November 03, 2010
A Lady Whose likes I'll Never Meet Again
She said her name was Jane, so that's how I knew her. It wasn't until much later that I learned her last name. During the time I knew her, it was just plain Jane.
I met her during the waterfowl season in California, in the first week of December 1977. I was at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in northern California's Sacramento Valley. I usually spent most of my weekends at Gray Lodge during the waterfowl season at that time. Duck shooting was terrific at that public shooting ground. For a $5 daily entrance fee (today it is $11), you had an opportunity to hunt one of the best waterfowl areas in the West.
In those days you were allowed one reservation per each waterfowl season. The reservations were free, you simply picked a date and filled out a card and mailed it in. If you were drawn, you were allowed to enter Gray Lodge's hunting zone at first light. If you did not have reservations, you took a number and waited until those with reservations left or not all reservation holders showed up. Anyway, except for one reservation for each season, you had to count on getting in through the "sweat line," i.e., sweat it out until your number is called.
I had been fortunate enough to get a reservation for the opening day of the season, so now I had to ride out the rest of the long season on the "sweat line." As I waited for my number to be called, I usually walked around the parking lot, especially in the area where campers and RVs were parked. Usually, those who camped overnight got in on the "first shoot" even if they didn't have reservations, because they could get their number the previous evening. The rules were and still are that once you take your number, you cannot leave the area. If you do, you lose your number.
I was able to learn about the shooting conditions from those who had gotten in early and I met some fascinating characters while waiting in the "sweat line." This day was no exception. It was around ten in the morning, I had gotten there late, and as I walked about the parking lot, I noticed a woman walking with two unusual looking dogs on leash.
My curiosity got the best of me so I approached the woman with the two dogs. Both dogs were liver in color, with some patches of lighter colors here and there. I had heard of Wirehaired Pointing Griffons and had only seen some photographs. Actually the first time I saw a facsimile of a Griffon, it was on a receiver of an expensive Italian shotgun. The engraving description referred to the dog as a Griffon.
"They are Wirehaired Griffons, aren't they?" I asked.
"Yes they are," she replied pleasantly.
The dogs were very well behaved, and as we made small talk I introduced myself giving her my full name. But she responded by simply saying, "I am Jane," nothing more.
She told me that she lived in southern California, in the Los Angeles area and came up to northern California during waterfowl season to shoot ducks. She traveled with her two dogs, no other companion. I was later surprised to learn from one of the game wardens that she had been a regular at Gray Lodge since the early 1960s. I had been at Gray Lodge almost every Wednesday and weekends during the season for the past four years, and this was the first year that I ran into her. I suppose I could have asked the game wardens or others who knew her for her last name, but somehow I never did. She seemed to be such a private person that getting her name from someone else when she didn't offer it herself seemed like a violation of trust.
The Browning Double Auto owned by Jane.
She could have been 40 for all I knew, although I learned later that she was in her 50s. There was a certain aura and grace about her that suggested glamour and mystery. She was a beautiful woman with short chestnut colored hair that framed a classic oval shaped face with a small delicate nose and beautifully shaped lips. She wore no makeup and did not dye her hair, which showed liberal signs of gray. She had gorgeous large dark brown eyes, almost black. She was about five feet five inches tall, I would say. Even in her worn faded jeans, a nondescript flannel shirt and an old baggy man's canvas duck coat, she looked almost glamorous!
She wore absolutely no jewelry. I suppose she took off whatever rings or earrings she normally wore, when she went hunting, I don't know. The only thing she had on was a watch on her left wrist. It was a man's watch, a vintage mechanical movement Omega "Seamaster" with a loose band.
It would have been inappropriate for me to pry, to ask questions, since I was probably young enough to have been her son. So, I just relied on whatever she chose to tell me to put together an image of who I thought she might be.
I saw Jane several times during that waterfowl season and then again the following season. Each time I ran into her it was in the parking lot walking her dogs after she had finished hunting. Every time we chatted she divulged nothing about herself. What I knew about her I learned from others who knew her.
The fact that she drove up from LA area in her camper, with her two dogs to camp out at Gray Lodge and shoot ducks was very unusual. Maybe today one might run into women camping and hunting alone, but back then, it was not common practice.
She drove a Toyota camper, a Toyota pick-up truck with a large fiberglass over the cab camper body. It was a real neat truck, something that I would have loved to own.
Being a gun nut, I asked her what she shot, and she just said "a twelve." She caught me off guard with such a short answer, so I persisted and asked her what kind of a shotgun, what make. She looked at me with an amused expression and said, "It is a Browning," That was all I got out of her. I had no idea whether it was a double gun, or a semi auto. So, I had no idea what kind of a gun she had. I had sort of secretly assumed that it must be a Superposed, possibly a Diana grade, at the very least a Pigeon Grade. I thought that would be fitting for her.
