In late March and early April of 2017, Shotgun Life visited the legendary Gardone Val Trompia in the province of Brescia, which is the heart of Italy’s shotgun manufacturing. We spent time with shotgun makers Perazzi, Beretta, FAIR and F. illi Poli as well as master engravers Stephano Pedretti, Creative Art, Francesca Fracassi and Cesare Giovanelli. Here is Part 7 of our eight-part series called Shotgun Life in Gardone Val Trompia.
We drove slowly up the private gravel road of Durham County Wildlife Club in Morrisville, North Carolina looking at the 3D archery target course and hearing the rhythmic pop-pop of a registered skeet competition in the background. Wes parked his Chevy Silverado and continued with his description of the club’s amenities. I was listening, but remained far more focused on the unblemished Browning box in the bed of his truck.
Suppose you were a connoisseur of fine shotguns. And suppose you possessed a vision of the best way to sell those beautiful firearms to fellow disciples of the shotgun sports. And finally, let’s suppose you were a successful retired banker with the time and resources to make your vision a reality.
There were at least two Browning Superposeds in Ernest Hemingway’s life. One of them was a very early model that may have come indirectly from Val Browning, the son of John Browning, the genius who designed the gun. However, neither its serial number nor its fate are yet known. However, the second B25 − as the Superposed is still known in Europe − is a standard–grade 12-gauge field gun, Serial No. 19532, with double triggers and 28-inch barrels (both choked Full) with a ventilated rib. It was made in Belgium and sold to Master Mart, a retailer in Fremont, Nebraska, on 26 October 1949 for $195.20. After that, we don’t know how, when or where Ernest Hemingway acquired the gun, whether new or second-hand, or what he accomplished with it, but we know where it is today and how it got there.
The mule-drawn bird wagon trundled through Chokee Plantation in Leesburg, Georgia − a 5,800-acre homage to the vanishing wild-quail hunts that for generations put meat on the table and tendered sporting birds by the good graces of the land.
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?
Let’s think of Jimmy Muller as the Elon Musk of the shotgun choke universe. You know Mr. Musk as the founder of Tesla Motors and Space-X – a visionary disrupter whose innovations achieved extraordinary breakthroughs in transportation and space travel.
In late March 2017, Shotgun Life visited Fabbrica Armi Isidoro Rizzini, or F.A.I.R. as we have come to know it, in Brescia Italy. Owner Luca Rizzini impressed us as a straightforward, unpretentious guy committed to manufacturing affordable wing and clays guns that would last for generations.
As September approaches, in our secret heart every shotgun disciple anticipates their annual pilgrimage to a beloved place. For some of us it’s the autumnal woods of Maine for woodcock, a goose hunt on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, sporting clays at The National Shooting Complex in San Antonio or maybe throwing clays from that rusty hand-loader at a family barbeque. Personally, that special journey takes me to Griffin & Howe’s gorgeous Hudson Farm in Andover, New Jersey.
There’s no shortage of self-help books, blogs and TV shows on how to maintain a successful marriage. They often dispense predictable suggestions such as romantic getaways, better communications and compromise.
While those tactics are certainly useful, my friend Paula Formosa and I have discovered that hunting with your significant other strengthens personal bonds in ways that are more meaningful and longer lasting than a dip in a heart-shaped Jacuzzi.
In America, you would be hard-pressed to find a more magnificent collection of fine shotguns than at the Safari Club International Convention, held this year during the first week of February at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. One of our perennial favorites there is Austrian, Peter Hofer. Mr. Hofer specializes in drilling shotguns that include rifle barrels in a brilliant display of artisanal workmanship befitting royalty. At the 2017 SCI convention, he unveiled his latest creation, “The Peter Hofer Special Double Shotgun with Hidden 17 Hornet Rifle Barrel.” We asked him to explain the intricacies of designing and building it.
− Irwin Greenstein, Publisher, Shotgun Life
In 1803, London sporting dog expert William Taplin published the first of two volumes titled “The Sportsman’s Cabinet” – an elaborately leather bound and illustrated compendium described as “A correct delineation of the canine race.”
In 2003 Chris Mathan paid homage to Mr. Taplin by starting her own business called The Sportsman’s Cabinet, which brought her highly acclaimed dog photography to an Internet audience. Ms. Mathan’s Sportsman’s Cabinet started when, after seven years as a senior designer and art director at one of Portland, Maine’s most prestigious advertising agency, she opted to become professionally immersed in upland bird hunting and pointing-dog field trials.
Story | Photos by John N. Felsher
“Shoot,” I yelled as birds exploded in all directions from thick reeds just a few feet from us. “There’s another one. Fire! Here comes a straggler. Get him.”
In seconds, my son Steven pumped out three rounds from his Remington Model 870 20 gauge, scoring a double. More birds flushed from the dense cover while others raced into the canes to escape on foot as Steven tried to reload as fast as he could. Hastily dropping one shell into the chamber, Steven nailed another bird struggling to get airborne.
Once you have handled a really well-balanced shotgun, you will never again be satisfied with less. One shooter, back in the 1990s, described it as being like the first time you taste a really great French wine. Your palate changes forever.
Add the Ritz Carlton at Reynolds Lake Oconee to the select register of luxury resorts to capitalize on the rise in popularity of social clays shooting.
With its new Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds, the Ritz Carlton at Reynolds Lake Oconee, located in Greensboro, Georgia (80 miles east of Atlanta) has joined other multi-star, clays-appointed properties such as Primland, The Preserve at Boulder Hills, Blackberry Farm, The Homestead, The Greenbrier, Nemacolin and Barnsley Resort.
