Front Porch — Edition 70
Change Language:
The Story Of Bo-Whoop
Keith Sutton

Allow me to share the intriguing tale of Bo-Whoop, a shotgun once owned by celebrated writer/conservationist Nash Buckingham. When this famed firearm suddenly disappeared 61 years ago, the whole world took notice.<br /> <br /> Buckingham, born May 31, 1880, spent most of his life in Memphis. A talented athlete, he studied law in college but decided he’d rather earn a living as a writer. From the 1930s into the 1960s, he contributed hundreds of articles to such magazines as Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield, regaling readers with tales of outdoor adventure and becoming one of the best-loved outdoor authors of his time. He wrote nine books, all classics of outdoor literature.<br /> <br /> Buckingham devoted his life to conservation. He was a much soughtafter field-trial judge, an expert wingshot who loved quail and waterfowl hunting, and a respected authority on shotguns and shooting.<br /> <br /> In 1921, Western Cartridge Company president John Olin sent Buckingham a 12-gauge for field-testing Western’s new Super-X shotshells. Buckingham liked the gun so much, in 1926, he commissioned the gun’s maker, A.H. Fox Gun Company in Philadelphia, to make a waterfowling model to his specifications. He requested that the barrels be bored by renowned gunsmith Burt Becker.<br /> <br /> Becker built the unique 12-gauge Super-Fox himself. The 32-inch barrels were over-bored to deliver a 90-percent pattern of No. 4 shotAt 40 yards. The gun had a walnut stock, ivory sights, a recoil pad and, at Buckingham’s order, no safety. Vignettes of flying ducks, quail and a fox embellished it. Becker hand-stamped “Made for Nash Buckingham” on the right barrel, “By Burt Becker” on the left, and shipped the gun to Nash in July 1927.<br /> <br /> In Buckingham’s book Hallowed Years, Nash’s friend H. P. Sheldon describes the naming of Bo-Whoop. He and Buckingham were huntingIn east Arkansas. Buckingham had “blinded up” 150 yards from Sheldon.<br /> <br /> “A pair of mallards travelling high and in a hurry went over Nash,” Sheldon wrote. “Both collapsed and after a moment of complete silence the double boom of the big gun came rolling roundly over the marshes. It sounded exactly like two deep solo notes from the brass horn in a symphony orchestra and I mentioned it to Nash when we got back to the lodge, ‘Bo Whoop—Bo Whoop.’”<br /> <br /> Bo-Whoop she was ever after.For 20 years, Buckingham and his beloved Bo-Whoop were virtually inseparable. He wrote about the gun in many of his stories, and thus it became familiar to his vast readership. On December 1, 1948, however, Bo-Whoop vanished.<br /> <br /> After a morning duck hunt near Clarendon, Ark., game wardens met Buckingham and Clifford Green at Green’s car. When he recognized the writer’s name, one warden asked if he might examine the famous Bo-Whoop. Nash consented. But regretfully, someone laid Bo-Whoop on Green’s car during the ensuing conversation. The hunters didn’t notice until miles away on their journey home.<br /> <br /> They returned immediately, retracing their route and searching everywhere. No luck. Buckingham offered a reward, ran ads in newspapers and on radio, and appealed to police and wardens to be on the lookout. His search was fruitless. When he died in 1971, Bo-Whoop still hadn’t surfaced.<br /> <br /> I grew up hunting and fishing in the White River bottoms near Clarendon that Buckingham ennobled in his books. From the early 1970s until last year, each time I drove to and from the area, I wondered if I might be passing near the place where Bo-Whoop rested. I gazed at the old shotgun shacks and wondered if theGun might hang on one’s wall, the owner ignorant of its value. I watched the road ditches, too, and fancied Bo-Whoop might still be laying in one covered in muck and grass, hidden away for more than half a century.<br /> <br /> Several years ago, I wrote a story about the famed shotgun for anInternet publication. Suddenly my inbox was flooded with e-mails saying Bo-Whoop had been found. When the people who contacted me were pressed for details, however, they couldn’t or wouldn’t provide them.<br /> <br /> Then, early this year, I received an e-mail from Mike Fredericks with James D. Julia Inc., a Maine auction house specializing in collectible-firearms sales.<br /> <br /> “I read your article regarding Nash Buckingham’s Bo-Whoop,” he said, “and thought you would like to know its being auctioned at our March firearms sale.” I was astounded. Had Bo-Whoop actually been found?<br /> <br /> Wes Dillon in Julia’s firearms division confirmed the story. “Bo-Whoop really wasn’t lost, just no one knew exactly where it was,” he said. “That is until the late 1950s or early 1960s when, according to a notarized affidavit from the consignor [who wants to remain anonymous], his grandfather purchased this shotgun with a broken stock from an unnamed man for $50. The broken shotgun remained in his grandfather’s closet until his death in 1991 and was passed on to the consignor’s father. It remained in storage for the next 14 years.<br /> <br /> “In 2005, the father decided it was time to have the gun properly repaired. He took it to Jim Kelly ofDarlington, S.C., who informed the father of the shotgun’s history, Nash Buckingham, and how famous both shotgun and man were. Kelly faithfully recreated the broken stock in about a year, and the shotgun went back into storage. In January 2009, the shotgun was handed down to the consignor who, now aware of its history and fame, has decided to allow it to be sold to someone who will appreciate it for what it is and honor the memory of Nash Buckingham and the legend of Bo-Whoop.”<br /> <br /> I imagine Nash Buckingham was looking down from the heavenly hunting grounds on March 15, 2010, scratching his head in disbelief. At the auction, bidding for Bo-Whoop reached $175,000. With the 15-percent buyer’s premium added, the total came to $201,250, the third-highest auction record for an American shotgun.<br /> <br /> The purchaser was Hal B. Howard Jr. Of Palm Beach, Fla., Buckingham’s godson. Howard’s father was Nash’s close friend and hunting companion and often mentioned in Buckingham’s stories.<br /> <br /> Here’s the really nice part of the story. This May, Howard Jr. Donated the gun for permanent display at Ducks Unlimited’s (DU) national headquarters in Memphis. It’s displayed there alongside Bo-Whoop II, a replacement shotgun friends had made for Buckingham after Bo-Whoop disappeared. <br /> <br /> “It is of high sentiment to me,And I thought of all the alternatives,” Howard said in a DU news release.<br /> <br /> “I didn’t want the gun to end up in Kansas City or somewhere else. It’s tied so closely to Memphis and articulated by Nash in his books. It works out very well with DU there. Bo-Whoop belongs in Memphis.”<br /> <br /> I haven’t seen Bo-Whoop yet. However, having long dreamed of holding it in my hands, swinging it upon imaginary ducks in Buckingham’s “tall ones,” I’ll go soon to gaze upon the legendary shotgun.<br /> <br /> I am glad Bo-Whoop resurfaced. We now know more about where it’s been all these years. But the shotgun’s appearance makes me melancholy, too. When I drive near Clarendon where Bo-Whoop disappeared, I no longer will search the ditches for the gun that really wasn’t there or imagine itHanging in one of the many shotgun shacks along the roads, reminders of years past when Buckingham hunted waterfowl there.<br /> <br /> My travels through those river bottoms will never be the same.