Brilliant blue skies and rolling native grasslands as far as the eye could see created a gorgeous backdrop against the quiet farmlands of southern South Dakota. My home away from home was the beautiful rustic lodge of Granite Springs near Alexandra. Here I would join up with several women to participate in a National Rifle Association (NRA) Women On Target (WOT) upland hunt.
In the shadow of Capitol Hill, a forgotten patriot consigned to America’s trash heap of the unemployed has created a new national symbol that celebrates the values Sarah Palin holds true.
Written by Irwin Greenstein with the opinions of Stephen Biello, Debbie Clay, Barry Goff, Sr., Brad Landseadel, Elizabeth Lanier, Joe Notarfrancesco , Vero Ricci, Steve Toomey, Kent Witters, Carolinn Poucher Woody
The other day I was thinking about what has driven me to hunt. I see so many companies and services within our ranks that use words like “obsession” and “addiction.” Both these, and other terms like them, are certainly intense, but they are also harsh in some respects and I wondered at the thought that maybe they were overused, misused, much like “terrorism” has become an all-encompassing term for anything remotely horrific ever since 9-11. Use a word too much, apply it too liberally to too many things that are similar but lacking extremeness, and you run the risk of the word losing its impact. And so I wondered if we are danger of that with our hunting “obsessions” and “addictions.”
In anticipation of the upcoming turkey season, I’m sure most of you have noticed that outdoor print media and television airwaves are filled with scene after scene of toms getting annihilated by 12-gauge and 10-gauge shotguns spewing magnum loads, and the advertisements in between the pages and during the commercial breaks are filled with supercallifragilistic, triple-Xtra, super-duper magnum this, that, and the other. Sheesh, you’d think a turkey had the armor plating of a rhinoceros, rather than a coat of feathers.
Part of the problem has been that the bigger-is-always-better approach has long defined the mindset of more than a few Americans. We’ve seen that philosophy exacerbated in more than a few areas. Take, for instance, the ever-increasing size of our SUVs and trucks. Remember when a Toyota Tundra was the size the
I hate to say it, but the gun industry has followed suit. Think of all the Super Short Magnums that have come on the market in the last decade or so. There was a resurgence of the 10-gauge in recent years, too. Even the archery side of things has its extremes. When I was working at the NRA, we never talked about someone in print claiming to make a clean kill shot on game at more than 40 yards. Yet today, there’s more than a few hardcore archers who know their equipment and have solid skills and will tell you they regularly kill at up to 80 yards (I don’t know, maybe the braggings gotten bigger, too). Still, one of the segments that pushes excess the hardest are the purveyors of guns and ammunition designed particularly for killing turkeys.
I get it, it’s marketing. Kill it further out! Kill it faster! Kill it deader than dead! Now, I’m all for a fast kill, and I have seen where advancing ammunition technology really does result in a faster kill. I remember when some of Federal’s first tungsten shotshells came out, for instance. I took those loads goose hunting, and without question saw a better quality, faster kill than I did with steel shot (airborne geese hit with those loads responded like a bug hitting your car windshield as you cruise down the highway—they never knew what hit them). But I haven’t seen the same results with turkeys. The push for 3 ½-inch 12- and 10-gauge shells that can reach out and tag a tom at 50 or 60 yards is fine in and of itself, but in my opinion it’s unnecessary. I’ll tell you why.
Ask yourself this: are turkeys harder to kill now than they were 20 years ago? No. Do you need to kill a turkey at 60 yards? No. Do you need the recoil of a long-shelled 12- or a 10-gauge bruising your shoulder and cheek? Still nope.
Let me break those questions down for you a little better. The first one is simple enough.
