On the road to recovery

load bench shelf

Reorganizing the shelves and cupboards of the loading bench was an important step in recovery from my compulsive need to tinker with another “project gun.” My new mantra is “be content with what you already have.” It remains to be seen if this is possible.

The road to recovery from obsessive compulsive disorder is a long march over rocky ground, and support from caring friends speeds the journey. Sometimes this support arrives in a package marked “tough love,” but the gift is no less valuable for being wrapped in burlap and baling cord.

Counselors say the first step is admitting you have a problem. Okay, I admit it: I have an uncontrollable compulsion to tinker with my hunting firearms. No shotgun or rifle can long be in my possession before I feel the devil of desire take hold of my psyche: “Improve it,” the demon whispers in my ear. “Customize it. Make it better. Make it your own.”

Try as I might to ignore the siren song, I eventually turn the tiller and steer toward the music’s luring call. “Trust me,” the enticing voice chants. “Follow me, and we will create something beautiful, something perfect.” Enchanted, I sail into the booming surf.

A shotgun must have its stock reshaped, checkered, oil-finished, fitted with a new buttplate. Barrels must be re-blued, receivers case hardened, hinge pins replaced, chokes opened, forcing cones lengthened, bores polished, triggers adjusted. And a bit of tinkering with the safety slide to make it smooth and certain is a necessity.

A rifle must have its barrel free-floated, bore lapped, bolt honed and polished, extractor and ejector made crisp and sure, stock shortened, magazine spring stiffened, trigger adjusted. A new scope is always required.  And it goes without saying that each rifle demands much experimenting with hand-loaded ammunition to develop the specific recipe that delivers the right combination of accuracy, muzzle velocity, and consistency.

You understand why I have to do this, don’t you? You can see that it’s all perfectly sane and reasonable?

Maybe not.

But I’m getting better, day-by-day. For one thing, I recognize that I am no longer in the “acquisition” phase of my hunting life but have moved into the “dispersal” phase. Yes, I acquired one new rife last year (The .44 Magnum caper), but two shotguns, a .22 rifle, and my last handgun were sold or traded. This week, I took a major step toward recovery: I put my varmint rifle up for auction, and forced myself not to look back as I walked away.

That was like pushing over the first domino in the line, because it led to an inventory, cleaning, and reordering of my Clubhouse. Over the course of that day-long project, I became amazed at how much “stuff” had accumulated on the reloadling bench, cabinets, shelves, and cubby holes. I threw out much, gave away more, organized everything that remained. Empowered by my new-found joy of release from my erstwhile obsession, I sent an email message to selected members of the Over the Hill Gang to let them know about my triumph.

The reply was not what I expected, but as I said tough-love can be the best in certain situations. I reproduce, below, the chain of correspondence to illustrate just how tough it can be.


Drove to Prairie du Chien Monday with Click and put my Remington 700 Varmint Special in .223 in the next Kramer Firearms Auction. Click did the same with his Winchester Model 70 in 7mm Remington Magnum that was intended (24 years ago) to be his elk rifle. We realized that we will never shoot these rifles again and they should go to someone who will use them. Will see what we get for bids.

Packed up all my .223 loading components and put them in a box for Click’s son — either he will use them or knows someone who will. That required a complete reorganization of the Clubhouse loading bench and cupboards and shelves this morning. While I was at it, I did a quick ammo inventory: about 3,000 rounds total in four different gauges, mostly target loads left over from my days of skeet and sporting clays shooting, but also a lifetime supply of hunting ammo.

In the rifle cabinet, even after the removal of the .223 ammo, I still have about 300 rounds: .44 Remington Magnum, ,35 Remington, and .30-06 Springfield. Rimfire ammo? Several containers of .22 Long Rifle and four or five of .22 WRM. That also, at my age, is a lifetime supply.

On the shelves and cubbies of the reloading bench I found a ridiculous stock of reloading components: several bags of shot, more bags of shotshell wads, a dozen boxes of rifle bullets, and two bricks of primers. There were 10 jars of various powders in the refrigerator.

What I discovered in the “spare parts” cupboards was even more amazing. A couple discarded rifle barrels, iron sights, trigger assemblies, bolts, action parts, magazines, butt stocks and forends, recoil pads and butt plates, spacers and shims and whatnot, a box of special tools needed for intricate action work, a 3-9×40 scope, two red dot scopes, and a plastic tub full of scope rings and mounts, sling swivels and studs, barrel bands, and other accessories.

