Sunday, February 6, 2011

Trying Something New or...Eating My Own Words on My Birthday.

I've written in print and long held the belief that I am, at my very core, a rifleman. I love hunting with rifles and have since I was wee tot, armed and dangerous with a Crossman pellet rifle. Not that I don't enjoy the odd handgun or shotgun- I just don't use them much in the field. For me handguns and shotguns are primarily defensive tools in the war on crime or pure entertainment in the shooting sports. Or, in the case of shotguns, either the tool of elitist bird hunters with big dollars to spend pursuing little game or dirt poor "one gun homesteaders" equally adept at buckshotting deer or poaching roving bunnies; generally in their vegetable garden.

I've long held the belief that the proper arm of the serious hunter is the rifle.

Not that my exposure to shotguns has been limited- a couple of my treasured possessions include inter-war Winchesters (M12 and M37) that I received hand me down through my family. I've had the various "riot-gun" short barrelled shotguns living in the closet and occasionally carried for bear protection. My survival kit in the bush contains a compact .410 gauge and a handful of shells. But as a primary hunting implement my exposure to shotguns has been very limited. Last fall I killed a rabbit with my M37 20 gauge and I have to admit it was one of the few living things I'd shot with a shotgun in well over a decade.

So it came as a real surprise when my wife dropped me off at the big city hook and bullet store with instructions to "go buy yourself something that goes 'BANG' for your birthday", that I wandered over to the shotgun counter after fondling a goodly selection of wonderful rifles. I looked for another .22 and...blah. I've had a stable full of nice .22s. I looked at a grip of high power rifles and while I nearly pinged on one of the new Winchester .375s...but, ah, not really. My current .300 is proving adept at anything I want to shoot with a high powered rifle to date. So with some degree trepidation I made my way to the shotguns.

I looked around the counter and thought of some of the great blogs I follow- notably Holly and Hanks adventures with duck hunting that make it sound like a wonderful hunt- not at all like the elitist picture I carried in my head from a childhood in the sticks. After talking to the counter man, and ascertaining whether he truly carried any knowledge about his wares (he did- avid waterfowler, upland gunner and published author on both subjects to boot) I asked his opinion on what would be a good grade shotgun for a beginning shotgunner with a modest budget to spend.

"What kind of shotguns have you shot previously", he queried.

"I've shot a Model 12 quite a bit,"I responded.

"No pump gun will really interest you then- you've already got about the best example ever made..." he replied. My hat size increased by two.

"What about a double?" I asked tentatively. Visions of traipsing across the fields with a dandy side by side looking for grouse dressed like an English sportsman danced in my head.

"On your budget you can buy just enough double to make you mad." he said, crushing the fantasy before it really got started. "Alaska gunning is just darn hard on guns, I take it you're a hunter and not just some fanciful collector. Really poor doubles and just that...poor."

The vision died on the vine. Nah, I've read in sporting magazines about some of the wonderful doubles and their manufacture...and the prices that exceed those of my current vehicles combined with that of my first home. I couldn't imagine dropping several mortgage payments for an "entry level" double shotgun to drag around in the muck up here. A really affordable double looked like more trouble than it was worth in the long run. I needed something a little more...well let's just say practical.

He turned his back and looked through the impressive display that ran 25 feet and was stacked 8 deep with shotguns. "Here, this might do the trick," he declared and handed me a very businesslike matte black and synthetic number. "That's a Benelli M2, it ain't pretty but its a real workhorse of a semi-auto in 12 gauge. Light enough for upland work for a guy your size and equally at home in a duck blind or goose pit. It's limited to 3" shells unlike the more expensive model but if you can't kill stuff with a 3" you probably need another hobby. We've marked them down to move them and make space for next year's inventory. It's likely the best gun I've got that'll fit into your budget."

I hefted the gun a few times. It was light and pointed well for me. I flipped over the price tag and looked at the series of mark downs with a bottom figure that fit right into my price range with a little room to spare. I racked open the bolt and peered inside. The Italians know a thing or two about machine manufacturing I thought as I noticed the absence of tool marks on the guns innards. The latest trend in American guns tends to be sloppy machining and finishing, while not really something that may effect functioning it shows a distressing lack of attention to detail for something intended to last generations. In fact, my ancient Winchester had so much handwork that the company could no longer afford to sell them. The result is that even in advanced age it works like it did when it was new. The Benelli gun was certainly appeared well made.

"I'm guessing that'll do fine... where's the paperwork?" I replied.

So dear readers, shotgunning pointers and suggestions are welcome as I'm looking to endeavor to learn this sport of aerial gunnery over the summer and entertain you with stories of hunting waterfowl and upland game here in the north country.


Home on the Range said...

I'm pretty darn good with a pistol, a shotgun not so much. I don't know if it's the cross eye dominant thing but most birds are safe from me and if someone wants me to do well with Skeet they can just use that little machine to fling a barn door into the air.

But oh Lord, it is fun.

Happy Birthday!!!!

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Happy Birthday HM

21 again?

Looking forward to reading about your learning curve over the coming months.


PS I saw a TV show about panning for gold in Alaska the other day and you've mentioned it in passing, how about a post?

hodgeman said...

SBW...Let's just say I'm 39...and holding. They say you're only as old as you feel so some days that puts me at either 18...or 91.

I have thought about a prospecting post in the past and I might have enough photos from last year's trip to pull it off, I do have some trips planned for the summer so you should see one at least this year.

@Brigid- I enjoy pistol shooting and used to be a pretty serious IDPA competitor when that org got started.

I'm a pretty decent rifle shot as well but when it comes to shotguns unless I ground sluice it, its pretty safe from my depredations...

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

either 18...or 91 LOL
That'll be construction for you!


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday and congrats. A new gun is always fun and we love our Benelli Nova (12 ga). He uses it for goose and I, for turkeys.

Anyways, enjoy and I look forward to reading about your adventures with it!

danontherock said...

Rifle and Moose is for meat. Shotgun and birds for fun. I enjoy shooting a rifle and consider myself a rifleman first but I love wingshooting. It is not expensive for me


Holly Heyser said...

Wow am I behind!!!

Belatedly, happy birthday, and thank you for saying Hank and I contrast with your elitist image of bird hunters!

I don't know where to start on pointers, especially not knowing very well where you left off.

But I read something interesting in American Hunter this summer: Once you get the fundamentals of wingshooting down, don't spend time overanalyzing your lead on each shot, because your subconscious brain will make all the calculations for you, and it's must faster than your conscious brain.

When I think about all the shots where I connected beautifully with the target, I remember very clearly that I wasn't thinking; I was just waiting for that "use the Force" feeling, the knowledge that my brain was locked on the target.

That said, based on how much ammo I flew through this duck season (3-4 cases?), it appears I'm still overthinking a lot of my shots.