I have always been one who loved guns. My father started taking me dove hunting with him when I was very small. I was his "bird dog." When he would kill a dove, I would be the one to go get it. Later, when I was fourteen, he decided to trust me with a shotgun in the field. After giving me intensive instructions on handling a firearm properly, he let me take a single shot .410 dove hunting. We went out to a man's farm on the West side of Tifton. He was also a deputy sheriff for the county. It was on this bird shoot that I killed my first bird flying. It was a "field lark" or better known as a Meadow Lark. I remember that I was standing right next to a very tall South Georgia pine. This field lark came flying over the tree from the left to the right. He went behind the tree and I decided to shoot him when he came out from behind the crown of the tree. When he emerged I lowered the boom on him with my mighty .410 single shot. Down he came. I was elated that I had actually hit a flying bird for the first time. He was taken home just like the doves and dressed for the table. One dresses a field lark like one would dress a quail. They are skinned just like a quail. Their meat is white, just like a quail. They eat primarily grain so the meat is good. They actually look like a quail when dressed and they also taste like one. He ate real good!
Well, anyway, I loved guns from an early age. When I was about sixteen years old, I made the acquaintance of a man who really impacted my life. His name was Sam Christian and he was the local gunsmith. He was more than a gunsmith; he was an artist at reconditioning old guns. Mr. Christian, as I called him, could take a rough looking old gun and when he was through with it, it would be gorgeous....looking better than when it was new. Mr. Christian asked me if I would like to work with him some. Of course, I was elated and said "yes." So, I would go by after school and work with him. He taught me a lot about guns and even let me work on some of them after I had learned the "ropes." It was fascinating work and I couldn't get enough of it. We worked on all kinds of guns; shotguns, rifles and handguns. We serviced some really expensive guns as well as cheaper ones. I remember that when President Eisenhower would go to Bainbridge, Georgia to shoot quail on the plantations down there, the Secret Service would bring the set of guns he used for us to inspect them and make sure they were safe for him to use. There was a complete matching set of very expensive shotguns. The set included a 12 gauge, a 16 gauge, a 20 gauge and a wonderfully beautiful .410. We took then apart, looked at the barrels, inspected the stocks and approved them for the President's use. The Secret Service agent would come back by in a day or two and pick up the guns. The same thing would happen when the President would come back each year to hunt quail in South Georgia.
The fun part came on Saturdays. We would go out to Mr. Christian's cabin on Gun Lake. This lake was no more than a widening of the Alapaha River but that widening made a lake about one-third mile long and about sixty yards wide. We would spend most of the day out on Gun Lake shooting the guns we had worked on that week to make sure that they were working right before we gave them back to the customer. We would hang cans, milk cartons and other things for targets across on the other side of the sixty yard wide lake. We hung them on wires on the low hanging limbs of the bay trees which lined the river. I have often wondered how many shots were fired on such a day and how many I fired during the two years I worked with Mr. Christian. We didn't use ear protection in those days and my ears still ring today because of all that noise. Mr. Christian owned an original single action 1872 Colt Peacemaker. It shot a .45 long Colt cartridge and it was extremely loud although fun to shoot. It, along with his .38 caliber Smith and Wesson K-38 were my favorite guns to shoot. I also fell in love with the German Luger in 9 mm. It was a masterpiece of precision and design. Fun to shoot.
I remember Mr. Christian's cabin. Rustic, wonderfully rustic. He had a refrigerator in the large open room with a fireplace. In that refrigerator he kept a supply of Dr. Pepper drinks and I always make sure I got one or more while we were there. One thing we loved to do was to ride the edges of the river and shoot Moccasins from the limbs of the bays hanging over the water's edge. They would climb up in the bays and sun or just rest wrapped all around a limb. We would eliminate dozens of them every Saturday. Sometimes we would have a close call with one as he fell in the boat but we always survived such an encounter.
We also would shoot gars in the river. They would eat the good sport fish and all the fishermen who lived on Gun Lake wanted them eliminated. The favorite gun for such shooting was a .30 caliber carbine. It was the military arm used primarily in the Korean War. Sweet shooting gun. Very little recoil. Mr. Christian had customized the stock on the gun somewhat. He had also finished it in a blond color. It was a beautiful gun when he got through with it. We would climb a scaffolding which was constructed between two tall pines and sit there waiting for the gar to come to the surface to sun. They would be so close to the surface that their dorsal fins would stick out of the water. We learned that if you aimed just below the point where his snout joined his head and hit him at that point, he would do a back flip out of the water. The reason for aiming just below our desired target was because of the refraction of the water. But, if you hit him just right, he would put on his back flip display. We would sometimes shoot a dozen or so. A real adventure for a teenager who loved guns. One day when we were navigating Gun Lake, we went into a slough that led out of the lake on the western side. The slough was about twenty feet wide. A friend of mine was sitting in the middle seat with Mr. Christian in the front seat. I was in the back running the small motor and I had the trusted .30 carbine at my side loaded and ready in case it was needed. Suddenly, my friend, said LOOK!!! On the right side of the boat there was a large coyote standing on the bank and looking at us in a threatening way. It looked as if he was going to jump in the boat. I remember that the long hair around his neck stood straight out making him look huge. Mr. Christian said: "shoot him, Bill." I grabbed the carbine and shot the coyote right between the eyes. He, of course, immediately collapsed and the danger was over. That was the first time I ever saw a coyote in real life. They were already beginning to come into our part of the country even in the late fifties.
Gun Lake has a special place in my memories. Years later, my Pastor, Dr. Charles Parker, acquired that same cabin on Gun Lake. We used to go out to the lake every Wednesday morning and shoot snakes. We sometimes killed a hundred or more. We had a wonderful day of fellowship every Wednesday for many months. I don't know why the snake population wasn't reduced more than it was remembering how many we eliminated. I remember that they would float down to the end of Gun Lake and the buzzards had a feast on the sand bar. Terrible smell but a feast for the buzzards.
I haven't been to Gun Lake in many years now but my trips out there with Mr. Christian and Brother Parker are indelibly etched in my mind. Great days of fun on Gun Lake will always be remembered.
William F. Harrell