Story and photos by Lisa Metheny
Typically, when a gun manufacturer is ready to launch a new gun model they often take the predictable advertising road and take out magazine ads, do television commercials, and maybe even hire a celebrity to endorse the new model and then sit back and hope for the best. Benelli, makers of world class firearms, is not your typical gun company and neither are the folks that make up their promotions and advertising departments. This group of creative individuals tends to think outside the box and they have a knack for generating more buzz and hype over new products than most companies could only hope to come up with. So unless you have been living under a rock for the last year, chances are you have probably heard about the now famous Vinci shotgun “Torture Test” that took place in Argentina.
When I first heard about the Vinci I was excited, like many shotgun enthusiasts, I thought perhaps the excitement generated was due to the media blitz created by Benelli rather than excitement over the gun itself. Benelli must have anticipated this type of skepticism and figured a torture test trip to South America would likely silence most critics. Not only did it silence many of the skeptics, the torture test may have raised the bar for future shotgun testing.
Some called it the torture test. Others referred to it as the ultimate shooting test because for three days nearly 88,000 rounds of ammo were fired from twelve Vinci shotguns. The stories generated from this media blitz dominated the press as story after story of the blazing hot Benelli Vinci began appearing in countless magazines, blogs, photos and newswires.
Perhaps some of the excitement was caused by the millions, yes I said millions, of doves that filled the sky hour after hour and which may have influenced some of these writers. Or perhaps it was the romantic lure of Argentina, although I doubt if a dozen manly, outdoorsy type men found standing shoulder to shoulder in a dove field under the blazing hot Argentina sun romantic. According to legendary outdoor writer J.Wayne Fears, the new Vinci shotgun was a homerun for Benelli. Todd Smith of Outdoor Life added that “the Vinci is an absolute ten.” So maybe it was the actual gun and not the media circus that generated the excitement over the Vinci. But whatever it was, I knew that I was anxious to give this shotgun a try.
My first opportunity to see the Vinci was all too brief as the editor for Shooting Times, Joseph VonBendict toted the gun to a Gil and Vicki Ash OSP shooting clinic that I was attending. In a sick sort of way it was like a mini torture test because of the fact that I only had the chance to shoot the Vinci a few times. It seems like anytime there is a new gun around gun enthusiasts, politeness is thrown out the window and we all become gun hogs. Thankfully, Joseph did let me shoot his Vinci and despite shooting a mixed bag of loads, from light Winchester AA to a few heavy Federal goose loads, I didn’t feel much recoil. Unfortunately, a few trigger pulls is not much of a torture test for me or the gun. Instead, it was just a brief introduction, more like a teaser, rather than an all-out test drive.
Fast forward nearly a year and I found myself embarking on a turkey hunt in Oklahoma with Benelli, Hunter Specialties and SHE Outdoor Apparel. Anytime you hunt with Hunter Specialties you know you're going to get some great products to use and the same can be said about SHE Outdoor Apparel. And from my experience, any gun from Benelli would work just fine to shoot a turkey with. Thankfully, Cristi Gates of Benelli sent the Vinci 12 gauge for us ladies to use and I would get my own Vinci for three days. I could hardly wait.
Although the small cowboy town of Sayre, Oklahoma is several thousands of miles north of the dove filled skies of Argentina, there was still plenty of game for the Vinci to take aim at on nearly 24,000 acres of Rut and Strut Outfitters. Despite mile after mile of gently rolling hills, brushy draws and creek bottoms dotted with century old Cottonwood trees the land offered its own version of torture for the hunters and for the guns. Country duo Brooks and Dunn may have sung about it, but I was getting a taste of the famous Oklahoma Red Dirt. Like sand on the beach, the red dirt finds its way into every imaginable place, including inside zipped interior pockets, ears, nose, turkey calls, boots and guns, especially the guns. Add in the constant hurricane-like winds of western Oklahoma and the red dirt literally becomes part of your DNA.
Six women turkey hunters, a bumper crop of Rio Grande turkeys, an ample supply of ammo, and a Vinci for everyone gives you the makings of a great hunt. Despite the fact that we would not be shooting thousands of rounds of ammo, this hunt still would put the Vinci through the paces.
We had a wide range of shooters, from the beginning shotgun shooter to the intermediate level to the advanced level of shooter. As every shooter knows, if it don’t fit, you can’t hit, so the mix of body types, some with long arms, others with short arms and even a leftie shooter thrown in would create a challenge for the Vinci as it would need to fit a variety of body types.
