A gunsmith’s gunsmith

It is easy to say that someone’s passing marks the end of an era. Truly, though, the passing last month of Bradford gunsmith, Bill Morrison, at age 94, without a doubt marks the closing chapter of his unique breed of craftsman.

When it came to guns, repairing them, creating them and appreciating them, Morrison was, in the eyes of his customers and friends, an icon. Some contend that he was the best gunsmith in New England, if not the country. If dedication and time invested in craft, as well as skill and expertise, is a yardstick, Morrison earned his reputation as a consummate gunsmith. He loved his work, and never took a vacation, working in his gun shop seven days a week morning and night for 76 years! Friends say he often worked in his shop until the wee hours of the morning.

As I recall, just walking into his gun shop was in and of itself an experience. To the untrained eye, it was visual confusion, if not chaos. Guns and gun parts were strewn about on every shelf and work bench. There were oily rags, tools, everything — it seemed like — that ever made it to his shop during his lifetime of working on guns. A first-time visitor had reason to wonder if the gun he left for repair would ever see the light of day again, let alone be fixed. But Bill had a system. He and he alone knew where everything was and it was a rare gun that he could not repair.

Possibly, owing to his eternal presence in his gun shop, the gunsmith never seemed to be in a hurry and always took the time to indulge his second talent, shop talk and telling stories. “The man could swear nonstop for 20 minutes, and never use the same word twice,” recalls Don DeLuck from Hampden, who considered Morrison “a coach, a father and a friend.”

“When I first met Bill back in the 1970s,” DeLuck recalls, “I owned a couple of guns, a rifle and a shotgun. I thought that was all I needed. As I became good friends with Bill, I began to look at guns in a new way, and wound up owning dozens of different firearms. Before I bought a gun, I took it to Bill for a once-over. Bill knew his guns and he kept me from being burned on a gun buy many times.”

Morrison was an expert marksman, who also enjoyed deer hunting. “He’d hang a deer in his barn in late fall and simply hack off a cut of venison for the fry pan when he had a mind to,” says DeLuck.

The Bradford gunsmith was fascinated with guns at an early age. He got his start in Bangor during the 1950s at a sporting goods store repairing firearms. He soon opened his own gun repair shop as a teenager.

“He was a genius, who could create his own  gun from scratch,” says DeLuck. Peter Anderson, former gun writer for the Northwoods Sporting Journal, who knew Morrison and hired him to make some gun barrels, says, “He was a real craftsman of the old school who took pride in his work.”

What was Morrison’s favorite gun? According to DeLuck, the Bradford man most prized his Merkel.

Good gunsmithing, in my opinion, was just part of what made Bill Morrison a special individual and a hallmark man of his era. Moreover, it was an outlook, an approach to life and work that is fading fast from the American scene, not unlike like the fading cowboy of the late 19th century. He had a work ethic that was as solid and impermeable as the steel gun barrels on his shop lathe. He took time for people, and he seemed to have no interest in getting rich. According to DeLuck, he kept a ledger of who owed what, but he never tried to collect what was owed him or hit customers up for old debts. There was no pretense. No receptionist. No computers. No long forms to fill out. He fixed guns, period.

Morrison was the Real McCoy. The man, and his era, will be missed.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and co-host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3). He is also a former information officer for the Maine Department of Fish and Wildlife. His email address is [email protected] He has three books, “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook,” “Backtrack” and his latest, “The Maine Angler’s Logbook.” Online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.


V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

Latest posts by V. Paul Reynolds (see all)