How about the need to kill a turkey at 50 or 60 yards? “Need” being a relative term, I’d say that, if you find yourself shooting toms as distances much farther out than you ever used to, you need to practice your calling and decoying skills. Yes, turkeys hang up. No, sometimes they can’t be worked closer. Live hens compete with your fakery for a tom’s attention and love and often wins. Crows distract and confuse. That is the romance that is hunting – hunting – this game bird. You have six weeks and one or two tags. I’d rather spend several beautiful spring mornings watching the sun come up and call a gobbler in the right way and close enough for an instant-death, one-shot kill, than plunk a tom down way in the distance on opening day (or any day, for that matter) just because the shot string from my gun reached that far. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Finally, recoil is absolutely an issue with 12- and 10-gauge shotguns loaded with 3½-inch shells. I know some of you are thinking “Heck, it’s just one, maybe two shots.” But it’s not. You have time on the bench with different chokes and dozens of shells shucked through your gun, if you’re responsible about patterning a shotgun you intend to kill live game with – and if you intend to kill a thickly feathered 20-pound or better bird at 60 yards, you damn well better perfect your gun on paper before you head for the field.
But if you spend the time on the bench that you should, the chances are you’re going to start to flinch, especially if you conventionally and regularly shoot shotguns with less strength. I don’t care how tough you are, how much testosterone courses through you, and how big your truck is, this is physics, and hard-recoiling guns, most often those shot infrequently, do things to you mentally and physically.
Even worse than a flinch, though, is your shot-to-shot recovery. Remember you were thinking “one, maybe two” shots? If you’re going to shoot at distance, the faster a suddenly necessary secondary shot comes the better, and speed in getting the bead or scope back on target following the muzzle rise from the first shot is compromised when you increase the load.
Need one more reason? I’m going back to the how-tough-you-are argument. Plain and simple, there isn’t anything pleasurable about the recoil from these guns. If you say there is, okay for you, but I think that qualifies you as a masochist, and that’s not an attractive trait no matter how you slice it.
If you’re still not convinced, I’d tell you to go back to watching all the turkey hunting shows on TV. Notice the abundance of youth hunts filmed? Take a look at what all those kids are shooting. It’s the 20-gauge. That’s right, the no-notoriety, lil’ ol’ yellow-hulled 20-gauge. Notice anything else? These kids and their small shotguns kill turkeys just fine, especially when an adult with calling skills and hunting skills has called one in close enough. (Get it? Called. In. Close. Enough.) So if the lowly 20-gauge is good enough for your kids to kill a gobbler with, why do you need to buy into the magnum hype?
I say don’t. Personally, I often carry a 12-gauge auto, an older Browning Gold I’ve owned for some time. It’s super easy on recoil, even with a stiff turkey load, but when I go after gobblers I load it with either 2¾- or 3-inch loads, not the 3½. I don’t need the bigger shell. Maybe more often than I take out the Browning, though, I have a little Beretta White Onyx over/under in 20-gauge that’s my favored tool for turkeys. It’s more maneuverable, fast to reload, accurate as any other shotgun when patterned correctly, and easy to carry if I have to do some hiking for a tom. And it kills just fine.
Try it, try something smaller, like the 20-gauge your kids are hunting with. Resist the temptation to up the distance at which you kill. Resist the marketing hype that bigger is better just because it’s bigger and work on what really should be better, and that is your scouting, calling, and setup techniques. It’s okay to be a magnum hunter, just do it without the magnum gun.
Jennifer L.S. Pearsall is a professional outdoor writer, photographer, and editor, who has been a part of the hunting and shooting industries for nearly 20 years. She is an avid clays shooter, hunter and dog trainer. Please visit her blog “Hunting the Truth” at http://huntingthetruth.com.
It was one of Montana’s best-kept secrets nestled away in the hill country along the Madison River. The ranch opened to the public back in 2007, but it didn’t hold its grand opening until early 2008 when all the finishing touches were completed. The ranch is a 5000 acre deeded property with about an additional 2000 acres in leased land. Some of the land, only about 1,500 acres, is farmed but the majority of it is in a natural state for wildlife.
I wasn’t doing much of anything with my life, when I met Mark. I was working on the back end of the construction trade, first as a secretary for a plumbing supply wholesaler, then doing customer service for a cabinet supplier. The Washington metro area had been in one of its housing booms, but, in what is now an eerie specter of the housing bust (though certainly for different reasons then), the market collapsed. The cabinet company I was working for fired me—I knew where all the skeletons were—then bounced my final paycheck and filed for bankruptcy the next day.
