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MOST POPULAR GUN??? AND THE WINNER IS…..
By Steve McCadams
Duck hunters always seem to be looking for the newest call, better decoys
or one with new motion, another spot to hunt and the latest and greatest
shotgun that’s rough and tough.
One with dependability under adverse conditions as those of us in this
fraternity are known to perform endurance tests on our equipment every
Choosing shotguns is like choosing pickup trucks; everyone may not
necessarily like the same brand, color or model. That’s why there are
several to choose from at any given sporting goods store or gun shop.
Glance down the rack and there are multiple choices.
Truth is, there is no perfect gun. No manufacturer can boast of a “one
size fits all” model.
Price range is likely the leading factor for most knee booters when it
comes to making that final decision. However, some waterfowlers put
emphasis on their gun selection despite having an outboard motor that may
or may not start. Reading the ads boasting of a new duck gun’s attributes
or listening to testimonials from a fellow waterfowler makes the old smoke
pole look a bit obsolete.
Even if their truck tires are bald as a bowling ball and the boat and
chest waders leak, a duck hunter will find some way to come up with the
money for a handsome, state of the art camouflage shotgun once season
draws near. Those new camouflage patterns continue to evolve.
I know a few who struggle to pay the rent yet they find some way to search
cyberspace for case prices on duck loads and the final “take it out the
door” price for waterfowling’s latest automatic or pump shotgun that just
hit the gun racks. Priorities sometimes get mixed when our feathered
friends take to the air!
My first duck hunt occurred on a bone chilling morning back in 1962. Duck
numbers were down and there was a year or two when seasons got cut to a
mere 30 days and the limit was one mallard. Times were tough compared to
today’s era of long seasons and liberal bag limits.
And my first duck gun? It was a Daisy long pump BB gun. I was a mere 8
years old so dad figured I needed to start out safe. I graduated the next
year to a family heirloom in the form of a double-barrel .410-gauge. There
wasn’t even a brand name on the barrel but my dad had it as a kid and
squirrel hunted with it.
When you’re a kid you always want a bigger gun. Whatever your dad had or
the other grown-ups shot was always in your sights come Christmas, even if
you were too young to really tote it or shoulder it properly.
Fast forward to today and I’ve seen several sunrises come and go. My last
40 years or so have been spent in the duck blind as a professional guide
and while several interesting observations come to mind, monitoring the
particular brand, model and gauge of shotguns from the legions of hunters
who passed through the door has been one of my pet peeves.
YESTERYEAR’S TOP MODELS
Most of the popular duck guns of yesteryear now sleep silently in the gun
cabinets of grandsons who continue to pass their grandfather’s old
workhorses down to another generation instead of taking them to the blind.
Today’s gun are cosmetically more attractive with the impressive
camouflage patterns. Guns of yesteryear had wooden stocks and forearms and
a dark blue shiny barrel was the norm. Sometimes fancy grades of wood made
a gun stand out above the rest but basically, the old dudes were heavy and
somewhat drab in their appearance.
Recoil was part of the shooting experience back then too. Although that’s
still a factor today, it pales in comparison to the shoulder stompers of
days gone by.
Browning’s Belgium A-5 was part of the elite list decades ago and a few
still speak when called upon today. Most are considered collector’s items.
Sharing the list of old time favorites had to be Winchester’s Model-12
pump. It was indeed a heavy workhorse.
Joining John Browning’s auto loader and Winchester’s Model -12 was
Ithaca’s Model-37 pump, which also came in a featherlight model. Handsome
engraving on the receiver targeted the waterfowler with a marsh scene of
cattails and flushing ducks.
Ithaca’s Model-37 pump was the forerunner of today’s Browning Pump Shotgun
(BPS) that featured bottom ejection of spent hulls and loading. All the
top waterfowl guns were 12-gauges as even the old days of lethal lead shot
use commanded a long range gun shooting the heaviest load available, which
back then would likely have been a 1 7/8-ounce load in a 3-inch shell.
