As the son of a Sevastopol school history teacher, Greg Meissner rebelled and claimed he hated history. But once he learned about the long and storied past of one of his favorite pastimes, hunting, that changed.
“I didn’t like history but I found some of these things I enjoyed – that aspect of the history and heritage,” said Meissner.
He narrowed down the history and heritage to an extensive collection of gadgets used to reload shotguns in the early decades of the gun’s use. Meissner will share his collection and the stories behind an era where hunting was a way of life and business at the Door County Historical Society’s monthly dinner program on Sept. 25.
“Many of these go back to the late 1800s and run through the 1930s to ‘40s,” Meissner said of his collection.
When the shotgun first came on the scene in the mid-1860s, factories sold all of the components to reload the shells and left hunters to figure it out on their own. Good hunters not only fed themselves plentifully, but also financially as they were the ones tracking down the goods everyone needed.
“You have six different operations you need to do in order to get it from an empty shell and so there’s all kinds of tools that were developed,” said Meissner, adding that few hunters today would know how to reload their own shotgun shells.
Meissner, a Sturgeon Bay native, grew up hunting in Dunes Lake just down the road, and up in Iron County. But it wasn’t until a 1970s trip to see some friends in Bozeman, Montana that he would find the start of what would become a lifelong hobby.
“One of my friends out there was an antique, old gun type of guy,” said Meissner. “We were sitting there playing sheepshead and one of the fellas playing cards with us said the sheriff is having a garage sale down the road. He had some things he had collected through the years and so he had some old shotshell boxes and that kind of started it then.”
Meissner’s wife, Marsha, helped the hobby along when she bought a whole bench of reloading tools from a former dentist in South Dakota after the couple stopped there on another trip from Montana.
Shotgun shells come in different sizes, or gauges, that all require their own special tools for reloading. Meissner said the tools for the largest shells, the 410 (for four-tenths of an inch), are difficult to find and the most prized of his collection.
Since beginning his collection in the 1970s, Meissner has found the process is a bit like hunting itself, just with fewer explosions.
“You find after a while when you gather these tools together, you’ve taken these artifacts that were scattered across the country and bring them all in one place and it’s much easier for other people to enjoy them and see this history,” he said. “The fun part is the hunting of all of these pieces.”
Meissner expects his presentation will not only appeal to hunters, but also to historians who recognize just how integral the sport of hunting was to the culture and life of 18th century Americans.
“These probably aren’t a real well known collectible in the hunting field,” said Meissner. “A lot of hunters aren’t even familiar with them…I enjoy the history aspect of it, how those things evolve from those early days into what we have as reloading today.”
Meissner will present “Collectible Shotshell Reloading Tools & Hunting Accessories” on Monday, Sept. 25 at the Alpine Resort in Egg Harbor. The reservation deadline is Monday, Sept. 18. The cost for dinner and the program is $21 for Society members and $25 for guests. Cost for the program alone is $5. Dinner is at 6pm and the program begins at 6:45. For further information, contact the Door County Historical Society at 920.421.2332 or [email protected].