I was out of a job, but I was in my mid-twenties, had a boyfriend I was kind of sharing most of my days and nights with, and I quickly found a part-time gig. My small number of bills were mostly paid, and I figured something would come along, so I didn’t even worry about the whole out-of-work thing that much. It was actually kind of a relief after the stress of watching the company I’d work for tank underneath me.
Mark had owned and sold a company, and he was doing some consulting work on the side, so we had a lot of time to just knock around. Weekends, though, were reserved for gun shows.
Northern Virginia has a rotating circuit of gun shows, or at least it did at the time. There was one in Leesburg one weekend, followed by another in Hume, one down past
There were always dealers with really, really, nice guns at that show, and I, having at least part of the personality of the crow and liking bright shiny things, appreciated the collections of Browning Hi-Powers laid out on red velvet, or a grouping of pearl-handled Colt Single Action Army’s under a glass case. My personal interests were really leaning toward rifles and shotguns though, and there were two dealers in particular who had my number dialed in.
The first had this unbelievable collection of Colt sporting rifles. Manufactured in a joint effort with Sauer for just a dozen years (1973 to 1985, to be exact), they all had gorgeous wood and a raised cheek piece that I loved to press against my face. In fact, they looked a lot like (no surprise here) the Weatherbys my grandfather Evans kept in his gun rack above his desk in
But it was the bluing on the Colt Sauer rifles that always got to me. No other rifle then or now, at least in my eyes, has ever possessed a bluing job like those guns did. It was deep and colorfull, truly blue, but also black-blue, and blue-purple, and black-green, a melding of all the colors of oil floating on water. To this day the depth of that bluing sticks in my head like a photo, and I’ve never seen another gun, long or short, that carried a bluing job anywhere near as beautiful as those Colt Sauers did. I coveted those rifles, but the dealer had tags on all of them that said $1,200 or $1,500. They were well out of my price range.
(Photo courtesy of Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Co.)
The second dealer I gravitated toward was an elderly gentleman who specialized in Belgian Browning shotguns. He had quite a few, never less than ten or a dozen at any show, and all were in pristine condition. I admired all of the Browning’s that man brokered, had done a little reading on Browning’s history, and so when the dealer had an A-5 at one show, it caught my attention.
That gun was as unmarred as one could hope. Not a scratch dinged the gun’s lovely rectangular receiver or its light scroll engraving, no wear showed at the pull-back bolt or thumb button or trigger tang or trigger guard. Not even the muzzle had any dulling –
clearly, this gun had been handled with care and laid in a case, not shoved in and out of a slip. The butt pad, too, was original and was still soft and pliable; not a bit of dry rot had begun. The grip of mellow, softly yellow wood was squared at the bottom and fit perfectly in my right hand. The fore-arm, sculpted a bit where it rounded in to meet and grip the barrel, seemed to have been designed to lay my thumb against it on one side and grip lightly on the other with my finger tips. That it was a little long in the stock didn’t bother me at all (though I don’t think I knew enough at the time to realize it didn’t really fit at all). I could look straight down its low-profile vented rib to c
I went home with that 32-inch-barreled, fixed full choke, Belgian Browning A-5.
I shot that gun often the first year I had it. I knew what it was intended for, with that long, tight barrel, and that was waterfowling. Or it least that was what it was designed for before steel shot forced out the use of lead. But I found an alternate use for it. Trap seemed to be that gun’s second calling. Oh, I had a little trouble with the rings and light loads sometimes, but once I had the right combination figured out, I mastered that clay bird game quickly. The 32-inch barrel seemed barely to move, as I pushed the muzzle in front of those going-away birds, and the straight line I had over that famed hump-backed receiver and down the rib to the bead was trap shooters who spend a lot of money customizing a gun yearn for. I was good for strong runs of targets way back in the handicap lines some nights.
The Browning was more or less retired after I owned it for the first year. I’d moved on to skeet, having grown bored with trap, and for this new clay sport, the long, full-choked barrel was sorely disadvantaged. And so it sat in my gun closet, cleaned and polished, for several years. I missed it, for like anything you’ve loved but lost your way with, it had that distinctive and piquant blend of fresh experience and nostalgia. But the truth was, I’d outgrown it.
