Selecting and enjoying a great dog that also happens to be a Great Gun Dog is made simpler and a lot more fun if you follow one golden rule: Be honest and realistic about managing your expectations.

Let’s face it, side-by-side shotguns are becoming the purview of us old guys. Just visit the best American side-by-side events such as the Southern Side-by-Side, World Vintage Skeet Championships or the Vintagers Order of Edwardian Gunners and you’ll see fellows of a golden epoch savoring the je ne sais quoi of a lissome double gun.

Most all shotgunners know that proper footwork goes a long way toward successful shot making. It wasn’t light enough to shoot ducks yet, but I was wishing I had a knowing shotgun instructor behind me with some useful advice. But it was shooting assistant Lucho behind, and he didn’t speak much English, and my Spanish is somewhat of a joke. So no help from Lucho. Did I mention my feet were stuck in the mud – in Argentina?

In recounting his visit with F.lli Bertuzzi, (the Bertuzzi brothers), Michael Sabbeth provides a window into the rarified world of bespoke shotguns as exalted art.

When we think of bird hunting, we instantly go to a sacred place that exists in our hearts – a sacred covert we protect. We dream of finding that place again and want to know it will still be there long after we are gone. As a group, we engage in friendly debates about the dogs, guns and game we prefer. We share our stories, but it’s that moment we find alone in the field that we think about at the end of the day, in a comfortable chair. The birds we hunt are worth finding for the first time, worth fighting for and worth remembering.

Story|Photos by Tom Keer

Say the word “woodcock” in a room full of bird hunters and you are likely to capture most everyone’s attention. Hunters are fascinated with the eclectic, migratory bird for a wide variety of reasons. Dyed-in-the-wool woodcock hunters seem to have camaraderie that knows no bounds. I suspect if you asked any of them if they’ve ever wanted to embark on a five-month journey that follow the flights from their breeding grounds to their wintering grounds most would say yes. Most nod in agreement when the phrase “anything done in moderation shows a lack of interest” is quoted.

The new Syren USA line of ladies shotguns and accessories underscores an encouraging trend of premium shotguns designed for the shape of a woman’s body.

This past October we visited my wife’s sister and brother-in-law in central Nebraska. I was a willing participant. I love my extended family, I love visiting that part of my country and I had a selfish motive: shooting at the Oak Creek Sporting Club in Brainard, Nebraska with a pristine thumb lever Purdey built in 1869 loaned to me by a friend. Shooting a classic British shotgun in the heart of the New World intrigued me.

The drive from Denver had been uneventful, which was good. I listened to a stack of CDs hoping to learn how to say ‘good morning’ in Italian and trying not to spill Diet Pepsi all over the box, while anguishing as the gas gauge plummeted down like weights at the gym. On the rural roads the weathered buildings and farm houses with sharp angled roofs reminded me of my family car trips from Long Island to Miami Beach when my age was written in single digits.

The porch was long and spacious. There were comfortable chairs and tables along the wall, and a short drop from the porch down to the natural flora of Texas Hill country spread a few dozen yards out to a limestone bluff that overlooked the valley of Joshua Creek. I was leaned back in a chair with a cup of black coffee, watching the morning unfold. Across the valley, I could hear the calls of quail, pheasant roosters, and a couple of hen mallards gossiping, or arguing, or whatever it is they talk about.

My two favorite activities, football and bird hunting are just a month away from their 2015 season. Like most hunters during this part of the year, I begin to plan and daydream for what is coming for both activities. Timing key dates for both has always been a struggle for me as I plan and try to do it all.

Welcome back to America, F.A.I.R.

After five years, Fabbrica Armi Isidoro Rizzini, known to its friends as F.A.I.R., has returned to the U.S. with an expansive inventory of affordable Italian shotguns and rifles.

Wingshooting has been my lifelong passion and the motivation that has resulted in my occupation which runs the whole gambit of wingshooting worldwide. I have worked for several of the top gunmakers in England and Europe as shooting instructor, gun fitter, gunmaker and sporting agent (outfitter).

In Minneapolis-St. Paul we boarded a two-engine plane and buckled in while the pilot tried to start the engines. An hour later, we deplaned and made preparations to camp out in the airport. Apologetic employees gave us cookies and stale sodas while we called our loved ones and scratched out our last wills and testaments on the backs of airline napkins.

We showed up on time. Oh dark-30. Parked our car on a pull-off area on a mountain road in Kebler Pass, located in the Crested Butte area. The twins stepped out of their vehicle next to us – dressed in camo, do-rags and running shoes. The reflective tape on their shoes gleamed in the pre-dawn and I thought, “I’m in trouble here.” My hunting boots already felt heavy.

Entering the new gunsmith workshop of Rich Cole, I immediately recalled my days as a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire when we lived in the picturesque, riverfront town of Portsmouth.

