Skip to main content

The Backyard Gunshop

The Backyard Gunshop

A disappearing part of our gun culture

My good friend Thomas "Newt" Hughston passed away recently. He was an exceptional man, well loved by many and highly respected in the community. But the reason I am sharing this personal tragedy here is because Newt was a gunsmith and dealer who ran a small shop in his backyard for more than 40 years. He was one of a dwindling breed whose love of guns prompted them to open a small gun business at their home. With every one that passes or closes up shop, we gun enthusiasts lose a valuable resource and an important part of our gun culture.

Thomas "Newt" Hughston was a master gunsmith who operated a shop behind his home for more than 40 years. In recent years the number of small shops such as his has declined drastically due to both political and economic reasons.

We live in an age of big business where most of our goods and services are purchased from chain stores. You only need to take a cross-country road trip to see that the shopping area of one town looks pretty much like all the others. The gun sections of the major outdoor chains do not vary much either.


I am not anti-big business. I know it is a natural development in our free-market economy and there are many benefits for consumers. But there is a downside.


Walk into any large outdoor chain outlet that sells firearms and your experience will likely be the same. You will see a big selection of firearms and accessories for sale at good prices. Standing in front of the long gun rack and behind a glass counter will be a usually friendly but often inept salesperson. If you are very lucky, you may get waited on by someone who knows something about guns. But most often a trip to the gun counter means someone is available to hand you the guns you want to look at and generally keep his erroneous opinions to a minimum. You can count yourself lucky if he spends 10 minutes with you before he is pulled away by another customer in another department.

A visit to Newt Hughston's shop, before he closed up a couple of years ago, was quite a different experience. It was not a place for the high-strung or the penny pincher only interested in the cheapest gun he could find that would send bullet or shot downrange. Those people would quickly become flustered and head on over to the nearest Wal-Mart. But real gun enthusiasts found Newt's place was not only filled with guns with character, it was a haven, a place to relax and talk guns and maybe learn a thing or two.




If the weather was nice, you would usually find Newt seated at the end of the picnic table in front of the shop bringing a sick gun back into service. If Jack Hawkins, Newt's right-hand man and a gifted gunsmith in his own right, was not seated at the other end of the table, he was probably in the shop. He would come out soon enough if you happened to number among one of his many friends and regular customers.


If you were a friend, the first order of business was to catch up on the health and happiness of family. You didn't get an obligatory, "May I help you?" but rather a sincere invitation to sit down and visit awhile. Then an off-color joke or tall tale or two would be told, and finally it would get down to guns and why you were there. If you were a stranger, the scenario played out much the same, if you were agreeable.

Newt's little shop was not the first of its kind I have frequented over the years. I have fond memories of many such places. Another place that springs to mind was Herb Campbell's basement back in the late '60s and early '70s. Few gun shops in the area sold reloading supplies then. Herb specialized in it. I bought my first reloading press there, and Herb set it up on his bench and spent a couple of hours teaching me to use it. Try finding that level of service in a large gun shop today.

These small gun shops of my past were far more than a place to buy things or get a gun repaired. The best of them were owned and operated by knowledgeable men with a true passion for firearms. They often became my friends and sometimes my mentors. The oil and dust smell of these places will forever be as sweet in my memory as the aroma of Hoppe's Number 9.

Not all small gun dealers are knowledgeable, salt-of-the-earth types, of course. As with any business, there are a few shady characters, but there are very few in my experience. Most deal in guns because they love firearms, and only a fool would expect to make a lot of money running a small shop from home.

If you doubt how quickly these places are disappearing from the American scene, consider some statistics. In the early 1990s there were more gun dealers in this country than gasoline stations. The Clinton administration decided that there were too many. Stricter and more onerous regulations have helped reduce that number by 80 percent in the last decade. There are other factors, of course, most notably the aforementioned super stores that often offer guns for less money than a small dealer can buy them wholesale.

