Writer Michael McIntosh once said, "Collectors and shooters see guns from different angles..." To that I say, Amen! I happen to be both a collector and a shooter, which creates a whole new set of angles that I won't get into right now. But what I thought I would do in this month’s column is share a couple of my staunch opinions about shotguns. For space reasons, I will limit my comments to hunting shotguns. So, for better or worse, here they are... Don't feel too embarrassed if you disagree with me on one or two.
The most stupid thing ever put on a good double gun is a Selective trigger. Double triggers are a love, and a single trigger is fine by me. But a lever that lets you switch back and forth from one barrel to the other? Please... This is one novelty that I hope goes away.
The best American-made over under for the money is the Ruger Red Label. The best pointing auto-loader ever made is the Remington 1100. And as long as we are at it, the best waterfowl gun is the 3 1/2" chambered Benelli Super Black Eagle II and the Browning Gold Hunter auto loaders. The best waterfowl load? The 3-inch Heavy Shot. It is amazing...! But who wants to pay $3.00 every time you pull the trigger?
The best barrel length for a doublegun is 28 inches. You won't swing it too fast and you won't slow it down or stop the gun too soon. For a young shooter just starting out, I will give the nod to 26-inch barrels to lighten the gun – as long as they can be upgraded to 28-inch barrels as soon as they can handle them. The best gauge for a young shooter? It’s 28 gauge. Not a bad upland gun for any shooter, young or old, except maybe for pheasants. The best load for the 28 gauge is a 2¾-inch shell with ¾ ounce of #7½ shot. Trust me on this! The best chokes for this load in a 28 gauge? Skeet and skeet. It is a dandy quail gun/load combo.
The best fixed chokes for any double gun? If I had to pick two it will come as no surprise that I would choose improved cylinder and modified. If you are shooting steel shot at waterfowl over decoys the best choke is improved cylinder. Steel patterns are very tight. Last year I shot a black duck with an improved cylinder choke at 87 paces with a 3-inch Kent Fasteel cartridge loaded with #2 shot. A great cartridge if you don't mind watching the brass rust while you hold it in your hand.
Pistol grip or straight stock? This falls into the “whatever your preference is” category. You will shoot either equally well if you practice with them. In the end, it just doesn't matter, as long as you can live with it. I shoot both and switch back and forth regularly. I kind of like the lines of the straight stock, but I'm a loyal Yankee and will never let go of the fact that I come from a nation of riflemen.
Now you will hate me, especially if you love the game of skeet. I think American skeet shooting ought to be done with a low gun. No pre-mounting. Further, I think the shooter should not be able to call "pull" when he is ready for the target. This job belongs to the one pulling and he should be able to pull at will. I would really like to see a "new" skeet game start at clubs all across America that I call "walk-up skeet." The shooter moves around the field freely and the puller pulls at random. In the end, 25 birds total have been launched and the shooter never knows from what direction or exactly when. This in my mind, puts back some of the spontaneous excitement back into skeet shooting that most closely resembles flushing birds during upland hunting. Which is the whole reason skeet shooting was invented for in the first place.
Just one more. Is the worst gun law (one of many) in the State of Massachusetts? It’s the trigger lock law. I was guiding some gentlemen from Texas not too long ago and told them we have to have our guns cased and trigger locked while transporting them in our vehicles, and locked up while in our homes. And if they ever get stolen, the police and the DA prosecute the gun owner. Their jaws dropped, their eyes got big, and then they spoke in the manner that makes Texas the great state that it is: "That’s the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. What if you got to get to your gun?" Amen brothers. Don't ever give up your freedoms in Texas like we have here in Massachusetts.
Today is a rainy day and I can’t quite decide on what to do. Like you, I’ve hunted ducks and geese, fished for stripers and blues, and dug quahogs and clams all in the rain. And just once, all three in the same day!
But today is different. I’m thinking of excuses for not going. It’s cozy here by the fire. I can clean and oil the guns, wax the rods, or take an old toothbrush to some of the green gunk on my reels. Or I could start a new book, or finish an old one I’ve read a hundred times… It’s a rainy day, a great day, and anything is possible.
When I was a young boy, I had very little in the way of foul weather gear. But I did have an old, heavy, canvas gunning coat left behind by a wealthy Duxbury gunner. It was much too big for me to wear when I got it, but dad had quietly given it to me just the same, in his simple, New England Yankee way. My father was the gardener of a man’s estate, and when the owner passed on, the wife had given the gunning coat to dad because she knew he enjoyed hunting, too. The old, canvas gunning coat had long been bleached the color of butternut from years of hard use. But it was in excellent condition, comfortably broken in, rugged and tough like the men that wore them.