I took that sweet Browning out one day, looked at its still gleaming metal and wood, took a breath of the Hoppe’s that still remained somewhere in its parts—and then I slipped it back in its case and took it to the local gun store to sell it. I didn’t “need” the gun, hadn’t used it in a long while. I reasoned that cash was better than a gun taking up space in a closet. It wasn’t. I’ve sold a small fraction of the guns I’ve ever owned. That Browning was the first I parted ways with, and the one I regret the most. First loves are like that.Jennifer L.S. Pearsall is a professional outdoor writer, photographer, and editor, who has been a part of the hunting and shooting industries for nearly 20 years. She is an avid clays shooter, hunter and dog trainer. Please visit her blog “Hunting the Truth” at http://huntingthetruth.com.
Most fantasies are better than the actual experience. Occasionally the opposite is true, a well known fact of hunters around Maryland.
Down the hill, behind the old Jefferson County manor house, a six-point buck stood alert under the autumn sky. The dense trees put forward garden colors of carrots, raspberries, pumpkins and sweet peas. I rested against the stone wall. Traces of summer lingered with the few insects flitting around in the warm dusk. As the moon grew brighter I knew Prospect Hall would justly serve the Holland & Holland Royal in the trunk of my car.
The Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show and Conference (SHOT Show) is the largest and most comprehensive trade show for all professionals involved with the shooting sports and hunting industries. You'll find plenty of so-called black guns for the tactical market, state-of-the-art bows, ammunition, a boatload of pistols and just about every conceivable gadget and gear on the planet for the hunting and shooting enthusiast as well as tools of the trade for the police and military.
The SHOT Show is also the best possible place to find shotguns for wing and clays shooting all under one roof. The giants of the industry such as Beretta, Browning, Winchester and Remington set aside sections in their massive exhibits for over/unders, semi-autos and side by sides.
They are accompanied by smaller companies with devoted followings such as Blaser, Fausti, Zoli, Ithaca, Caesar Guerini, Connecticut Shotgun, Benelli, Franchi, Stoeger and others.
The SHOT Show kicks off every year with Media Day. This gives the firearms press the opportunity to shoot just about every type of gun at a range. We flew in a day before the show actually started to participate in Media Day, giving us the opportunity to evaluate some new shotguns and perennial favorites. In a moment, we'll share our impressions with you of a day on the range with these shotguns.
This year's SHOT Show returned to Las Vegas from Orlando, where it was held in 2009. The SHOT Show packed the Sands Expo & Convention Center from January 19th through the 22nd.
The shows' sponsor and owner, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said that overall attendance reached 58,444, approaching the all-time record of the 2008 Las Vegas Show and approximately 11,000 more than last year's show in Orlando. The 1,804 media professionals in attendance also set a new high. Exhibiting companies numbered 1,633 across some 700,000 net square feet in the convention center's halls and the Venetian Hotel's meeting rooms.
Whether you were on the show floor, the press room or the Media Day shooting ranges, you could hear languages spoken from Europe and Asia. At the Desert Sportsman's Club, a group of reporters in front of me started speaking in German before switching to French when a fellow writer joined them.
The Desert Sportsman's Club in Las Vegas hosted the 2010 New Product Event. Among the gun makers participating, we focused on shotguns provided by Browning and Winchester. About eight stands were lined up with some seven trap machines in what turned out to be a shooting free-for-all.
Winchester's Super X3 Flanigan Exhibition/Sporting semi-auto just begged to be shot. With its candy-apple red receiver and matching forend cap contrasted against the black Dura-Touch Armor Coating, the 12 gauge simply dazzled.
Exhibition shooter Patrick Flanigan has set some speed records with a modified X3 so expectations ran high for performance. The shotgun proved to be fast, but for some inexplicable reason Winchester literally cut corners on the trigger blade. The sharp, perpendicular edges hurt your trigger finger and made the gun unpleasant to shoot. It was a far cry from the Blaser F3 28 gauge we're currently testing, which has perfect ergonomics.
At $1,479, the X3 Flanigan Exhibition is about one-quarter the price of the Blaser F3. Still, there's no excuse to fit a shotgun with a trigger that cuts into your finger.