The majority of firearms are made to fit one body type and that is the body type of a six foot lean man with long arms and a flat chest who is right handed, of which I am none of. The first noticeable difference about the Vinci compared to other brands is the quick change recoil pad system. Because I am a left handed, shorter arm shooter, I have had my fair share of traditional gun stocks that do not fit. The stocks are too long and usually come with a recoil pad with a pitch for the right handed shooter. More often than not the recoil pad requires a screwdriver or some other special piece of equipment to change the pad. Not the case with the Vinci. One twist and the pad was easily changed to accommodate a recoil pad for a leftie or to give a shorter length of pull.
Besides the ease of changing the recoil pad, there are several things that set the Vinci apart from other semi-auto shotguns. First, compared to the majority of semi-auto shotguns on the market today, the Vinci is lighter than others, weighing only 6.9 pounds. Because of its advanced ergonomics, the Vinci offers flawless gun movement. And with fewer moving parts, this equals less hassle, less cleaning and more shooting. An added bonus is the Quadra Fit buttstock module, making this gun easy to shoulder and with the uber-comfortable Comfort-Tech recoil system combined with the in-line inertia driven action, this gun is not only lightning fast but a blast to shoot. You simply forget you are shooting a 12 gauge. Also the gun breaks down and easily packs into its own cool James Bond-like distinctive carrying case.
Forget the futuristic carrying case or the catchy marketing campaign, what really matters is how the gun performs in the field. Six women hunters with a total of twelve Rio Grande turkey tags among us would ultimately be judge and jury for the Vinci. First time turkey hunter, Shannon Coggins, Public Relations Specialist for NWTF admits to concerns surrounding shooting a 12 gauge shotgun “The Oklahoma turkey hunt was not only my first turkey hunt, it was my first time to shoot anything besides a youth model shotgun. I was very nervous about shooting a 12-gauge because I thought it would kick so hard that my shoulder would be bruised and sore— or that it would knock me to the ground. The recoil from the gun wasn’t bad at all so my neck and shoulders didn’t hurt afterward. I also give full credit to the Vinci because it was accurate enough that this novice made two shots at about 35 yards and killed two birds
Don’t let the fact that we are women fool you into thinking that we are delicate flowers when it comes to shooting or that we worry about breaking a nail or getting dirty, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact just the opposite could be said. In fact, when Gina Schmitz of the NRA accidently stepped into an armadillo hole in the dark, both her and the Vinci crashed to the ground. Although she spent a number of weeks in a cast she was a trooper and proved to be just as tough as her Vinci.
As for me, I tend to be rough on equipment, a princess I am not; still there are often things out of your control such as the endless battle with the red dirt. Rick White, pro staffer for Hunter Specialties chose to guide me as we chased bird number two. When you hunt with Rick, a 10-time Iowa State Calling Champion it is just a matter of time before you’re given a shot opportunity, so you and your equipment better be ready.
After Rick, Cristi and I arrived at our evening hunting spot I prepared to load my gun. As I jacked a shell into the chamber I noticed the large amount of red dirt in the barrel, despite the fact that my gun had been in a case while driving. With no time to clean the gun before our hunt began, I could only hope that the excessive amount of dirt would not cause a malfunction. Thanks to Rick’s champion calling skills, I soon tagged my second gobbler, I emptied my remaining shells along with another a handful of dirt, obviously the excessive dirt in the Vinci barrel did not cause any problems, although I could swear that I saw of puff of red dust fly when I shot the bird. Perhaps the dirt added an extra wallop to the Federal load I was using, but I doubt it. Ideally you should always have a clean gun, but with real, in-the-field hunting situations it is not always possible to do so.
Perhaps Leonardo Da Vinci, master artist, innovative thinker and the namesake of the gun said it best, “Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication.” Benelli has created a shotgun that is simple, hassle-free and fun to shoot. Guns and Ammo magazine’s Peyton Miller said, “the only thing wrong with the Vinci is that you can’t keep it loaded.” I tend to agree with Peyton.
From the fertile farm fields of South America to the target rich rolling hills covered in red dirt, the Benelli Vinci really doesn’t need any slick marketing campaign to convince serious shooters that this gun is worth its weight in gold and is well on its way to the front of the gun safe.
Georgia Pellegrini stands at the crossroads of the Upper East Side in Manhattan and the Lazy Triple Creek Ranch in the Big Hole Mountains of Idaho.