When I developed the “Hunting With Hank” television series starring my Llewellin Setter Hank, for what was then The Outdoor Life Network, I had confidence that the series would find an audience. But, the amazing success of Hank’s show actually caught me off guard. Along with its popularity, came requests from viewers all across the country to explain how I trained Hank for the work they saw him performing on our upland bird hunts that spanned the country.


I was stunned. Pleasantly stunned. Roberto Ferrata uncased his new titanium Fabbri 12 gauge shotgun and handed it to me. “I want you to use my gun today.” I received the magnificent firearm and held it as gently as if it were a newborn baby. Bringing it to my shoulder, I noted with conflicting emotions and thoughts that it fitted perfectly.

If you’re still shooting that beloved Browning over/under you’ve owned since college, be prepared to have your socks knocked off with the company’s new 20-Gauge 725 Sporting.

Although still a member of the fabled Citori family introduced in 1973, the 20-gauge 725 Sporting marks a departure from classic Browning over/unders characterized by broad beaver tail forends, bulky receivers and labored handling. To paraphrase that Oldsmobile meme, the 20-gauge 725 is “not your father’s Browning.”

American shotgun shooting with English influences. English traditions with an American twist. Call it what you wish but Richard Smith’s The Royal United Company has created a hybrid style of sport shooting that has everyone talking. From game birds to sporting clays, in just a few years, the now 30-year-old originally from South West England has not only made sport shooting more accessible by creating a completely mobile shooting experience, but has changed the way many American view the sport here in the states.

I could feel the bite of the north wind on my face as I struggled to break trail through the deep snow. I was exercising my fingers inside my gloves to maintain feeling as my bird dog Timber, playfully skimmed along the top of the crusted snow. However, for me, every step was a chore but I had to keep pace and maintain a good shooting position.

Here in Colorado Springs, a bright and unseasonably warm February afternoon boasted clear skies and no wind — perfect for a clays-shooting session with USA Shooting team members, skeet whiz Amber English and her trap colleagues Dakotah Richardson and Collin Wietfeldt. We also caught up with team trap shooter Kelsey Zauhar.

The thrill of bird hunting in South Africa struck on our first morning out when, driving on rutted roads to the fields, we spotted zebras, wildebeest, reedbucks, eland and jackals. And as it would play out a jackal had grabbed an Egyptian goose I had downed even before our German Wiredhaired could retrieve it.

I learned of the CZ Sporter shotgun improbably. I was at the last station in a registered shoot at the Colorado Clays Sporting Club in Brighton, Colorado, a thirty-minute drive from downtown Denver. The station had five true pair of overhead tower shots coming from behind like F-16s. I was shooting my favorite Italian over/under masterpiece but I wasn’t hitting the targets solidly and even missed a few. The joy of shooting felt like a week-old soufflé.

Story | Photo by Ron Spomer

In the 1960s pheasants were big game birds in South Dakota, the upland equivalent of Canada geese. Tough, durable, armed with spurs and ready to shoulder through a dense swarm of shot. A big ringneck was no bird to fool with. The full-choke 12 gauge was the hands down favorite for taming South Dakota’s feral pheasants.

But I didn’t use one.

There’s nothing like a little controversy to stir things up – reading here about opinions on Winchester’s vaunted Model 21 side by side – along with opinions about a possible up-and-comer in the used gun realm – Browning’s BSS (acronym for Browning Side by Side). The Winchester Model 21 has a long standing favorable reputation among many shotgunners, but especially among those who favor Winchesters of all types, maybe even more especially among Winchester collectors.

Thunderheads gathered in the low country of Northern Florida, the sky transforming into that eerie, green phosphorescence from lightning electrons stockpiling polarity. Meteorologists predicted the 48-hour deluge, but the looming monstrosity of the storm amazed and alarmed.

Africa is in the blood of Joe Coogan and now that he’s left shotgun maker Benelli USA he’s returning to the place that shaped him as a man.

Mr. Coogan, one of the last witnesses to the Golden Age of African safaris, is teaming up with his old-time friend and colleague Soren Lindstrom of Soren Lindstrom’s Africa to offer wingshooting adventures in South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia along with other hunting safaris. Mr. Coogan recently started Africa All Ways from his base in Merritt Island, Florida to support and represent Soren Lindstrom’s Africa here in the U.S.

Scooby stands at the highest point of Crubenmore (a 3,000-acre beat on Drumochter estates, which is part of the Cairngorms National Park). He breathes in this mysterious landscape – with its light grey sky, patches of bare rock face and carpet of short muted heather – hoping to catch the scent of grouse.

The moment arrived! After months of anticipation, we sat still and chilled in the dark blind waiting for a new duck season to open.

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Irwin Greenstein
Shotgun Life
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