We also shot Winchester's Super X Pump Black Shadow. The action on this one was very smooth, but once again the trigger edges were angular. In addition to the trigger being painful, it was stiff and heavy – far more so than the prototype Ithaca Model 37 Waterfowl Model we had shot just a few days before on a sea-duck hunt (we'll give you the exclusive story on that shotgun shortly).
After the two Winchester shotguns we moved on to the Brownings.
We tried the Browning Maxus semi-auto. Introduced last year as the world's most reliable shotgun, the two 12-gauge versions we shot both jammed on the second shot. One of them featured the Mossy Oak finish, while the other was black. We certainly would have expected more.
Next, we shot the Browning 12-gauge 625 Citori over/under. It delivered on Browning's reputation for quality and value. The shotgun had low recoil and a good finish. The 625 felt solid, the way Brownings are supposed to, and the gun shot well.
We picked up a .410 version of the 625. It proved to be a stunning clays crusher. Weighing slightly over 7 pounds, it delivered the handling of a bigger bore shotgun with the sheer exhilaration you can only get from a .410.
Our favorite shotgun at the Desert Sportsman's Club, however, turned out to be a 28-gauge Browning Cynergy Classic. From an aesthetics perspective, we always did like the angled lines of the Cynergy receiver where it meets the stock. Plus the Cynergy receiver has a much lower profile than the Citori. Overall, it's a more elegant, modern looking shotgun. This 28-gauge was extremely accurate – allowing us to break the targets and many of the pieces. With a suggested retail price of $3,509, you would be hard-pressed to find a better 28 gauge for the money.
Next stop was the Boulder City Rifle and Pistol Range for Bass Pro Shops' Media Day. Nearly every type of gun was available to the press, but we made a bee line to the shooting ranges of Blaser, Ithaca and Beretta.
Just for kicks, Blaser gave demonstrations of a muzzle loader, which broke targets with authority.
Beretta let us shoot a 12-gauge SV-10 Prevail. This handsome over/under benefits from state-of-the-art innovation that touches everything from the extractors to the hinges to the Kick Off anti-recoil on the butt of the stock. Once we located the point of impact and relaxed into the SV-10 Prevail, the gun proved nimble and easy to shoot, but we were disappointed in that it was difficult to crack open. These guns retail for about $3,000 and we can only assume opening the gun becomes easier over time. Otherwise, it would be a real challenge to buy a more advanced over/under at that price.
Also available to shoot was Beretta's latest semi-auto, the A400 Xplor Unico, 12 gauge with the Kick Off recoil-reduction system. Officially unveiled at the SHOT Show, this gun is distinguished by the Unico chamber, which reliably accepts shells ranging in length from 2 ¾ to 3 ½ inches. The rotating bolt with reinforced lugs is flexible enough to manage the different shells while at the same time reduces time between cleanings and improving cycling time by some 30 percent. Weighing in at a scant 6½ pounds, it's among the lightest semi-auto on the markets.
We found that we had to float the targets over the front bead to break the outgoers thrown from the single trap machine. The Kick Off worked as advertised, especially given the shotgun's bantam weight. The A400 Xplor Unico shouldered fast and handled well. Priced at $1,725, it's about $500 less than Beretta's preceding flagship semi-auto, the 391 Technys Gold Sporting.
We wrapped up our Media Day shooting with the extraordinary Ithaca 12-gauge over/under Phoenix. The last time we shot it, the gun was in the prototype stage and we declared it the softest shooting 12-gauge over/under on the planet. Now several months later, the Phoenix was even tighter. The latest iteration of the gun shot so straight I'm convinced that even a blind folded shooter could crush targets with it. The Phoenix is in the final stages of refinement and we could see the first models come out of the factory this summer. If you're interested, get your deposit in early because the Phoenix is already back-ordered.
Shotgun manufacturers took the opportunity to introduce several new models at the SHOT Show.
Franchi brought out a Renaissance Sport over/under in a 20-gauge. The coin-finished receiver includes ornate scroll work while the oil-finished stock is made of A Grade walnut. The suggested retail price is $2,349.
Winchester introduced the Walnut SX3 20 gauge at a starting price of $1,199. The All-Purpose Field model in 12 gauge is now available with a new Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity Camo finish for $1,469.
