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Barrel Biz

Work: David E. Pidgeon, gun shop owner, New Haven


Published November 2, 2011 at 9:22 a.m.


In autumn, hunting seasons tumble one after the other — moose, bear, duck, deer. It’s usually the busiest time of year inside Pidgeon’s Gun Shop, an unassuming beige house on Route 7 in New Haven.

Down a flight of stairs adorned by vintage posters of Remingtons and Winchesters, David E. Pidgeon presides over a cornucopia of guns, as he has for 52 years. Along one wall of his subterranean shop lean sleek rifles and bulky shotguns, many covered in camouflage patterns. On another wall are hundreds of boxes of bullets and containers of musket powder. Inside a long glass case are handguns — from squarish Glocks to an 1877 Colt Derringer .22 short to a dainty pink pistol.

Pidgeon, 70, also maintains a machine shop with lathes, a drill press, a belt sander and a wall of hand tools. He works on guns most mornings, and sometimes well into the night after the shop closes — cutting and crowning barrels, installing muzzle breaks, polishing. The lifelong New Haven resident has been a hunter since he was a teenager and is a high-level member of the National Rifle Association. He also served on the board of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department under former governor Richard A. Snelling.

On the eve of Vermont’s deer-hunting season, we caught up with Pidgeon inside his firearms mecca.

SEVEN DAYS: Why did you start working with guns so young?

DAVE PIDGEON: I was raised down the road on a [dairy] farm. I’d just graduated from high school, and I could see there was no financial future in farms. I started fixing guns, and I did it in the evenings until 1986, when I sold the farm. It was something I wish I had done 20 years earlier. A guy named Cary Marshall showed me how [to be a gunsmith], because I was just a young man. His brother, George Marshall, taught me a million times more.

SD: What was your first gun?

DP: A U.S. Springfield Model 1903 in caliber .30-06. I made shots with that gun that were unbelievable. I took my first deer with it. I can well remember a time that my father and I saw a deer, and he asked, “Do you think you can hit it?” I said, “Haven’t you seen me hit the woodchucks?” The poor deer was dead and didn’t even know it yet.

SD: Do you still have the gun?

DP: I do. I hope they put it in my casket.

SD: What does gunsmithing entail?

DP: You’ve got to learn how every gun works — the action of it, the bolt assembly, the safety, the triggers. Most guns are alike in some respect. You also have to learn how to make certain parts. Guys come up here goose hunting and they break a firing pin and so I have to make it, because they can’t wait for it. I also do a lot of adjustments. Sometimes people want a lighter trigger pull.

SD: What equipment do you use?

DP: I learned the old way, and I do it by hand. I use a drill press, and this here’s a lathe, where I trim and thread barrels. [Pulls back a tarp.] This lathe was made in South Bend, Ind., in 1950. It has a small chuck and a tailstock. I think the world of it, so I keep it covered. It’s a great, great machine for small stuff.

SD: What is your clientele like?

DP: They come from everywhere. A lot come from New York. I get farmers, construction workers, electricians. I get some doctors and pharmacists, but mostly it’s working people. The last five years have seen a tremendous increase in the female gender. Then, [gunsmithing] orders come from all over the world. I’ve had people from Russia and China send me stuff.

SD: Has the recession impacted business?

DP: When they blew up that [Crown Point] bridge, I saw a 25 percent drop. And this year from July has been the worst I’ve ever seen. People need gas, food, medicine, a vehicle to go to work. Guns are for disposable income. During hunting season, I’ve had it so you couldn’t get through that door. Look: There’s no one here.

SD: What do you say to people who come in to buy handguns for self-defense?

DP: Right here is a good test: when someone comes into your home, if you haven’t got the fortitude to pull the trigger and shoot, don’t buy a handgun. Buy mace. Because he’s going to have a gun, too, and he’s going to use it. So you should, too.

SD: How do background checks work?

DP: You have to show a piece of identification [drivers license or passport] showing your residence. The federal [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] tells you yes or no in two minutes.

SD: How many no’s do you get?

DP: Three or four a year.

SD: But then there’s always the black market.

DP: There’s also something that not a lot of people know — any gun made before 1898 is not considered to be a firearm. Anybody who is a felon, or mentally disturbed, can legally buy and own any gun made before then. That leaves four years of Winchesters.

SD: Has anyone ever tried to rob this place?

DP: No. And if I catch them, they’re dead. No questions. You can put that in print.

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