I use to stare at that hunting coat hanging on a nail in the cellar, and dream of the old gunner that must have owned it. He was a “well-to-do” as my father was fond of saying, and had a gunning stand way up in the marshes of the Back River of Duxbury, Massachusetts. The “blind” was an elaborate affair, complete with fieldstone fireplace, bunk rooms, a decoy room, a Great Room in the middle, with table and chairs for meals and playing cards – especially the night before opening day! There was a piano and a couple of old, leather chairs with plenty of character, sitting around the fire. A small kitchen and a wet bar gave the final touches. Apple wood smoke and steaming wet dogs filled the air with that sweet smell of autumn that all hunters love…
Outside, surrounding the camp, were the shallow “ponds,” large and small tidal pools that had been dug into the marsh to hold a bunch of hand-carved decoys – and lots of ducks. On one side of the ponds were the breastworks - long, chest-high fences of boards and brush behind which the gunners would wait for the morning and evening flights of ducks.
As the hunters waited in their heavy, bleached, canvas gunning coats, sipping coffee in the cold dawn, dogs at their sides, they spoke in quiet tones and talked of the beauty and wonder of it all. The sandpipers and great blue herons, the hawks and endless lines of starlings migrating South; the golden glow of marsh grass waving in the breeze, the clams squirting up little, spouts of water. The false-dawn of the eastern sky that looked finer than any Monet… and more than once, the ghostly glimpse of a mighty buck sneaking along the marshs edge. Then… the whistling of wings and the last seconds of silence… as the birds cupped their wings and turned into the decoys…
When the men sat around the fire that night after opening day, enjoying steamed clams, roasted black duck, perhaps a refreshment or two, they thought much and spoke little of how they felt - humbled, bittersweet, and young again… The years had passed quickly as the “old men” always said they would. The children had all grown and moved away and life was pretty simple again. One of them was thinking back to a little boy he remembered very well. A little boy staring up at an old canvas gunning coat, dreaming of the day when he would be old enough to go along, too.
Having hunted most of the species of upland birds in North America, I’ve come to appreciate the qualities of the chukar. Hunting chukar is an exciting adventure that always includes a surprise or two. Chukars are not only fun to hunt, they are also one of the most hearty birds to put down and typically don’t present a head shot on the rise as pheasant tend to do – making them challenging as well.
If you love goose hunting then western Canada is Mecca. Last fall my hunting partner Mark and I planned a trip to western Canada to the province of Alberta. Our connection up there works and lives in the fast growing region and city of Grand Prairie.
A couple of years ago I received a call from a business acquaintance at Benelli USA, the good people who build a great shotgun. The call was an invitation to be a guest on an episode of Benelli’s Dream Hunts program airing weekly on The Outdoor Life Network now called Versus. Not being one to turn down any chance to hunt I quickly accepted without knowing any of the details at the time.
One day last season, another hunter and myself put up a flock of seven-hundred black duck as we cut across the bay. That’s one continuous flock, all at once, of seven-hundred birds. Earlier, that morning, we put up another flock of two-hundred black duck. This has been the norm for many years where we gun on the Massachusetts coast.
According to the USFW, DU, and DW, the black duck is in decline. But from what I have seen in the past five years, you would never know it. The biologists tell us this is because the black ducks have shifted their range and we’re just seeing more ducks because they’re more concentrated. I remain skeptical. From my observations, I would say the black duck is thriving on the Massachusetts coast.
It bothers me to no end that our Canadian brothers can shoot four black ducks per day, but as soon as those same ducks enter the United States, we can only shoot one black duck per day. Why not get together with our Canadian brothers and level the playing field? Two black ducks per day, no matter where you gun. Of course, if you’re a Canadian, that would mean your daily bag limit of black duck would be reduced by fifty percent. Turn the tables and see how Americans would react if another country imposed such a restriction on us. What would Americans say then?
Eider duck numbers, everyone agrees, are way down. Maine to Massachusetts, we have all seen a huge reduction in birds in the past three years. Prior to 2003, we were seeing 2,000-5,000 flight birds per morning on the Massachusetts coast. Didn’t matter where you were gunning, the birds were thicker than flies. Three years later, we count ourselves lucky indeed, if we see 200-300 birds per morning!
The USFW and Tufts University are two organizations trying to figure it all out. I’m sure others are involved as well, but they need to toot their horn a little more and let us know what they are doing. I’d love to read full-length articles in magazines such as Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Outdoor Life, Massachusetts Wildlife, among many others, telling us about the problem and what biologists are finding out. On Cape Cod, thousands of eiders were found washed up on the shores in the summer and fall of 2007. Why? What can Sportsmen do to help?