CZ USA, the American arm of the Czech gun maker, brought out a new ultralight 12-gauge over/under called the Upland Ultralight. Its light alloy receiver brings down the weight to 6 pounds – 2 pounds lighter than the steel-frame versions. The new shotgun starts at $749.
Weatherby expanded its SA-08 line with two new models: the Deluxe and Waterfowler. The Deluxe features a high-gloss walnut stock and blued metalwork. It's available in both 12- and 20-gauges models for $739. The Waterfowler has a camo synthetic stock and is only available in 12 gauge. It sells for $699.
We're already looking forward to next year's SHOT Show, to be held at the same venue on January 18-21. Stay tuned.
Shot Show contact: Irwin Greenstein (443) 799-5974.
Shotgun Life Marks One-Year Anniversary With New Advertisers: Blaser, Fausti, Ithaca, KRIEGHOFF AND ZOLI
As Industry’s First Online Magazine, Shotgun Life Helps Advertisers Cut Through Internet Clutter With Effective Search Engine Optimization
Pikesville, MD – Jan. 18, 2010 – Shotgun Life (www.shotgunlife.com), the first online magazine dedicated to the best in wing and clays shooting, marks its one-year anniversary with five major shotgun manufacturers becoming new advertisers.
In the past 30 days alone, Shotgun Life signed on Blaser USA, Fausti USA, Ithaca Gun Company, Krieghoff International and Antonio Zoli North America.
These makers of fine shotguns join Shotgun Life’s original charter advertisers including Classic Upland Supply, Electronic Shooters Protection, Griffin & Howe, Ivory Beads, Kick-EEZ and Randolph Engineering.
“Makers of fine shotguns and their customers have for so many years enjoyed the rare luxury of being served by several upscale magazines,” said Irwin Greenstein, Publisher of Shotgun Life. “Even so, we have clearly proven that the marketplace has been starving for quality editorial and glossy aesthetics in a dynamic, online publication.”
The Shotgun Life technology platform is designed from the ground up for search engine optimization. With more clay and wingshooters relying on the Internet for product information, Shotgun Life’s stories often appear high in the search results, helping enthusiasts cut through the typical gun-for-sale clutter that proliferates on the Internet.
In addition to the online magazine, Shotgun Life publishes two free e-letters whose mission is to educate clays shooters. The Shotgun Life OSP 3-Minute Coach is distributed every weekday with shooting tips from Gil & Vicki Ash, owners of the renown OSP Shooting School. The e-letter is used for direct marketing to sell OSP’s full line of instructional products and services.
Every Wednesday, the Shotgun Life E-Letter features tutorials from world-class clays instructors such as Jack Bart, Phil Kiner, George Lehr, Anthony Matarese, Gary Phillips, Joe Rankin, Jim Sarkauskas, Bob Uknalis, John Woolley and others.
When it comes to quality editorial, Shotgun Life has attracted some of the best writers. Among them are Chris Batha, Al Hague, Jennifer L.S. Pearsall, Michael Sabbeth, Jerry Sinkovec and Nick Sisley.
“Shotgun Life’s total coverage of upscale, recreational sporting clays has exceeded all the print magazines combined,” Greenstein said. “We are the only publication, whether it’s print or digital, to provide extensive coverage of both wingshooting and sporting clays – providing an integrated advertising and marketing venue for the industry.”
Shotgun Life also operates a forum that hosts organizations such as the NSSA, NSCA and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance.
For advertising opportunities, please contact Bernard + Associates, Jeff Thruston,
For more information about Shotgun Life, please visit www.shotgunlife.com.
Once upon a time, the dream of a magnificent plantation called Wingfield bloomed full and flush in the enchanted quail kingdom of South Carolina’s Low Country.
Amid the live oaks and long pines, no more than 60 gentlemen hunters giddy on the stock market bubble would live in grand houses and partake in the sportsmen’s lifestyle entitled to the plantation aristocracy.