Although modern day waterfowlers tend to favor the 3 ½-inch gun and
shells, many of the dependable guns of yesteryear had a 2 ¾-inch chamber
that was lethal and shot mostly through full choke barrels.
There were several 10-gauges back then too, targeted at goose hunters.
Most were single or double barrel guns with high recoil. The real oldies
sported hammers. Later on Ithaca pioneered the gas operated 10-gauge
automatic (Mag 10) that quickly gained popularity among the ranks, only to
die a slow death once steel shot entered the picture in the 1980’s, giving
birth to the 3 ½-inch 12 gauge that tops the popularity list today.
Remington’s reliable Model 870 Wingmaster 12-gauge pump was---and still
is---one of waterfowling’s most popular choices. It was affordable and
dependable. Hunters loved it because it was simple and reliable.
A few years late would see Remington introduce the first gas operated
automatic that revolutionized how shooters dealt with unwanted recoil. The
Model 1100 hit the market and the company sold thousands.
Remington had an automatic already on the market but it was the Model 11
humpback made on the Browning A-5 pattern and it kicked like a mule when
duck hunters shot heavy loads. With the introduction of the Model 1100
Remington autoloader and its Model 870 pump already proven, the
manufacturer had two of waterfowling’s top guns to call its own during the
1960’s and 1970’s era.
TODAY’S TOP GUNS
I’m no gun expert so let’s get that clear right up front. I’ve shot most
of today’s top guns and managed to miss consistently with all of them.
Still, I enjoy monitoring the blind and observe what my customers pull out
of the case just before daylight draws near. So, if I haven’t mentioned
your favorite brand or model don’t be offended; I’m just passing on what
appears to be trends in the waterfowler’s world from my little corner of
the duck blind.
Again it’s quite interesting as I’ve logged several hundred gun
observations over the decades.
Modern day hunters have a grocery list of great guns that continue to
evolve as to performance and appearance. Today’s camouflage patterns are
quite amazing with full flat finishes that don’t glare from the duck
blind. They double as a nice turkey gun too or perform well in the dove
Meanwhile, the evolution of steel shot changed waterfowling. Screw in
chokes allowed quick changes on patterns and hunters went to bigger shells
in hopes of recouping some of their losses when range diminished as steel
was and is different from the bygone era of lead shot.
Today’s top guns goes something like this: Benelli’s Super Black Eagle,
Winchester’s Super-X series, Beretta’s AL391 and A400 Extreme series,
Browning’s Maxus, along with its Gold and Silver series and a few Browning
Pump Shotguns (BPS), Remington’s Versa Max, along with the old standby
Model 870 pump and Model 1187 automatic.
Several Mossbergs enter the blind such as the Model 835 Ulti-Mag pump,
which is affordable but kicks like a left jab from Mohammed Ali at the
height of his boxing career. Mossberg’s Model 500 auto and Stoeger’s Model
2000 occasionally surface as do a few old Remington 1100’s.
Today’s popular automatics sometimes jam in cold weather or when dirt and
grit slow the action so keeping one clean is imperative if you want it to
cycle three shots when the opportunity presents itself.
Having seen a lot of guns malfunction at inappropriate times, such as when
a nice bunch of mallards finally descend over the decoys from the high
heavens or a goose works perfect and falls into range like a meteor; I can
tell you it’s a somber moment when guns jam or won’t shoot.
DUCK HUNTING’S MOST POPULAR GUN
There are no instant replay buttons in waterfowling.
Having said that the gun with the best reputation for performing day in
and day out in all conditions----wet, cold, muddy---has been the Remington
Model 870 pump.
Some of us have had to use it for boat paddles or prize poles! The
manufacturer doesn’t necessarily recommend that but out in the muck and
mud of the waterfowler’s world strange things happen.
The model is affordable and comes in several grades as to the infamous
Wingmaster or lower grade Express. The magnum allows you to shoot 2 ¾-inch
shells or up to 3 ½-inch if you can withstand the price of shells and the
recoil that comes with them.
Two words best sum up waterfowling’s top gun: “it works”!