Whatever happened to the media frenzy about Avian bird flu? “It’s definitely coming,” “get ready,” “huge death toll in American population possible,” were just a few of the threats. Warnings to waterfowlers were posted in all the hunting magazines. “Wear rubber gloves,” “wear surgical masks.” Cook your duck meat to a charred crisp!!! Forgive me, but I have to rank the Avian Bird Flu epidemic in America right up there with Global Warming and Darwinism. You don’t still believe in the big bang theory and that the human race came from monkeys, do you?
Since this is my first column for Shotgun Life, a bit of background is probably appropriate. I was raised in New England and have been involved in the outdoor sports since a young man. At one time I wrote a weekly column for a newspaper about hunting and fishing. In recent years I have been in the shooting sports industry as an industry professional managing a company that manufactured sporting goods and imported shotguns from Italy. I just recently decided to return to my first love of photojournalism.
I was recently invited to go to South Dakota pheasant hunting, and what a trip it was. Kirstie Pike the President of Prois Hunting Apparel, Keli Van Cleave, and I went as Prois Hunting Apparel Pro Staff members and were treated to outstanding hospitality by the owners and staff of Pheasant Phun at the Olsen Ranch in Hitchcock, South Dakota.
Dave Olsen is the proprietor and the head wrangler of the operation. Dave's mom, Annie, and his father, Art are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. The film crew of SSOutdoor Adventures was also there filming for an upcoming show.
I had never thought of Mexico as a bird-hunting destination, but spending a week there has really changed my perspective. Some of the most exciting and fun hunting I've experienced recently can be had out of Los Moiches, Mexico where a variety of bird hunting is available along with excellent fishing and train touring as well.
In her sexy black dress and four-inch stiletto heels, no one could have guessed her secret passion.
But finally, she revealed it to a handful of men at a private party -- changing the course of her life forever. This story begins in January 2003 in a trendy section of Dallas. Anginette and her girlfriend hosted their annual soirée. The cocktails were chilled, the hors d'oeuvres extravagant and the guests straight from central casting of a smart Hepburn classic. The warm glow of the house against the evening bespoke of hospitality and elegance.
Anginette mingled in the swirl and buzz, making introductions, spreading her hallmark gaiety, relying on the same wit and charm that propelled her through a career as a successful mortgage broker…when the doorbell rang.
She crossed the room to answer the door, and there stood Mark Jorrey. She graciously invited him in and mixed him a cocktail, then led him through the party in a round of introductions. It was the first time they had met, and Anginette lived up to her reputation that new acquaintances should always feel right at home.
Later in the evening, as she carried an armful of coats to the upstairs bedroom, she passed a small group of guests -- Mark being among them. Bits of conversation caught her attention. She paused, calculating her options…Should she interrupt? Bring it up later? Or just forget about the whole thing?
She continued up the stairs, rolling around in her head exactly what she heard. It was something that she’d been dying to try.
Coming down the stairs, she politely interrupted their conversation. She would confess to them that she overheard her conversation. If they were accommodating, great. And if not, well at least she tried.
She Confessed Everything
She approached the group and confessed everything. She had overheard them talking about duck hunting, and that was something she really wanted to do. She’d been an avid dove and quail hunter, but never quite got the chance to shoot ducks. Could she come along with them? She could really hold her own in a duck blind. She wouldn’t be a bit of trouble. Just consider her one of the guys. Well, what do you say?
The men checked out the dress, the heels, the makeup -- and for a moment they were speechless.
Finally, Mark explained that in fact he was the one going duck hunting the next morning, and that he would have to speak with his friends and get back to her.
She thanked him and returned to being the perfect hostess -- everything the same except for one tiny thing: now her secret was out.
No Girls Allowed
Sure enough, when the phone rang the next day, Mark gave Anginette the bad news. Guys only -- no girls allowed on this duck-hunting trip. They had already told their wives, no girls. Then he surprised her by asking Anginette to dinner. She said yes.
Nine months later, they were married.
“Having something in common really adds to our relationship,” Anginette said. “We are best friends and we do not have to look far when we want to go shoot some clays. We just say, ‘want to go’”?
So she packs up her Beretta 390, and Mark takes his Remington 11-87, and they take a five-minute drive to the Family Shooting Center at Cherry Creek State Park.
Now that the word is out about Anginette’s secret passion, they’ve been making the most of it. As Mark explains, “We have a turkey hunt planned for later in the year and I said my wife is going and my friends said no problem.”
The Colorado DIVAS
Anginette’s world of bird hunting has really opened up since relocating from Dallas to Denver in mid-2006. By virtue of bringing her organizational experience from Dallas, she’s introducing a new group of Denver women to the shotgun sports.