Around the first week in November of 1978, on a Saturday, I got in to shoot at about eight o'clock. I headed for my usual place, a large pond north of parking lot six. When I got to the parking lot, I saw that Jane's camper was already there. I got my gear together and headed out. The pond where I wanted to shoot usually had two small isl
ands available for setting up a blind. If the water level was low, there might be three or four islands sticking up above the water. This day it looked as if there were just two islands in all.
I set up on one island on the far side, farthest from the parking lot. It happened to be a favorite spot where I shot often. I saw that Jane was on an island west of my blind, closer to the parking lot. From where I sat, her blind was clearly visible to me, and it was beautifully silhouetted against the Sutter Buttes.
She had about a dozen decoys set up and from what I could tell, she was having some action. A pair of mallards circled her decoys and she responded by "chuckling" and quacking on a very raspy double reed call. When the birds had set their wings and lowered their feet, she rose from her blind and shot once, dropping the drake cleanly among her decoys.
For whatever reason that day, only teal would decoy my stool. Since there was quite a bit of activity, I had no trouble collecting seven green winged teal, the limit. I collected my decoys and trudged back to the parking lot.
I had parked next to Jane's camper and when I got to the parking lot, she was still there. She had a fat mallard drake and four pintail drakes, and two gadwalls hanging from her game strap. The two griffons, puttering around the parking lot, came over to greet me, inspected my ducks then wandered off.
"She drove a Toyota camper... a real neat truck, something that I would have loved to own"
Jane greeted me and then commented. "I see you had good luck, teal no less!"
"I don't know why but no big birds came my way," I responded, shaking my head in disappointment.
She looked surprised at my response. "I'll take teal any day, they are my favorite ducks!" Then after a pause she added, "If you don't want them I'll trade you my birds for your teal."
I could see that she was serious, so we traded birds. I gave her my teal for her big birds. As we exchanged birds, I saw through the open doorway of her camper, a shotgun lying on top of her old coat. I was surprised to see the discontinued Browning Double Auto and not a Superposed as I had secretly assumed. It was the one gun that I did not expect to see, the Double Auto!
"Is that your gun?" I asked. A silly question.
"Yes," she replied, then without a word she reached back and picked up the gun and handed it to me. It was in excellent shape, clean and looked almost new, a "Twelvette" model. The wood was nice, not fancy but above average, typical of Browning's field models. The stock had a few minor dings and scratches, but otherwise in excellent shape. Surprisingly the length of pull to its original horn butt plate appeared to be uncut. My duck gun, a Browning A-5, had an uncut original stock, and this one felt the same as mine when I shouldered it. I would have thought she had it cut down to fit her. The gun felt light, like an upland gun.
The Browning Double Auto had a curious history. It was introduced in 1952 but discontinued in 1971. It was ahead of its time in design and handling qualities and appearance. But perhaps because it was only a two shot with a side loading port, it never caught on and discontinued after a 19 year run.
I saw Jane a couple of more times before the end of that waterfowl season. We chatted some more but I didn't learn much. Jane's personal life was always shrouded in mystery.
I left California shortly after that season so I was never able to see or talk to Jane again. Through the years, from time to time, I thought about that mysterious woman with a pair of well-behaved Griffons and the Browning Double Auto.
A few years ago while browsing around a small gun shop on the outskirts of Los Angeles, I noticed a Browning Double Auto in a rack next to some other used guns. I asked the gun shop owner to see the gun and he handed it to me. The gun was in fine shape and looked almost exactly as I remembered Jane's gun. I remarked to the shop owner that the gun appeared to be in fine shape.
"Yeah, I know," he said. "I got it in an estate sale along with some other guns. It used to belong to a woman, a strange reclusive lady who used to hunt and shoot a lot. I understand it was her favorite gun."
I was dumb struck. "Was her name Jane by any chance?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said, "How did you know? It was Jane, Jane McCall."
The gun shop owner seemed to know a lot about her, so I asked him about Jane McCall. He told me that Jane was widowed in the 1960s. Her husband, who died in a plane crash, was a big shot with one of the Hollywood studios. He apparently was a hunting fanatic and the two of them shot all over the place. After he died, she didn't remarry, lived alone and continued to hunt and shoot. They didn't have any children so everything in her estate went up for sale when she died.
"How much for the gun," I asked the gun shop owner.
The owner named the price, which was quite reasonable. If truth were known, I would have paid twice the asking price without hesitation. He said that whereas the A-5s were easy to sell, the Double Auto did not move. He had that gun for several years now so he had lowered the price.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would find Jane's gun in any gun shop, let alone that particular one. I happened to be in Los Angeles and was a bit early for my appointment so I had popped-in the gun store. I had not planned on buying a gun, but I walked out of there with Jane's favorite gun, the one that I saw her use some 30 odd years ago, and I finally learned her full name.