How did I accumulate all this crap over the past 30 years?

As soon as the weather gets warmer, we should do some shooting to whittle down my stock of ammo. Some of the other stuff could be put to good use if I can persuade you, Senator, that we should go forward with the project to upgrade your old Stevens 16-gauge double gun. Think of it as a “halfway house” to help my transition from manic to normal behavior, and picture how that classy-looking side-by-side will enhance your image next fall.

Time to smoke a cigar, drink some coffee, and get back to work.

      – Pancho

I received this rather caustic reply from Fats.


How did you accumulate all this stuff?! Are you kidding me!? We should have taken videos of you going through gun shops. Mothers snatched their kids out of the way, men laid their bodies across their carts so you couldn’t help yourself to their merchandise, store clerks gleefully rolled out strings of carts with new stock to fill the shelves. And you wonder how do you accumulate this stuff!?!?!

It’s a wonder you haven’t had to add another room onto the Clubhouse for overflow. And then there are the gadgets!!! You could melt down the trigger units you have replaced, pour the iron to cast a new receiver for a 10/22, and then build a whole new gun from your stock of spare parts for god’s sake. For 30 years it’s been apparent that you can’t NOT buy this stuff.

Now it sounds as if a project for the Senator’s 16 gauge double gun is in the works? Senator, heed this advice: Lock up the family jewels! Hide the titles to the cars! Freeze the bank account and block the road so the UPS man is forced to return all the online ordered gun parts! Tread carefully, Senator. You are on dangerous ground!

We should do some shooting when it gets nice. That much we can all agree on. But we need some assurance that you won’t revert to old habits, reload all the empties, and put the OTH Gang back in the position of being enablers of your unacceptable behaviors. You’re headed in a good direction, but we’re not convinced you have shed your OCD.


Of course I was hurt and felt compelled to respond.


Your report on my project guns hobby is shamefully exaggerated. I have never bought more than one shopping cart full of stuff on a trip to a gun shop. Well, okay, one time at Ahlman’s, but that was because I bought a couple years’ supply of skeet shooting ammo components and a few necessary items for the 16-gauge Lefever project.

Anyway, the Clubhouse has been reorganized, unneeded ammo and components have been boxed and are to be distributed to younger shooters, a rifle has been put up for auction sale, out-of-date bottles and cans of wood finishes and metal blueing compounds and so forth have been dispatched to the county landfill’s toxic materials disposal site, gunsmithing supplies and tools have been sorted and stored away, and all (or most) of the extraneous gun parts have been discarded. I even bought a special box for cigars.

I think this shows real progress toward recovery, and I should be praised, nor ridiculed.

Senator – do not be dissuaded from going forward with the 16-gauge Stevens double gun project. The end result will be your immense satisfaction with a “bespoken” side-by-side that fits you like a glove, points like a virtual extension of your arm, and gives you a feeling of confidence you will never miss another bird on the wing.

I speak from much experience here. I have done this with all five of my doubles and never spent more than $500 in upgrades on any one shotgun. Well, $600 on the Browning BSS. And at most $700 on the Lefever 16. Yes, the engraving on the Ruger Red Label cost $1,000, but that doesn’t really count as a necessary component of a double gun project. Although we could have some tasteful and striking engraving done on your Stevens double if you insist. As a complement to the wood checkering, which is necessary.

I also note that gun projects are a financial investment of sorts. All my project guns that were later sold brought me more money than spent on the initial purchase price and the cost of the improvements. Except for the Ruger 10/22. And maybe the Spanish Mauser Model 1895 in 7x57mm. And I expect to make a couple hundred dollars profit on the Remington 700 Varmint Special that I have put up for auction sale, since I kept the Leupold scope.

Although it has been harsh, I do thank you both for your support as I make this transition to a new life. I am over my obsession with gun projects. There will be no more. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ with it.

  – Pancho

p.s. Fats – do you know if that Savage Model 99 in .300 Savage caliber that we saw at the gun shop in Duluth is still on the rack? Not that I’d buy it, you understand. I’m just curious.


More essays and stories about hunting, rifles, shotguns, bird dogs, and life in the North Country are published in my five collections of essays, available through Amazon.com at  Jerry Johnson Author Page


About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
This entry was posted in Bird Guns, Hunting Rifles, Project Guns, Rifle Shooting, Rifles, Shooting Sports, Shotguns and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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