Tonks 12-GaugeClick to Enlarge
There is little information about the lineage of the “Old Tonks” that William Harnden Foster’s grandfather, Everel Harnden, “laid aside” for the 16-gauge shotgun pictured in the next series of photos. The gun is mentioned but briefly in New England Grouse Shooting. Joseph G. Tonks and his brother Alfred were gunmakers located in Boston, Massachusetts. Although better known for field-grade workingman’s shotguns, there were a number of higher-grade Tonks guns, likely made for wealthy sportsmen. The 12-gauge Damascus-steel-barreled gun appears to be one of these higher-grade versions. However, Everel being a stone mason, trapper and market hunter by occupation—and in keeping with a sensible amount of New England thrift—it is likely the Tonks was acquired through barter, as Foster suspected about “The Little Gun” as well.
Parker 16-GaugeClick to Enlarge
The 16-gauge pictured here is one of enduring legends in American wingshooting, made famous as “The Little Gun” in the first chapter of New England Grouse Shooting. It was completed in November 1889 at the Parker Bros. factory in Meriden, Connecticut—a decade after Parker first made a 16-gauge shotgun. The hammer gun weighted six and a half pounds, which was considered wondrous at the time. Its barrels were made in Belgium of Damascus steel. It shot black-powder loads. When Foster was 12, he wrapped “The Little Gun” in a blanket under the seat of a horse-drawn wagon and went grouse hunting with Uncle Gene and their bird dog Tick. William was permitted to load only one shell at a time. That’s all he needed. That eventful day he cocked the right hammer on “The Little Gun,” watched a brown bird rocket out of the the white pines, and pulled the trigger. Years later, Foster called the 16-gauge, now retired to his gun room, “bright and smooth.” It was still, he wrote fondly, “a sweet gun, clean lined and truly balanced and more. . . .”
Parker 28-GaugeClick to Enlarge
Later in life, when Foster was in his 50s, this hammerless Parker DHE 28-gauge double was one of his favorite grouse guns. It is a fine example of the sleek, lightweight shotguns that became fashionable following World War I. Previously, imported Damascus-steel barrels required three skilled craftsmen to forge by hand; they were becoming increasingly expensive. With the advent of nitro or “smokeless” powder, American manufacturers claimed that the new loads were unsafe if shot out of Damascus barrels. The real reason was plain old Yankee ingenuity: fluid-steel barrels were much cheaper to manufacture domestically. William Harnden Foster’s 28-gauge was one of the modern designs. It was shipped from from the Parker factory in August 1934. It had 26-inch barrels on a 00 frame, a single selective trigger, a splinter fore-end and straight-grip stock. Shooting dimensions are 14-1/16 inches length-of-pull to the skeleton butt plate, with a two-inch drop at heel and one-and-and-a-half-inch drop at comb, and no cast at heel. The little Parker 28 weighs five pounds 12 ounces. Chokes measure right .007 or improved cylinder and left .017 or modified.