The farther away in the past are the best moments of your life, the stronger the memories. I can still remember my first hunt, not in details now but as an emotion. It was a youth hunt with Sverdlovsk hunting club, tutored by Irina Ermakova, a great huntress and mentor. Her worn TOZ-BM hammer side-by-side was the first gun I ever handled. I can still remember its weight, the sounds of hammers brought to full cock, and the awesome impressions of a 15 year old kid first time out in the woods, waiting for woodcock to start its mating flight.
Many years, hunts and guns later, I felt the urge to get and hunt with a hammer double again.
As far as second-hand hammer guns go, Yekaterinburg gun stores mostly offer various models of TOZ: BM, 63, 66 and 54. In one of the stores I got to handle a TOZ-66, and at the same moment the counter and the walls disappeared, the polyphony of songbirds rouse as an accompaniment to a sunset in a spring wood. The stock dimensions and the balance felt perfect, the gun pointed naturally, and I couldn’t let it go, even though the browning on the barrels was nearly gone, and the stock was scratched and worn.
At home I spent a lot of time admiring the purchase, happy as a child. The new-to-me TOZ-66 was made in 1972, and had a letter “У” in the serial number. This, according to Internet gurus, indicates a grade above the standard. As far as bells and whistles go, my gun could boast of engraving in the style of Soviet minimalism. The figures on the lockplates bear a distant resemblance to a pheasant and a woodcock, on the locking lever one could, with a bit of fantasy, identify a goose and a capercailzie, and on the bottom of the action the engraver might have intended to depict a duck. The 12 gauge barrels, choked half and full, are mirror bright, and the mainsprings still go strong.
Before the spring season I had the metal parts re- browned, and the stock refinished. I hadn’t done any reloading for years, so I bought factory ammo, with and without shot cups. My first hunt with this gun was on a woodcock mating flight. I missed the first woodcock, and couldn’t cock the left barrel in time for the second shot. It’s not easy to switch to a hammer side-by-side from a hammerless over-and- under, the sight picture is totally different. I did a few mounts and swings for practice, and tried raising both hammers with one motion, which didn’t really work. Then I heard another woodcock, cocked both hammers one after another – and dropped the bird with the first shot.
In addition to woodcock, in that first spring season with my TOZ-66 I got a few ducks and a capercailzie cock. Then I had the gun restocked in walnut. The new straight-gripped stock improved its looks, and made it handle even better. I had a good time with it hunting black grouse and quail over my wire-haired pointer in the summer.
There was only one problem. When the gun was refinished, the lockplates weren’t tightened enough, and the left hammer was hitting the action on release. That caused a few dry fires. It was fixed when the gun was restocked, but the action still bears traces of this malfunction.
I’m not an expert, but I think my TOZ-66 is well pre- served for its age. After refurbishing it’s ready for alifetime of service. For me, this is a spring season gun. Spring hunts don’t require fast reloading, and there’s always time to cock the hammers. It can work for hunting over pointing dogs, too. With the new stock the gun weighs 3.26 kg, which isn’t too heavy, and there’s time to cock the hammers when the dog points. But I have guns that are better at this job. With 725 mm barrels, TOZ-66 isn’t a long range gun, it works well only within the classic range of 35 meters.
There’s nothing special about this gun. It’s not a problem to find one in good condition at a modest price. To me, this is evidence of the quality of Sovi- et-made hammer guns. Exposed hammers may call for extra attention to safety. For thousands of hunters it was their first gun. TOZ hammer guns aren’t getting more numerous, but there will always be interest to them, from both nostalgic veterans and curious neophytes. Of course, you could call a wish to hunt with a hammer gun a whim, but something changes inside you when you hold it. It’s as if you’ve met an old friend, and the memories of hunts that passed surround you.
Have the TOZ-66 brought me back to the spring woods of my youth? No, you can’t enter the same river twice. But now I have new evenings when I fol- low the last ray of the setting sun, with a hammer gun in my hands.
Originally published in Russian and in condensed English translation in July 2018 issue of Russian Hunting Magazine.