A Harvard and Wellesley alum, she takes to the fields with a 20-gauge shotgun ready to bag any game bird, as part of her quest to fuse hunting with haute cuisine.
One prong of her culinary mission is to upend the metropolitan revulsion of fresh-killed ingredients taken by thine own hand. Grass-fed buffalo from New York’s Ottomanelli’s Butcher Shoppe is splendid, but if you really want to sit down to some real, honest meat Georgia suggests you start with buying a shotgun and a box of shells.
Of the 13 million American women with the ability to show off a freezer full of elk and venison that they personally harvested, it’s Georgia’s contradictions that make her unique in the tribe of female hunters.
A former cubicle dweller with Lehman Brothers, which was vilified for sparking the mortgage meltdown, Georgia now devotes her life to the little guy – the mavericks who live off the grid hand-crafting artisanal foods.
While strangers expect to find her strutting the runway in Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo, you’re more likely to find her shooting over dogs in Filson and Le Chameau.
And her role of chef-as-hunter forges a new media spectrum currently neglected by the likes of The Food Network, the Outdoor Channel and the Today Show.
From her unique cultural junction, we can expect Georgia to rally the next wave in the locavore movement here in the U.S. Started in Europe, the strict interpretation of locavore cuisine demands food culled within earshot of the village church bell. In countries such as Italy and France, the audible perimeter virtually ensures food untouched by the maws of industrial farming and slaughterhouse assembly lines.
You can savor locavore dining today in white-table-cloth restaurants devoted to the daily, backdoor delivery of regional ingredients. Georgia, meanwhile, is adding pride of the pursuit into the locavore movement by hunting the meat herself – and advocating the same sense of duty by fellow carnivores. For hunters who spend half the year in camo, there are no surprises here. But the sudden revelation of this Ivy League stunner slitting the throat of a fresh Tom can render a Jean-Paul Gaultier fashionista wickedly speechless.
Armed with her trusty CZ 20-gauge, Georgia has taken her fair share of quail, dove and turkey in a quest for the freshest fare. Give her a rifle and she’ll track down a hog for a savory repast reminiscent of Sunday suppers at grandma’s.
“So many chefs are focused on food pyrotechnics and the food often suffers as a result,” she said. “Keep it simple and let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
Georgia’s affirmation of simple, flavorful cooking complements the barbequed pheasant hunters proudly serve with a sly grin that dares you identify their secret ingredient. In her own twist on the preparation, Georgia substitutes the slathering of Oscar Mayer bacon strips bought at the supermarket with her recipe for homemade bacon from dry-cured pork belly, sugar and kosher salt.
The bacon recipe was inspired by a boar roast she attended. As she wrote on her blog on ESPNOutdoors.com:
The first time I saw a wild boar smoking slowly under the soot-blackened eaves of a dome-shaped grill I was mesmerized. I was standing 100 yards from the banks of the Mississippi, deep in the beating heart of the Arkansas Delta.
The body of the pig was cloaked in thick slabs of bacon which were coated in thick layers of molasses and the whole thing oozed and dripped onto a tray of cut green apples.
The mere sight of the animal left a permanent imprint on my brain, and the taste set into motion my quest to relive that culinary experience as many more times as I could in one lifetime.
“The reason I started hunting was to use every part of the animal” including the offal such as liver, heart and brains, which she described as “delicious,” during an online radio interview on ESPNOutdoors.com.
When we caught up with Georgia via phone she was in the very non-offal city of Berkeley, California – home to Alice Waters’ restaurant, Chez Panisse – the birthplace of the American locavore sensibility. Berkeley is the third point in her constellation of residences that includes Manhattan and the family farm where she was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley.
From Berkeley it’s a quick drive across the Carquinez Bridge to the finest wine terroirs in the country: Napa, Sonoma and Cry Creek. And America’s most highly acclaimed restaurant is also there, The French Laundry – along with other not-too-shabby eateries including Bistro Jeanty, Dry Creek Kitchen, Tra Vigne and Mustards Grill.
Berkeley was Georgia’s West Coast base of operations for the research on her second project called The Girl Hunter. The agent-brokered package of book and TV show teams Georgia with seasoned hunters in locales where she cooks their quarry hauled back to the lodge kitchen. The Girl Hunter follows on the heels of her first book titled Food Heroes: Tales of 16 Artisans Preserving Tradition slated for publication in the fall of 2010 by H.N. Abrams.