Don’t be shocked to see Amber Haynes wear ritzy Christian Louboutin heels with upland field pants. As the only child of a Houston oil-and-gas guy, he brought his young daughter along on the Texas quail and pheasant hunts that ultimately became her fashion muse.
“I’ve been tagging along with my dad hunting since I was little,” said Ms. Haynes.
There is no shortage of pheasant hunting lodges in South Dakota. Yet one lodge seems to rise to the top as an Orvis Endorsed Lodge in 2009 and Orvis Wingshooting Lodge of the year and in 2016.
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.
I’m blessed with the professional opportunity to shoot fine shotguns costing upwards of $100,000 and more. Boss, Fabbri, Purdey, Holland & Holland, all exemplars of sporting guns that will pretty much spoil you for life. Inevitably, when discussing these rarified shooting experiences someone pipes up that there’s no difference between using their Caesar Guerini and a Holland & Holland Sporting Deluxe. Both over/unders go bang and knock things out of the air, is their general sentiment.
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.
Stone butts and red grouse on a wine colored Scottish moor. Mule drawn wagons following bobwhite seeking pointers beneath loblolly pines. Rolling hills filled with olive trees and red legged partridge. Undulating plains rhythmically swaying to the wing beats of sharptails.
This cutover cornfield hunt in rural Orangeburg County, South Carolina could take place just about any agricultural area. The Canada goose population continues to increase everywhere, which results in liberal bag limits for wingshooters. Goose hunters have to spend time scouting the field before any sunrise hunting plans can be executed, and while there is no guarantee that shots will be fired, it helps to know that if conditions cooperate then a box or two of shotgun shells is warranted.
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.
Gannon Hunt doesn’t shoot big-bore over/unders. Like many women, after suffering the harsh punch of a 12 gauge, she simply gave it up for smaller shotguns. Now, still wary of 12-gauge recoil, the Beretta Vittoria shouldered and ready, she hesitated, steeled herself then pulled the trigger. The pellets dispersed roughly 60/40 on the quail silhouette pattern plate. A flash of disbelief, then she turned and announced “I hardly felt any more recoil than with my 28 gauge.”
Ms. Hunt’s amazement will likely be enjoyed by other sportswomen trying Beretta’s first ladies shotgun named the Vittoria. Based on the rugged 690 Sporting I, Beretta is a latecomer to the specialty women’s sporting gun market lauded for dimensions tailored to women’s bodies.
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.
“Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” Jeremiah 33:3
To the locals one of the best-known features of Buck Mountain is the listening rocks, an outcrop of granite on the end of what we call Rocky Ridge. I call the rocks The Old Man because if you look at them from the right angle, you can see the old man’s face. He is the guardian of the Hell Hole and here is where our story begins.
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.
A silent auction to promote literacy gave us the occasion to quail hunt on a family farm with the affordable and gratefully light CZ Upland Ultralight Green over/under.
At 5.8 pounds, the sprightly 20-gauge was deeply appreciated on the unseasonably warm day walking Bethel Oaks Farm near the Florida-Georgia state line.
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.
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.
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.
Well before dawn, the camouflage-clad hunter stepped off the gravel road running through the wildlife management area in eastern South Carolina and followed a small creek into the forest.
Here’s the shot of the day…
Around 90 minutes into our afternoon quail hunt at Backwoods Quail Club in Georgetown, South Carolina we had circled back to a downed pine tree still abundant with branches and green needles. Our guide Ryan thought he saw a quail or two there. The flat-shooting Krieghoff K-20 Parcours fitted with the new 28-gauge Parcours barrels had been fueling my confidence by hammering coveys since stepping down from his truck. Ryan’s dogs, Rosco and Tyson, hoovered up the scents but detected nothing as we inched toward our quarry.
Spring shotgun hunting is almost an oxymoron. Snow geese in the cold, wet, Dakota wind is one wild, sometimes productive option. Even better is shooting 20 ducks in a morning, a half dozen upland birds at midday and a few hundred doves and pigeons in the evening — without the cold and wind. You can do that in the spring − in Argentina.
Most grouse hunters are sentimentalists at heart and dream of owning a good side by side, which was the gun of choice for the old timers around the turn of the 20th century. The first half of the 1900s was truly the Golden Age for American side by sides and companies such as Parker Brothers, L.C. Smith, and A.H. Fox were producing some of the finest double guns ever made in our nation’s history. It was a time when industrial efficiency and true craftsmanship were co-equals in the shotgun industry.
The acrid smell of two-stroke exhaust mixing with the sweet smell of the cedar transported me back to a bygone era – a time of wooden decoys and boats and huge duck numbers.
The boat was a cedar sneak boat over 50 years old. In the water 200 yards distant, the decoys were mostly hand-carved wooden blocks. Although not as old as the boat, the decoys were still carved with the same care of the decoys of old.
Through its many incarnations the Weatherby over and under has continued to stand for a quality gun at a reasonable price.
Mention Weatherby, and most people associate the company with its line of magnum rifle cartridges and the associated rifles. The Weatherby name also stands for quality and that carries through to the company’s shotgun line as well.
As another hunting season comes to a close, shooters typically reflect back on the memories, and assess the season: What went right, what went wrong, and how to improve things for the next season. If you hunt with your own dog, that usually means assessing your “partners” performance. More specific, what you would like to improve. For some hunters, the post-season reflection confirms their dog’s old age has finally indicated the time to start looking for succession.
At first you notice the smoky figuring of the walnut stock and checkered butt that peek out from the leather scabbard on the saddle. The stock suggests a profile that’s straight English and in your mind details compile into a classic uplander from London or Birmingham. You’d be surprised to learn, though, that the shotgun is Spanish and bears the American name of Thomas Ferney & Co.