The way it happened is that in Texas she was a board member of the Texas Women’s Shooting Sports/DIVAS. The charter of the group is to teach women and help women learn about shooting sports and outdoor skills -- shooting, fishing, archery…you name it.
Since moving to Denver, she started the Colorado chapter of the Divas and today it has members who actively shoot and bird hunt. Last year, the Colorado Divas took four women on a pheasant hunt with a guide “who loves new shooters,” Anginette noted. Since then, there has been a second pheasant hunt.
This year there are plans for a turkey hunt, duck hunt, dove hunt and shooting clinic for new shooters. They also have a monthly shooting day where women can come and practice shooting with other women.
Even though she’d been around guns all her life (she grew up on a ranch in Texas), when she turned 40 she started looking around for something different to do. She tried softball along with other sports, but nothing really satisfied her.
How Anginette Got Hooked
Then one day a girl friend who was a shooter gave Anginette the name of a woman instructor. That was in 2000. Anginette wanted to learn the etiquette and rules in the shooting sports. Soon, she was hooked. After that first lesson her instructor suggested Anginette join the DIVAS. Today Anginette is working with women in Nebraska and Pennsylvania in helping new DIVA chapters get started.
And as the group’s International Liaison, they have their eyes on launching chapters in every state as well as outside the U.S. (Divas already has 17 international members).
Even though Anginette takes the lead in Divas, she appreciates Mark’s full support of her shotgun endeavors. “As I implement outings, hunts and shooting days for local women under the Diva umbrella...he is right there with me helping,” she said. “He knows he doesn't have to, no expectations from me, he just does. And I greatly appreciate him and his help with all our events. I enjoy catching him in a conversation with other men about Divas and how important it is to get women out shooting. More importantly, I appreciate his support of my shooting and hunting.”
In fact, Anginette believes there are plenty of women around like her who like enjoy shooting, but tend to keep it to themselves -- especially those women who aren’t fortunate enough to have a supportive husband like Mark.
Shooting Isn’t Lady-Like
“Women have been raised to be lady-like, and not participate in such things,” Anginette observed. “And let’s face it, in this politically correct world, shooting is perceived to not be lady-like.”
But the times are changing -- for the better -- when it comes to women and the shotgun sports. “Now women realize they like to shoot and they can shoot. They love the camaraderie. Just watch a woman’s face when she shoots for the first time with other women shooters, and you know they’re thinking it’s just great to break that old taboo. And they’re still ladies.”
She talked about a professional networking event that she attended recently, where everyone had to reveal something about themselves. She stood up in a roomful of people and confessed that she likes the shotgun sports. Sure enough, she received plenty of emails afterwards from women wanting to find out more.
Good for Their Relationship
As far as Anginette and Mark are concerned, shooting is a great way to keep a relationship going.
“He encourages my shooting and hunting,” Anginette added. “He wants to shoot and hunt with me. Not because he thinks he has to, because he wants to. Some husbands don't encourage their wives and daughters. They don't mind if the women do, they simply do not encourage it and usually this type of man would rather go off on his own or with the boys and let the little ladies go do their own thing. I am blessed we do it together. He's the hunter and I am the shooter.”
When the Jorreys do go their own separate ways, Anginette goes off to shoot clays or birds, and Mark will hunt big game. Mark’s pursuit of big game got him actively involved in several wildlife organizations.
For Mark, “clays is about getting ready for hunting season.” In particular, he enjoys shooting pheasants in Texas. Recently he was shooting pheasants in South Dakota. Anginette and Mark spent a couple of days with friends pheasant huntin . Mark said that when he got back the other men said “We didn’t know women could hunt like that.”
Mark grew up a hunter in tiny Heath, Texas, just east of Dallas. As a boy “We could always go to different places to hunt on people’s places. We’d hunt lots of small game.”
Mark would be out all day and get home just before dark. As far as the Jorrey’s are concerned, children today do not have that luxury any more. They believe kids need to spend more time outside and out of the city -- where shooting and hunting can be an excellent way to encourage discipline, self-confidence, and caring for things other than one’s self.
When it comes to duck-hunting, though, this time girls are most definitely invited. Maybe it should be called Anginette’s revenge.
It turns out that one of the guys who put the nix on Anginette’s duck-hunting invitation doesn’t stand a chance any more of doing that ever again. Anginette taught his wife and son how to shoot on a trip out to their family farm. They loved it. Mom’s a good shot and has even built her own collection of firearms. The son, as it turns out, is a born hunter. Now the entire family shoots together…just like Anginette and Mark.
“Shooting is an excellent outlet for getting out and being together,” Anginette said. “And being together is something we really like to do.”