AFTER MOPING AROUND for a day because I had clumsily fallen while bird hunting and damaged the buttstock of my favorite shotgun, I decided not to commit suicide but instead have the gun repaired. This Browning BSS 20 gauge Sporter has accompanied me on hundreds of hunts in its 40 years of service and I decided the gun deserved to be repaired and again taken afield in the few years of bird hunting that remain to me.
Knowing that stock work on old double guns (this BSS was manufactured in 1981) would be expensive, I was prepared to bite the bullet – or technically, the shotshell – and pay what it cost to restore the side-by-side back to working condition. Little did I know that the price of restoration would exceed the price of a new shotgun.
In my state of innocence about repairing double guns, I contacted the gunsmithing firm that had completely reconditioned this gun about 20 years ago. I sent photos of the damaged buttstock and requested an estimate. The company had done excellent work, literally restoring the BSS to new condition. I had great confidence in their work and was expecting they would work similar magic with the damaged BSS, probably for $500. Silly me.
The company quickly responded to my email with a terse message: “We no longer service double barrel shotguns.”
What? The gunsmiths who bill themselves as “Browning Specialists” no longer service double guns? Browning’s specialty is the manufacture of double guns. But there it was: strike one. I would have to search elsewhere for a gunsmith that would and could repair this stock.
I searched the web and sent out several requests. Many went unanswered, and others had a reply similar to the first response: “We do not repair the stocks of side-by-side double guns.”
On the advice of one of the Over The Hill Gang, I contacted a company that produces virtually any type of stock for any firearm. The shop was quick to respond. They would not repair the BSS buttstock, they said, but they would make a replacement stock. For $1,295. Plus additional charges for checkering it to match the forearm pattern.
Add more cost to refinish the stock, and the forearm if I so desired. standard Plus shipping costs. The wait list for this work would be about four-five months, I was told.
The last I checked, this same BSS 20 gauge Sporter, which was manufactured in Japan from 1971-87, could be purchased for $2,500 in mint condition. The BSS in my gun safe is by no stretch of the imagination in mint condition. The stock has been shortened to fit me, and it is much used. Very much used. I’m guessing this gun would sell for $1,800 tops.
Which would be close to the price this stocking firm is charging for a new buttstock. This was not, as they say, financially advantageous for me. But it did fire my indignation and my resolve to fix the BSS myself. I had previously done this sort of repair on a double gun (albeit a comparatively simple and blocky Savage-Stevens-Fox BSE in 12 gauge), and I was willing to again test my tyro gunsmith woodworking skills. Especially in the face of a $1,500-plus repair cost.
Even if my repair efforts were unsuccessful, I would be no worse off than before. If I had to retire the BSS and hunt with it no more, cloister it in a dark corner of my gun safe, and let it molder until my estate sale, so be it.
Of course I am being too harsh with the stocking firms that will no longer work on side-by-side double guns. When a buttstock on this type of gun splits, cracks, or chips, it is likely to re-split, re-crack, or re-chip again after it has been repaired, even though using the best shaping, pegging, gluing, and refitting skills of a gunsmith who is an accomplished woodworker.
“Do Not Repair – Replace!” has become the slogan of most American workover shops. Considering that stock restoration requires several hours of a craftsman’s time – at more than $75 per hour – and the result is sometimes uncertain, the wise decision is to replace the stock.
But $1,500-plus for replacement? On a gun that I purchased brand new for $600? No, I will try to repair it myself.
When I took a face-plant pratfall while afield and landed atop the BSS, the result was two chips of wood broken from the buttstock where it meets the face of the receiver near the trigger plate. The chips were not huge, and the stock was fortunately not split, but the damage was far greater than the typical field dents and scratches that a birdgun acquires over the years. The stock would clearly have to be repaired.
Fortunately, I found one of the walnut chips. Unfortunately, I could not find the other. Needless to say, I was distraught and cursed myself as a clumsy lout.
The BSS lay on my workbench for a few days, and when I had worked up courage to attempt it, my repair plan was begun. I removed the barrels and forearm, took off the butt plate, and inserted a long-bladed screwdriver to unscrew the draw bolt that fastens the buttstock to the receiver. No go. The draw bolt was frozen tight.
Clamping the stock and receiver in the vice and applying maximum torque to remove the bolt seemed to me a bad idea. The likely outcome was additional damage to the thin walnut where it met the receiver’s face and where the top and bottom tangs are recessed into the stock. I decided to repair the damage without removing the buttstock.
Mixing a couple generous globs of epoxy glue, I coated the chip that I had found, pressed it into the corresponding gap in the buttstock and clamped it for the 10 minutes the epoxy instructions said it would take to glue to bond. That was the easy part.
Setting the stock on the workbench, I measured the dimensions of the gap for which I had no corresponding chip. Then I went out to find a suitable piece of walnut to shape for the replacement piece. Since I have about three cords of walnut stacked in the wood shed, some of it four years old, it was just a matter of matching the wood color as closely as possible.
From a 12-inch piece of firewood I split off a two-inch sliver using a chisel. The gap in the buttstock was, of course, a with-the-grain split and as such an irregular shape. I used a small file and an exacto knife set to make the gap more regular with flat faces and a square end rather then a tapering splinter. I eyed the small split of walnut that would be used for repair, made my best guess, and went to work with the exacto knife blades, file, sandpaper of several grades, and an emory board nail file.
This shape a bit, try it to fit, shape a bit, try it to fit, shape a bit, try it to fit took three hours. And immeasurable patience. Which I do not ordinarily possess.
Eventually I had a replacement chip that fit the gap pretty darn close. The front right corner was a 64th of an inch too low, but I was not about to start all over. I repeated the procedure with the epoxy glue, clamped the chip, prayed, and set aside the buttstock for the night.
Next morning I removed the clamp and began work with 150-grade sandpaper to smooth the chip so that it would be contiguous with the line of the buttstock’s “wrist” or grip. That part of the project seemed to go well, except that I scratched the metal of the receiver when the sandpaper wore its way through the protective layer of masking tape. Damn! Well, if that’s the worst thing to go wrong it’s a minor matter.
The “found” chip side of the trigger plate also required some sanding because it had rough edges. When the shaping was completed, I applied a thin coat of epoxy over the top of the chips on both side of the trigger plate. That was probably a mistake; the glue hardened to an uneven surface that I had to sand off.
I opted to treat both chips and the sanding-scarred surfaces of the wrist with linseed oil. I have no idea how that will work, but it has served well for many minor stock repairs, resulting in a nice glow after many applications.
After allowing two hours for everything to harden and dry, I reattached the barrels and forearm to the BSS and with much dread and anxiety opened it, closed it, and dry-fired it with snap caps a few times, each time cocking the gun to see if the press of the cocking levers against the action and wood might dislodge my repairs. Everything seemed to hold.
These repairs do not look professional, but then there is no longer any professional repair available. Not sure when I will have the courage to test fire this double gun with live ammunition. Maybe never. But I feel I have done right by the old BSS to restore its looks, however roughly, and its workings. At least I will not have to gaze upon it in shame and disgrace each time I look into the gun safe.
And it might go for a good price at my estate sale.