When I left theFBIAcademyafter sixteen weeks of training in 1986, I was covered in the most beautiful shades of purple, green, and yellow from my face to my collarbone, and down my bicep. The shotgun was too long, and my long neck and high cheekbones made it impossible to mount the gun properly to my shoulder while maintaining a proper sight picture (which is critical to defensive shotgun shooting). I lifted my face off the gun while shooting creating a horrible flinch, and all of the bad habits that ensue when shooting an ill-fitted gun followed suit. I was convinced that no one had ever hated a shotgun like I did in my bruised and frustrated condition.
There are no signs on the factory at 420 North Walpole Street in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, but open the old door and the pungent smell of machine oil is your first hint that the Ithaca shotgun is being re-born.
This rambling building that once housed a rolling rink, an automotive center and mold-making operation has been transformed into the backbone of the Ithaca Gun Company. Hard-working American men and women, like so many discarded in the upheaval of globalization, are now devoting their full measure of sweat and muscle to manufacture a new 100-percent American-built over/under shotgun code-named Phoenix.
“It’s nice to think that we could help our brothers and sisters in America by keeping and creating new jobs,” said Ithaca machinist, Tom Troiano.
Every screw, spring and steel billet is sourced from the U.S. as the company brings to life the stunning new 12-gauge Phoenix. From its inception, the Phoenix was designed to honor the proportions and sturdy sensibility of the classical over/under American shotgun.
Shotgun Life recently enjoyed the privilege of spending a full day at Ithaca talking with nearly everyone in the company. We spoke with the men who made the barrels, the receivers and the stocks. We spent time with management. And we were given the unique opportunity to be the first one outside of the company to shoot a prototype of the forthcoming Phoenix.
We can report unequivocally that design breakthroughs engineered into the Phoenix have made it the softest shooting 12-gauge over-under we have ever pulled a trigger on. The felt recoil on the Phoenix is virtually nonexistent – on par with the benchmark Beretta 391 Target Gold 12-gauge semi-auto – kicking only just enough to reset the inertia trigger.
Better yet, with a starting price of about $2,500 and moving to $10,000 depending on the type of engraving and grade of American walnut, the Phoenix could easily mark a renaissance of the big Ithaca shotguns.
That’s why Ithaca named the Phoenix after the dazzling mythical bird which rose from the ashes to fly once again. But leading Ithaca authority, Walt Snyder, author of the definitive books The Ithaca Company From the Beginning and Ithaca Featherlight Repeaters…The Best Gun Going observed that the new Phoenix also has an historical precedence.
In 1945, Ithaca had built a one-of-a-kind 12-gauge, over/under prototype. As the Model 51, it had serial number EX1, for experimental 1. It now appears that the new Phoenix is a direct descendant of that orphaned masterpiece.
Our first glimpse of the new 12-gauge over/under took place in January 2009 at the expansive Shot Show. There in booth 1736, I was drawn to the allure of an elegantly understated over/under that was all chrome-moly black steel and American walnut. The receiver, devoid of engraving, drew me in and I picked up the gun. I mounted it to my shoulder, my immediate impression one of a tight, well-balanced shotgun. Then I moved the top lever to the right and to my astonishment the barrels slowly fell open as though on hydraulics.
This was the shotgun that Walt would see several months later at a dealer event in Wilmington, North Carolina. Ithaca’s Mike Farrell arrived with it and Walt’s initial impression was that “It looked like a very well made gun. It seemed to mount and balance very well.”
At the time of the Shot Show, the gun remained months away from being in shooting condition and it hadn’t been christened the Phoenix. But after returning to the office, I would occasionally call Mike, the company’s number-two guy (no one at Ithaca has a job title), until he agreed to let me visit the company and actually try the shotgun.
For those of you familiar with Ithaca shotguns, it would be easy to dismiss the Phoenix as another heartfelt effort to salvage this fabled American manufacturer established in 1883.
Taking its namesake from the first factory in Ithaca, New York, the company’s fortunes in later years have been a tortured tale of missteps as one management team after another tried to reclaim the glory years that spanned the late 1800s until Pearl Harbor. That was a triumphant epoch when Ithaca manufactured shotguns such as the Flues side-by-side, the Knick trap gun, the 3½-inch Magnum 10 and the Model 37 pump based on a design by John Browning.