If you haven’t heard of Georgia Pellegrini yet, the trajectory of her rising star seems destined to make her a household name in the kitchens of every American hunter and (hopefully) subway rider.
The gig at ESPNOutdoors, her own award-winning blog, the books and possible TV show, an appearance on Fox TV, all serve as outlets for her message.
“The success of any food culture lies in preserving its artisan foods. These artisan foods are the foundation of a food culture, and upholding them are the small-scale culinary artisans who choose to make their products the traditional way, the slower way, and perhaps the less economical way, because they are passionate about their craft.”
Call it artisanal or simply homemade, her gastronomical journey started as a kid. In a local creek, she caught fresh trout for breakfast. Her great-aunt was an expert gardener. Her father raised honeybees and quince trees. There were always chickens running about. Her mother instilled the importance of healthy food on young growing bodies. And when it comes to her grandmother, Georgia’s blog pays homage with an entry…
She took care of me when I was young. She would pick me up from nursery school and bring me to her house and sit me at the end of her long wooden table so I could watch her cook. She cooked every day. She still does. And every day after nursery school she made me one of two things: pastina with butter, or broccoli with cheese. I can still taste them. The memory still nourishes my soul.
Georgia’s call to food ultimately proved as inescapable as her own DNA. After Lehman Brothers, she enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City – graduating at the top of her class. She worked in two highly acclaimed restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, as well as in one of the premier destination restaurants in Provence, France, La Chassagnette. In fact, it was in the back of La Chassagnette that she slit the throat of her first live kill – a turkey – and then butchered it.
“I realized this is what it’s about to be a meat eater,” she told us.
Georgia is the first to admit that she came to hunting late in life. But at the end of the day, does it really matter?
As she writes on her ESPNOutdoors.com blog:
In life, you need few things. Everyone has their list. Mine includes a shotgun, good whiskey or a smooth Cabernet, a butcher and an open flame.
Here is Georgia’s recipe for Braised Pheasant…
|2 cups, diced|
|1/2 cup, chopped|
|1/2 cup, chopped|
|1/4 cup, chopped|
Bacon, cut into 1” cubes
1. Heat the white wine and sauternes and cool.
2. Marinate the pheasant parts in wine and vegetables overnight.
3. In a hot pan, brown the pheasant. Then remove the meat from the pan and add vegetables and bacon.
4. Separately, heat marinade to a boil with chicken stock.
5. Deglaze the pan of vegetables with verjus, return the meat to the pan and cover with the heated braising liquid. Bring to a simmer.
6. Let simmer for 60 - 90 minutes, until meat is tender. Reduce some of the braising liquid by half and serve as a sauce.
This is the third installment of our occasional series on DIVA, Women Outdoors Worldwide.
While there are certainly plenty of women in the great state of
DIVA is thoroughly dedicated to encouraging and mentoring women of all ages in the shooting sports. For more than 10 years through successful clinics for women and youth across the USA, this unique organization has introduced more than 3,000 women to the shooting sports.
And so it only makes sense that a devoted gun enthusiast like Cheryl takes the helm of DIVA. It also makes sense that the group was formerly known as Texas Women’s Shooting Sports, since Cheryl and her husband, Denny, love to hunt quail, dove, duck and mule deer on their leased 12,000 acre spread in west Texas.
Cheryl came into the world of shotguns and hunting from a fairly unusual start.
“I sang with a band called Maya for 20 years in
She subsequently became acquainted with shooting when she moved from
“I had fallen in love with this gentleman who was very big into hunting and who was just an overall shooting enthusiast,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t know a thing about guns, and really, I was afraid of them.”
Still, she was swept off her feet and onto the alter.
As proof that love conquers all, despite her fear of guns, she stuck by her man even though there were loaded guns stashed all over their house. “They [guns] were there for home protection and the occasional coyote and skunk.”
Eventually, Cheryl was talked into her first shooting experience by her husband. He handed her a Smith & Wesson .357 pistol and told her to hit the target. Without having any ear protection, the boom of that first shot only served to frighten her all over again. But she didn’t give up.
The turning point for Cheryl was a Dallas Safari Club convention where she found an instructor who offered an intensive two-day course in shooting. Shortly afterward, she purchased her very own first gun, a Glock 17 9mm. This Glock took her on a journey from someone who was frightened of guns to where she reached the point that she could speed shoot from the holster and sometimes “beat the men,” she said.
It was during this time as a crackerjack pistol shot that Cheryl was introduced to shotguns.
