I think you're about 150 years too late. Today, most 'smiths, that are successful, specialize or have a speciality in the trade. Most, that are 'worth their salt', are way busy and haven't the time to teach a novice, they're just trying to make a living. If you were to apprentice with a well known specialist (a rifle builder, stockmaker, re-finisher, 1911 builder, ect., ect.) you would learn his speciality. On the other hand, if you attended one of the 2 year programs, and applied yourself, you would graduate with a well rounded knowledge of the trade and could specialize later. After you have that 'general' knowledge' you could hire into a speciality shop, if that's what you would want to do. The only place I can think of where you could start at the top would be to get elected Senator, for 1 or 2 terms, and then President.
"Shoots real good!": definition; it didn't blow-up in my face.