That is progress, I suppose. I enjoy a visit to one of the large outdoor chains as much as the next person, and I appreciate the fact that I can go online and have shooting and reloading supplies delivered to my door. But shopping has become somewhat sterile and impersonal. I long for a rustic building out back of some crusty codger's home where I can look through an assortment of firearms old and new and haggle to my heart's content.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New for 2021: Nosler Reloading Guide 9

New for 2021: Nosler Reloading Guide 9

Reloading Guide #9 consists of load data for 101 rifle and handgun cartridges with hundreds of new powder additions throughout the book creating a comprehensive data set for today's reloader.

New for 2021: Caldwell E-MAX PRO Shadows, BT Link and BT Comms

New for 2021: Caldwell E-MAX PRO Shadows, BT Link and BT Comms

Three new products from Caldwell - E-MAX PRO Shadows, BT Link and BT Comms – for shooting range hearing production and communication.

RS Sako Finnlight II

RS Sako Finnlight II

The new Sako Finnlight II sports an innovative stock and Cerakote metal paired with the terrific 85 action.

Mossberg Patriot Predator 6.5 PRC Rifle Review

Mossberg Patriot Predator 6.5 PRC Rifle Review

RifleShooter Magazine editor Scott Rupp breaks down all the features of the Mossberg Patriot Predator rifle chambered in 6.5 PRC.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Hornady Subsonic Rifle ammo stays below the sound threshold while still providing the kind of terminal performance you want.Hornady Subsonic Rifle Ammo Review Ammo

Hornady Subsonic Rifle Ammo Review

Keith Wood - December 31, 2020

Hornady Subsonic Rifle ammo stays below the sound threshold while still providing the kind of...

For decades, things were quiet on the .22 centerfire front. Starting in 2017, shooters were offered not one but two hot new centerfire .22 cartridges. First out of the gate was the .22 Nosler, followed by the Federal .224 Valkrie..22 Nosler vs .224 Valkyrie Ammo

.22 Nosler vs .224 Valkyrie

Brad Fitzpatrick - May 02, 2019

For decades, things were quiet on the .22 centerfire front. Starting in 2017, shooters were...

With the new Hunter rifle, Ruger takes its popular Ruger American rifle line to the next level.Ruger American Rifle Hunter Review Reviews

Ruger American Rifle Hunter Review

David M. Fortier - July 28, 2020

With the new Hunter rifle, Ruger takes its popular Ruger American rifle line to the next level.

Ruger's newest Hawkeye, the Hunter, blends classic and modern features to create an accurate, all-purpose hunting rifle.Ruger Hawkeye Hunter Rifle Review Reviews

Ruger Hawkeye Hunter Rifle Review

Brad Fitzpatrick - November 20, 2020

Ruger's newest Hawkeye, the Hunter, blends classic and modern features to create an accurate,...

See More Trending Articles

More Gunsmithing

Two mounts that will come to the rescue if you run out of rail.Rail Mount Rescue Gunsmithing

Rail Mount Rescue

David Fortier - January 07, 2011

Two mounts that will come to the rescue if you run out of rail.

American Custom Gunmakers Guild Firearm* No. 26.A Hunter's .470 Double Gunsmithing

A Hunter's .470 Double

Rife Shooter Staff Report - May 19, 2011

American Custom Gunmakers Guild Firearm* No. 26.

Join Dick Metcalf as he visits the Ruger factory to put polymer and aluminum parts through tests to see which is stronger.Is Polymer Stronger Than Aluminum? Gunsmithing

Is Polymer Stronger Than Aluminum?

Brock Norman - May 31, 2011

Join Dick Metcalf as he visits the Ruger factory to put polymer and aluminum parts through...

The always popular Ruger 10/22 has become the semi-auto rimfire rifle of choice for shooters of allThe Best Ruger 10/22 Trigger Assemblies on the Market Gunsmithing

The Best Ruger 10/22 Trigger Assemblies on the Market

Dusty Gibson - September 23, 2013

The always popular Ruger 10/22 has become the semi-auto rimfire rifle of choice for shooters...

See More Gunsmithing

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the RifleShooter App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All RifleShooter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now