, the bead wavered at the poor image I had of the big bird through my messy glasses and I pulled the forward trigger –Bang! -Missed! My stiff finger found the rear trigger and quickly tugged at it –Bang! That bird never even flinched. Untouched, it flew off into the jaws of the storm but the gale proved too strong for him and he rocketed back in my direction sailing out of control over my head and disappeared into the swirling clouds of snow. I broke the Trojan open and withdrew the empty shells intending to toss them on the ground but instead tucked them into my jacket pocket – I don’t know why, I just did.
A half-hour later I was home. I went in through the barn, up the stairs and into the backroom off the kitchen and started to peel off my snow-caked jacket and jeans. One of the empty shells fell out of the pocket when I tossed my jacket on the floor. I picked it up and felt in the pocket for the other, then, in my wet long johns, went into the kitchen where my mother instructed me to go take a hot bath.
Later that night as the blasts of wind-driven snow buffeted our house I was sitting at the desk in my room after I had finished my homework. I remembered the empty shells I had stood at the back of my desk and I picked them up to hold them to my nose and inhale that sweet acrid scent of burnt nitro powder. It was only then that I understood why I had missed that rooster with both barrels. Printed boldly on the side of each shell was 00 BUCK. And then I remembered… then I remembered that they had been relegated as discards, a year or so before, into the back corner of my desk drawer. . . right where I found them in my desperate search for shells the night before this last pheasant hunt.

I telephoned Dave a couple of weeks ago and left a message on his answering machine out there in Boise where he has lived since nineteen-seventy-something. I asked him to call me back with the serial number of his grandfather’s Trojan. He called me back a couple of nights ago and told me the serial number was 167347 and that…
“Yes, it’s in the same condition you remember it ‘cause I haven’t used it but once or twice since you gave it back to me a few days before you moved away. But I’ll bring it with me the next time I drive back East to visit my mother, probably in a year or two.”

I’d love to hold that old Trojan again, if only just for a while.





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Unread 06-14-2020, 12:20 AM   #2
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Great story. Thanks for sharing.
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Unread 06-14-2020, 07:01 AM   #3
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Dean, a nicely written remembrance. It's nice to have the past to go to on occasion, especially when the present is so unsettled. Thanks for bringing your story back for those of us who missed it the first time.
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Unread 06-14-2020, 09:42 AM   #4
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Dean i really enjoyed your story. Bobby
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Unread 06-14-2020, 09:43 AM   #5
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I really enjoyed your story Dean. We have no Pheasant in Kentucky, but we have quail. I remembered my youth and Papa's 20 gauge Trojan as I read. We must be about the same age. I was 15 in 1963 and the suburbs were creeping toward our farm. I could still ride my horse to friends homes with the Labrador trotting along with me. Hunting anything with fur or feathers and bringing home a mixed bag of game. Thanks for the memories.
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Unread 06-14-2020, 10:08 AM   #6
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Yup, we’re the same age Harry.





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Unread 06-14-2020, 10:24 AM   #7
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great storey dean I could have been on that hunt...memories are sure presious especially the good ones..charlie
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Unread 06-14-2020, 11:46 AM   #8
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Dean very nice story, you have a way with words, you should write a book.
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Unread 06-14-2020, 12:11 PM   #9
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Thanks Ken - Iím mostly done with it but Iíve got a lot of irons in the fire...





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Not because I think they're better than the other breeds,
but because I'm a romantic - stuck on tradition - and to me, a Setter just "belongs" in the grouse picture."

George King, "That's Ruff", 2010 - a timeless classic.
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Unread 08-10-2022, 10:07 AM   #10
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UPDATE:

Well I telephoned Dave a month or so ago to let him know that my Kathy had passed - he was very fond of her.
His speech was labored and I asked if he was okay…
He said he is much better than he was last fall when he had a severe stroke. Said his speech is much better but slower and he has trouble with keyboards of any kind. So we talked for quite a while, but the topic of the Trojan never came into the conversation.

Then he telephoned me last night asking how he could arrange to ship his grandfather’s Trojan to me because it’s just been sitting in his safe and he hasn’t fired it in 7 or 8 years and probably never will again. I told him how it has to be done legally and today I’ll visit my FFL friend over in the next town.

So, in the next few weeks Parker Trojan 167347 will be back with me to answer my wishes, hopes and dreams that we would someday be reunited.

But he did ask that I include in my will that it will go back to his daughter and his grandson upon my demise, which I of course heartily agreed to.

Pictures when it happens.





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"I'm a Setter man.
Not because I think they're better than the other breeds,
but because I'm a romantic - stuck on tradition - and to me, a Setter just "belongs" in the grouse picture."

George King, "That's Ruff", 2010 - a timeless classic.
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