« Our Supreme Moment | Main | Video: On Guns and Nuts »

March 21, 2008

This page has been moved to http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/gun-nut

If your browser doesn’t redirect you to the new location, please visit The Gun Nut at its new location: www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/gun-nut.

On Dear Days Gone By

In 1969 the sublimely talented, infinitely wise, yet somehow tragically misunderstood Jack O'Connor wrote a very good book of reminiscences called Horse and Buggy West. It was about his boyhood in Arizona in the early 20th century. If I may be permitted, I would like to do a little of that here.

I grew up near the New Jersey shore, not far from Asbury Park, which produced Bruce Springsteen*. In the 1950s, as you strolled down the boardwalk, you could hear a distinctive crack…clang….crack…clang, and you knew you were near the shooting gallery.

Shooting galleries have just about passed from the American scene, but for a kid who was crazy about guns, they were heaven on earth. You gave the degenerate behind the counter 25 cents and he would slide ten greasy .22 Shorts into a tube-magazine pump gun. Then you popped away at knockdown steel targets that just sat there, or paraded by on a conveyor belt, and if you hit with all ten shots, you got a cheesy prize.

For kids like me who were not allowed to have guns, it was the only chance we got to handle a real firearm aside from summer-camp programs, and it was pure magic. Now these places are no more. A shooting gallery is a place where junkies gather, or it is a video game. No more wonderful smell of gunpowder; no more slick slide actions chained to the counter top. Liability problems, you know. And it might give youngsters hostile feelings toward steel silhouettes of ducks.

*Bruce Springsteen has always baffled me. At the time this narrative took place, a popular male singer was a good-looking guy who could actually sing and whose lyrics you could actually understand. Perry Como qualified. Vic Damone and Eddie Fisher made the cut, as did Tony Bennett. Mr. Springsteen seems like a decent enough person, but he qualifies on none of the three counts.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference On Dear Days Gone By:



Rick Springfield? Shoulda stayed in the soaps.


I too enjoyed the shooting galeries and now Battenfeld is bring back a portable version that should be at your dealer by Summer.

Tsrgets can be set to move or not and they reset. Only for .22s but it should be a blast.



Living in rural Southern Illinois, we had the galleries up into the '70s at the county fair. You had to figure out on the first shot how badly the sights had been moved around and then hold accordingly to hit anything! Great times. As far as Msr. Springstein goes, I was a KISS fan! The louder and wilder the better!


October 1965, Dallas, Texas. The State Fair of Texas.
I finally got to go without family. As a FFA Greenhand, we all got to go to the "state fair". Everyone HAD to at least make a sashay through the agriculture "Barn", then on to the Midway.
The shooting gallery had the little Browning semi-auto's that shot shorts only, if I'm not mistaken, still refered to as a "Gallery" Model.
I almost spent all my "State Fair Corndog" money there!
Upon returning home, I told my dad about the little .22 and how well it handled! We went to Babcock Bros on Spring St where the clerk produced the very gun. And it only cost, oh, I don't really remember, but it was something like $69.95. My dad absolutely had a fit. There was no way in the world he was spending that much money on a .22 when a Remington Target Master was somewhere in the neighborhood of $15.
And I'm sorry about the music. Like Barbara Mandrell, "I was country when country wasn't cool!" The remainder of my age group was listening to Beatles, The Stones, Eric Byrd and the Animals. I was still stuck on Johnny Cash, Jim Ed Brown, Eddy Arnold, Texas Ruby......
I could go on and on!


Dr. Ralph

Show me Jim... what about those pigeons? Are they all dark meat like doves? I've shot thousands but never eaten one. There was an orphanage in our town just outside the city limits and they had a pig farm and all the pigeons that roosted in the city came out and ate the pig feed and defecated all over everything at his farm... my dad was their vet (for free as a community service)so he volunteered to help solve the problem. Every time we were out going from farm to farm working and drove by the orphanage we would pull up next to the barn, get out with loaded shotguns and walk out the back of the barn. We would back up slowly into the hog slop and as soon as all the birds on the roof of the barn spotted us they would take flight and we would unload our guns into a sea of pigeons. To my amazement when the birds fell to the ground the pigs would run for them and fight over the meat. That was the best part for me, seeing a hog grab a bird and take off running while the others chased the one with the bird and literally ripped it apart. Talk about a shooting gallery!

Rosalita jump a little higher, Rosalita come sit by my fire... I just wanna be your lover ain't no liar, Rosalita you're my stone desire. The only lover I'm ever gonna need is your soft sweet little girl's tongue, 'cause Rosie you're the one!

Dr. Ralph

I almost forgot, I had a friend from Louisiana who was a self professed coon-ass and he swore the best tasting bird in the world was a Robin. He ate them often.


Up here in the sticks, I usuallu listened to WLS 89 in Chicago. But often I would crank the dial over to KAAY in Little Rock AR. They played BJ THomas and Percy Sledge a lot. One thing really neat about that era was that you heard all kinds of music. WLS could play something by the Beatles, then something by Buck Owens or Johnny Cash. Even a lot of folk and some bluegrass made it. I like it all.
Fos some reason, I don't think AM stations have that kind of range anymore.
As to shooting, the only time we got to do shoot at moving targets was the midway at the fair. Boy, those rifles were bad.

Jim in Mo.

Dr. Ralph,
I swear you simmer those birds in a pot of dumplings and it is great eating.
I've never been to England but I'm told a delicacy there is squab which is a very young pidgeon.

Jim in Mo.

Dr. R,
Forgot to answer your question. Yes, they are like an overgrown dove. But we only shot the ones that were constantly in the grain fields, I'm sure it helped the taste.


