I was borned right here in these mountains, and since I was a boy I’ve knowed ever trail within twenty-five mile. My pappy were a gunsmith afore me and he teached me the trade.
Pappy were the best gunsmith in four counties, and I wouldn’t swap one of them ole muzzle-loaders fer all the britch-Ioading guns in the state. My pappy made the iron fer the barrels, and locks, and triggers. These mountains is jes full of iron are.
Fer a rifle-gun we’d start with a iron rod, little smaller than the bore we wanted; then we’d beat red-hot strips ’round and ’round that iron bar. It would all weld together and we’d drill out the bore to make it smooth.
Pappy taught me all he knowed, but I made ‘provements. I got to making the shotguns lighter. I fixed a drill what could be ‘spanded as it went in toward the britch, so’s the barrels was choke-bored. This kept the shot from spreading and made the range longer.
Well, as I say, them mountains was all full of iron. Natcherly all the plants, and grass, and greenery that growed in the mountains had iron in ‘em, though I didn’t know that made any diff’rence till I made my bestest gun, what I called Ole Bessie.
Feller came to my shop one day and asks me did I ever use magnetic iron. I never heered tell of magnetic iron, but he says it’s the strongest and toughest of all iron and he’ll send me a bar of it. He did, and it were a pretty piece of iron-close-grain, with a fine blue shine to it. I knowed this were to be my bestest gun and I put all my skill into making it.
I fixed on a 8-gauge, which is over a 1-inch bore. I choked it heavier than airy one I ever made. It had a 44-inch barrel. First time I drawed down on a buck deer at a hunner yards the deer were tore all to pieces. I saw right away this were a extry-long range gun. So I upped the range, but even at 300 yards the game were tore up.
I stretched the range more and more, and I suspeck something quare about Ole Bessie. It never did miss what I were aiming at. I got me a spyglass to spy game far off enough so’s the shot wouldn’t tear up the meat.
When I drawed a bead I’d feel the gun pulling a little thisaway or that and I’d let Bessie have her way, pull the trigger, and go get my game.
I couldn’t figger it, so I axed the school-perfessor at Hollow Crick, and what do you suppose that perfessor feller says? He says it’s all according to the laws of physic, though I don’t see what castor oil has got to do with Ole Bessie.
He says all them animals been feeding on things growed full of iron. That puts iron in the critters, and the iron in the critters draws the bead on my magnetic gun barrel.
As I say, it don’t make sense to me, and I believe that gun’s charmed. Anyway one day I loaded Ole Bessie up with buckshot and rammed it in good and went up into the bear country right back of Round Bald.
Finally I picked up a big bear through my spyglass. He was feeding in the open. I took dead aim, felt Bessie right herself, and pulled the trigger. In about five minutes I see the bear roll over. I started off to get my meat, but even without stopping it were noon two days later afore I got to him. He were dead so long that the meat were spoilt.
Well, I could see it’s no use killing meat I couldn’t use, and I had to think up a way to get around that. Then I had a idee.
Next time I went hunting I loaded Ole Bessie with half buckshot and half rocksalt. I were way back of Ole Roan when I sighted a deer with the spyglass. Same as usual I cut down, and the deer kicked over.
When I came up on that buck I found the salt had done a good job of curin’ the meat. So then me and Bessie went out hunting any ole time, shooting game as we seed it, letting it lie until we get in that neighborhood. It sure saved a lot of time and trouble.
In a few years they begun opening up iron mines and digging the iron out of them hills. Don’t know whether it were that, or Ole Bessie began wearing out, or what, but I took to missing so bad I give the ole gun away. Mebbe that perfessor-feller were right.
‘Sure-shot Bessie,’ from “Bundle of Troubles, and other Tarheel Tales,” by Workers of the Writers’ Program of the WPA in North Carolina, edited by W.C. Hendricks, Duke University Press, 1943