There was a one-year anniversary soiree in 1998 of the Beretta Gallery in
“I shot horribly,” she recalled. “I tried to get better, but couldn’t.”
It turned out that the main problems were eye dominance and gun fit. Her first instructor, Gaylen Capps, recognized that she was a right-handed shooter, but left-eye dominant. He had mentioned the eye dominance issue and suggested using Chapstick on the left lens...but that was way too messy for Cheryl and she really didn’t understand the importance of seeing the targets with the right eye...the SHOOTING eye.
After learning this important piece of information, she got that Beretta 390 fitted to her and started using a patch on her left eye to shift the dominance to her right one. As usual, there was no stopping Cheryl after that.
She started taking lessons from the greats such as Andy Duffy and Dan Carlisle, and made it into B Class for sporting clays.
As Cheryl’s sporting clays career began its ascent, she had a terrible and unfortunate turn of events. Her beloved husband passed away in 2003. Now a woman shooting on her own, she decided to join the Dallas Gun Club to find other people to shoot with.
Fate would intervene…
In 2005, a mutual friend introduced her to Denny Long. Their friend told Cheryl, “You have to meet this guy. He’s single, he’s fun and he’s a great shot and I think you’ll be wonderful together.”
They went on their first date that Memorial Day weekend. “I thought he was OK,” Cheryl confided. “He didn’t have much to say and he didn’t call me, and I didn’t think much about it because he didn’t make much of an impression.” That was about to change.
It was about three weeks later that Cheryl went with one of her girlfriends to Backwoods Gun Range (sadly now closed) north of Dallas to practice skeet for an upcoming league at Dallas Gun Club.
“There was Denny,” she said. “When my girlfriend and I were finished with practice and about to leave, he convinced us to get to get into his 1949 Willys Jeep named Nellybelle and join him for some sporting clays. We had the best time, we laughed, had a lot of fun. We’ve been inseparable since then. We’ve been married three years now.”
For their honeymoon, they went to
“We hunt a lot and love it,” Cheryl said.
Cheryl has graduated up from her 20-gauge Beretta 390, which she still uses for birds, to a 12-gauge Beretta Urika 391 for all other shotgun sports.
By her own admission, the Urika 391 is chock full of aftermarket bling including a Briley action closer button and forend cap (both in red), Briley titanium chokes and a dropped and a canted stock by Ken Rucker of Speedbump Stockworks. Her initials are engraved on the receiver by a renown Italian engraver. And DIVA TEAM is proudly displayed on the barrel.
Now most of her life is tied up hunting with Denny and staying involved with the DIVA WOW.
“DIVA has done so much for me,” she explained. “I receive great satisfaction from what I’ve learned by sharing and passing that knowledge on to other women. It’s extremely empowering to women. I know, because shooting and hunting has empowered me…and I feel a sense of purpose. To see it take shape in front of you, and see someone else run with it is extremely rewarding.”
To read Shotgun Life’s previous stories about the DIVAS, please visit:
She's a teacher, an artist, and a ballet aficionado originally from Brooklyn, New York--and an avid clay shooter!
If this doesn't entirely add up, don't be surprised. Sometimes, even Bonnie Berniger herself wonders how she ended up becoming passionate about clays shooting.
"My friends can't understand how I can go from the arts to shooting," she says. "People from Brooklyn don't understand that shooting could be a sport. They associate a gun with crime. When I come into work happy after a weekend of shooting, they looked at me very strangely."
This article is the second part of Deborah McKown's four-part series on clays shooting in the San Francisco Bay area. Part I reveals a little-known skeet field inside city limits. Afterwards, Deb and friend Diane head to a nearby micro brewery with a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean. Now here is Part II...
The prospect of a long, holiday weekend put me into action. I'd jump on a plane and head west to San Francisco -- catch up with friends and do a little skeet shooting.
Caution ladies: If your husband or boyfriend hands you one of his old shotguns for a round of clays shooting, say “Thanks but no thanks.”
Anecdotal evidence points to the above situation as a sure-fire way for a woman to never pick up a shotgun for the rest of her life. Why?
A venue for traditional wingshooting will soon open, tailored specifically for women - and it's about time.
Called the Ladies Shooting Syndicate, it's the brainchild of Blixt & Co. in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Ladies Shooting Syndicate is by membership only. It organizes splendid shooting trips to luxurious destinations for like-minded women. In effect, Blixt & Co. has transported the Golden Age of Shooting into the 20th century for women with adventurous sensibilities.