As someone who thoroughly enjoys outdoor activities and the opportunities they bring, there is something that can be as elusive as a trophy buck or a monster walleye.
Finding a perfect gift for the most avid of outdoors people.
I understand most of you have probably crossed everything off your holiday list at this point, but if you are struggling to find that last-minute, knock-your-socks-off gift, read on.
And fair warning, you might want to hold on tight.
A colleague of mine informed me about a shotgun for sale at a local gun shop that might be of interest. I was polite and followed along with his story until he said this: “It sells for $75,000.”
I suspected fuzzy math — insert political jokes here — and quickly tried to correct him, saying $750 is more like what a typical shotgun sells for. Maybe, if it is super nice, $7,500.
Nope! The price tag, he insisted, was $75,000.
My brain put my math skills on high alert and I quickly deduced that was about $10,000 more than we paid for our first house.
“Can I live in this gun? Does it have 3 bedrooms, 3½ bathrooms, 5 acres and a Jacuzzi?”
He failed to see my humor, so there was no choice. I had to check it out.
With Tribune photographer Erik Daily as intrigued as I was, we made our way to see Roger Wendling, who started working at Monsoors Sports Shop in La Crosse in 1972, then bought the place in 1982. Wendling knows his guns, inside and out, and what makes some far more special than others.
I nodded a lot, and smiled. I have hunted for more than four decades, so I certainly have an appreciation of shotguns and rifles. I really appreciate the ones that are less than $75,000.
Or I did.
When Wendling carefully removed the German-made Krieghoff from the gun case, it was like he held a Ferrari in his hands. Instantly you could see and appreciate the beautiful hand engraving — 400 hours on just the metal itself — with two gold-plated ducks taking off through a marsh.
The detail of the engraving, from the water, to the trees to the different shades of the clouds, was simply amazing. It wasn’t just the face of the metal that was engraved, but the corners, the top, the bottom.
The man who engraved it — the late Giacomo Badillini, a master engraver from Italy — has his name etched near the trigger guard. Some quick online research revealed that Badillini was world-famous for his engravings. It is easy to understand why the engraving, itself, cost about $40,000 for this gun.
As I found myself mesmerized by the beauty of the engraving, the absolutely gorgeous walnut stock ($10,000 for just the wood) and three different barrels that come with it (20 gauge, 28 and 4.10), I popped the question:
“Can I hold it?”
It was almost as if I was asking to hold a newborn child, you know where the mother quickly says, “be sure and support his/her neck.”
Wendling, sensing that Daily and I were hooked, let us hold, then aim the gun (at the ceiling, of course). This thing had the balance of a high-wire trapeze artist, as it almost floated in your hands.
“Once people look at the engraving, they can understand and appreciate it,” Wendling said. “You have to put it in perspective. I go to a Safari Club gun show in Las Vegas, and there are guns that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars there.”
Wendling compared it to houses, where some people prefer to live in small or modest homes, while others live in mansions. Or cars, where some people prefer a Geo Prizm to a Lamborghini.
Let’s just say I was having champagne taste in a barley pop budget, so I handed the gun back to Wendling.
Wendling wasn’t pushing expensive guns by any means, saying he started working at Monsoors for the sole purpose of saving up enough money for — you guessed it — a gun.
“I started working here so I could afford to buy my first gun, a Browning rifle, for deer hunting,” said Wendling, a La Crosse native who worked as a carpenter before taking over the gun shop.
Nearly 45 years later, he has an appreciation of guns that runs deep. And yes, I know you want to ask: Has Wendling fired the $75,000 shotgun?
Yes, he has.
And no, I didn’t. Not yet, anyway.