Thanks Bubba, you got to love The Man in Black! And I dont care what anyone says, I love when I hear Elvis singing Fools Rush In.


"On his right hand Billy tattooed the word love, and on his left hand was the word fear, and which hand he held his fate,--was never clear" THE BOSS

Jim in Mo.

Dr. R.
Concerning your friend. I don't think he was pulling your leg. I've heard the same thing about Robins but I just couldn't do it. Besides gettin in trouble I get a kick seeing them patrol the yard.
You know thinking about it, worms and insects are very high protein. Your friend may be on to something.


Dave: You forgot the greatest male singer that lived; Frank Sinatra.



Jim in Mo.

All you guys forget the Everly Bros.? That was music.


For me those days would mean 80's rock, stock cars, and guns. Back when I could still hear a gobbler over 100 yards away.:)


ShowMe Jim:
The Everly Brothers were exactly what I was talking about. They could've been played on every readio station at that time. I think they were rock n roll, but they easily could be country. I still remember seeing them perform, in their USMC uniforms, on the Ed Sullivan Show. I hope they're not fighting anymore.

Jim in Mo.

Sorry, but I hear them brothers still don't talk to each other. What a damn shame. One of the Beatles actualy said that they deliberatly tried to harmonize like the E. Bros. when they (B's)started out.
They (Everley B.) sold out Albert Hall when they played and could do so today.


Dr. Ralph-a Springsteen fan? Right on!


I can tell you from bitter experience that robins are NOT the best for food. In 1951 I was 11yrs. old, and had been given a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, had shoot it a lot, and was pretty good with it. I killed many English sparrows and some starlings, and my dad would brag on me to my uncle and athers. But he set some rules as to what I could shoot, and one of those rules was to never shoot at a songbird. Well I interpreted that to mean mockingbirds,cardinals,bluebirds, and a few others. Oppertunity presented to take a long shot at a robin, and I hit it in the head, and killed it stone dead. I took it home to show my dad, BIG mistake. He said OK, you killed it, now clean it, because you're going to eat it for supper. I cleaned it, and mom wouldn't cook it, so I had to cook it. It boiled for 4hrs. Supper time, I was starved, and all I had on my plate was this chunk of what looked like, and chewed like, rubber. Dad said I wasn't getting anything else to eat until I ate "that poor robin". After chewing on it for a long time without being able to swallow any, my mom said to dad maybe we could let him eat it for breakfast, and go ahead and eat some supper. Dad (apparently)grudgingly, said ok, but eat it he will. I am 68, and have killed many birds,deer, squirrels,rabbits,six elk,thousands each of ground squirrels and rockchucks, but have NEVER shot at another robin. Every time I see one I remember the way my dad said "that poor robin", and I just admire the fact that that one at least is still eating worms, and not in my pot boiling.


Four and Twenty Blackbirds baked in a pie...........
Like many of you I was a crack shot with a .22 when I was 8 or 10. It only took 10 rounds at a shooting gallery to convince me that the thing was rigged. So from then on I saved my money.
I liked all music pretty much, Elvis, all rock & roll, all country.
My Italian step dad who was an excellent hunter and cook, told me that Robins were great eating. So I decided to try some. He was not wrong. Pick and clean, soak in saltwater for a few hours, rinse and pat dry. Season them with Italian seasoning and roast them for about 30 min or so at about 300 degrees. As good a bird as you will find. Now don't go out and shoot all the Robins. But you'll know they would do in a survival mode.

retired waycar rider

Dave, Out here in the high plains we always had a shooting galley at the county fair up till the mid 70's--always a fun place to spend a little time and money. I grew up on Big Bands, Bob Wells, Hank Williams, Grand Old Opery--- saturday night on the radio--- Bing, Frank, Bob Crosby---Bing's brother---we always had a 22 and a 410 setting by the door on the back porch, never locked any of the doors and slept well at night. After I returned from that little police action in 1953 I bought a winchester model 69A---what a great shooter---still have it by my back door. At our summer place on the Platte River, we can still shoot most anything in season from the back porch---squirrels, turkeys, deer, etc.--- thank goodness our world out here still doesn't turn as fast as your world back east, but I'm afraid my grand children will find things different when they get to my age. I've eaten robins too--not bad if you take it slow and easy with the cooking part.


I have one sister nine years my senior!
She and I fought over the radio constantly. She listened to Frankie Avalon, Tommy Sands and the like. Me? It was so long ago I can barely remember, my dad took the family to the Louisiana Hay Ride in Shreveport when I was about 4 or 5. I can't remember "any" of the acts, but can still vaguely hear the music, standing in my seat so I could see! It was awesome!


Steve M

Having done a lot of my growing up in Cape May, NJ I remember going to Wildwood and enjoying the shooting galleries there (along with those most succulent of delicacies - boardwalk fries). Considering the current state of NJ political thinking, I could just imagine the hysteria that a shooting gallery would ellicit.

You can keep the Patron Saint of New Jersey. He has just become a whining limosine liberal like his west-coast movie star pals.

SD Bob

In my youth during the early to mid 80's we had no shooting galleries. Instead my friend and I gave the local rabbit populations hell for being rabbits. We lived on the edge of town, about a 400 yard walk to punish those evil bunny do-ers. We'd grab our shotty guns and walk right down the middle of the street of the development. Police were commonly seen and would stop and ask for advice on where the rabbits were so they could hunt when they weren't working. Now when I visit my parents in Michigan and drive down those same streets, I can't imagine how quick the police would show if two 14 year old boys were doing the same? You can bet they wouldn't be asking where the rabbits are!

Our Blogs