The first time a three-barrel gun ever grazed George Inge’s consciousness, he was 12 years old at an old-fashioned deer drive in the hardwood river bottoms near Jackson, Alabama. It was the day after Christmas, 1964. Inge and his older brothers had been invited to the annual Dunlap Family Hunt at Carlton, a large and sweeping property of hunting and timberland nestled along the Tombigbee River. “I was finally old enough to hunt that year, and the morning was cold,” he says. “Game drivers whooped walking through the woods in a line as they pushed deer, pigs and rabbits toward us. My relatives were positioned, ready and in high spirits. On top of that, my swashbuckling, wild-man cousin, Plumber Tonsmiere Sr., who was larger than life anyway, had killed a buck at the edge of the drive with a three-barrel gun. I hadn’t seen or heard of a gun like that. I never got over how cool it was.”
Growing up in Mobile, Inge knew prominent families owned and hunted with three-barrel guns, called drillings in Germany where they originated. “They have a mystique, the versatility of a shotgun and rifle in one,” he says. “I didn’t think my family ever had anything like that. Drillings were expensive and hard to get, but I always wanted one.”
After graduating from the University of Alabama, Inge earned an Army scholarship to medical school, completed his residency at Walter Reed Hospital, at that time located in Washington, D.C., and then moved to Heidelberg, Germany, for 3 years. “Part of the World War II treaty with the Germans was to give 25 percent of government land for the recreational use of Allied service men and women,” he says. “I got my German hunting license and fell in love with traditional hunting there. The drilling was the main gun used, and my local friend helped me find and purchase one — a Sauer and Sohn double-barrel, 16-gauge shotgun over a 7mm Mauser rifle with a Zeiss scope that snaps on and off. It’s been my favorite hunting gun through the years.”
Inge’s relationship with three-barrel guns experienced a seismic shift in 2017, when his elderly aunt revealed she owned a 1902 Hollenbeck drilling that had been passed down from her great-grandfather. Afraid of it, she’d hidden the gun under her bed for 60 years. “Low and behold, my family did have a three-barrel gun!” he says. Inge then enthusiastically purchased the gun and became obsessed with repairing and modernizing it. “I envisioned my great-great-grandfather, George Sage, wanting to gain an advantage over his young sons-in-law, killing a turkey out of shotgun range or a duck floating out on the water. I chuckle every time I think about that, since I have 3 sons-in-law myself.”
Restoring this gun, however, was a major ordeal. Inge scoured the internet for someone able to repair it. Prospects looked bleak, even when he sent his drilling to a master gunmaker in Michigan. That contact finally put him in touch with Tobi Nisse, a German gunsmith and dealer. As fate would have it, Nisse was also looking for help. He had visited the U.S. hoping to establish a means of exporting traditional German guns stateside. The symbiotic possibilities of their relationship could not be ignored, and T & G German Gun Imports (named for Tobi and George) was formed shortly thereafter.
From the 1950s through the early 1990s, three-barrel guns were made by the tens of thousands in Germany. But more restrictive gun laws began to appear as Europeans moved toward the belief that personal ownership of firearms was not a right. “Young German hunters look back and do not embrace the old ways of hunting,” Inge says. “They see these three-barrel guns as a throwback to World War II and a part of history they understandably don’t want to think about. It’s also time-consuming and expensive to get a hunting license. In addition to that, buckshot and lead were outlawed, making shotgun use impossible.”
Popular hunting rifles in Germany now feature the latest in technology and are mass-produced. As a result, there’s a glut of drillings and shotguns, and prices have plummeted. Of course, it’s complicated getting them from Germany to the United States. However, Mobile’s strategic port of entry proved ideal. Mobile enjoys a direct relationship with the port of Hamburg, Germany, and because other unlikely stars aligned in Inge’s and Nisse’s favor, these guns are now cheaply and legally making their way to Mobile. “My wife and I decided, with the objection of my lawyer, that we’d be the ones to help Nisse,” Inge continues. “I’ve got my federal firearms license, and things just came together. For example, we are required by law to engrave each gun with our business name within 14 days of it entering the U.S. My friend and fellow gun enthusiast, Howard Moore, engraves each gun for us with Claude Moore Jeweler’s diamond engraver in exchange for drillings. Hey, I love to barter! It’s remarkable how all these seemingly insurmountable details have work themselves out within our community.”
Although lovely and often ornate, these guns are designed to be used. “Drillings are not made so much as collector’s items as they are functional hunting weapons — classic examples of German craftsmanship and engineering,” Inge says. “Yes, many of them have beautiful engravings and polished wooden stocks, but these three-barrel guns are hard-hitting, versatile and accurate. They’re meant to be hunted with in the field, not admired in your gun safe.”