Beginning in the late 1960s, the company changed hands several times until it padlocked the doors in1986. The following year a new investor group took the helm until 1996, when entrepreneur Steven Lamboy acquired the assets and rights to make the Ithaca doubles. He turned out some beautiful shotguns in Italy bearing the Ithaca name but fell into bankruptcy in 2003. By 2004, the Federal government attached the company’s bank accounts for back taxes and a bitter lawsuit ensued in New York state between various stakeholders. In 2005, Ithaca’s assets were surrendered and the company liquidated.
That’s when Craig Marshall entered. Owner of MoldCraft in Upper Sandusky, he converted the family mold-making business into a new iteration of Ithaca. During the transition, the Marshalls assembled the flagship Model 37 pumps from existing inventory with every intention of restoring the marque’s luster. Unfortunately, the Marshalls eventually found themselves under-capitalized for the venture to the extent that they were forced to idle the factory for eight months between 2006 and 2007.
Finally, in June 2007 industrial glass magnate David Dlubak acquired the company's assets and Ithaca name from the Marshalls. He started making fresh plant investments in the nondescript Upper Sandusky facility and brought back the team working on the Model 37.
As Dave explained to us in Ithaca’s distinctly blue-collar conference room, “We want to make a high-quality shotgun, at an affordable price, that will fit in the working man’s hands. The gun is going to be that guy’s pride and joy. The old Ithacas lasted fifty or sixty years. Now we make them to tighter tolerances and with better steel. We don’t want cheaper, we want better.”
Like many luminaries in the industry, Dave did not get his start making shotguns. Just as Harris John Holland began as a tobacconist, and Charles Parker a maker of spoons, curtains and locks, Dave comes from a family that owns and operates one of the largest industrial glass recycling businesses in the U.S., Dlubak Glass.
Dave was in the process of finalizing a new product called “bubble glass” that combined concrete and glass in faux log building material. Replete with grains and knots, bubble glass is resistant to fire and insects but soft enough for an ordinary drill bit. He was looking for a mold maker who could package the bubble-glass logs for affordable and dependable shipment.
He went to MoldCraft and met the Marshalls. Dave was presented with an opportunity to invest in Ithaca. Instead, he bought it.
Although a long-time aficionado of Ithaca shotguns, he acquired the company because of “the quality of the people and their ability.” These tool-and-die makers were the “elite of the elite,” he said.
For example, barrel-maker Roger Larrabee has been a tool-and-die machinist for 47 years. He trained Tom Troiano, who turns out the receivers.
“Roger trained a lot of the guys here,” Tom said.
As a self-described “control freak” with a passion for quality, it was paramount for Dave to build a team with the capabilities to “make all the parts here,” he said. “I’m interested in making it all under one roof.”
He characterizes the Ithaca Gun Company as being in “stage two,” meaning that it has resolved the manufacturing issues with its current popular pump guns: the accurate Deerslayer series, the rugged Model 37 Defense, and the sweethearts of the pump-gun community, the 28-gauge Model 37 and the Model 37 Featherlight and Ultralight.
These shotguns showcased the production capabilities of the company. They demonstrated the team’s ability to craft receivers from a billet of steel or aluminum, to do away with soldering or any other heat-inducing joining, and to machine one-piece barrels with integrated rib stanchions that eliminate any potential warpage from the run-of-the-mill rib soldering.
“Ithaca certainly seems to have manufacturing savvy,” Walt said. “I’ve seen their Model 37 and it’s beautiful and I would assume they would be successful with the new over/under.”
These accomplishments came from “spending many midnights sorting these things through,” Dave said. “We’re not in love with wood, we’re in love with steel.”
The company’s passion for steel is clear when you tour the factory floor. As raw Pittsburgh steel goes from the mill-turn lathes to to grinders to finishing machines to polishers there is an almost monastic sense of duty among the people making parts for the shotguns. All the tooling and fixturing was developed in-house. Custom software was written by the youngest guy on the crew for the tightest possible tolerances. The individual components are funneled into an assembly room where one person hand fits everything together into a single shotgun.
After the factory floor I spent time with Aaron Welch, Ithaca’s designer and engineer. Looking over his shoulder in the cramped office, he rotated the solid-block 3D models of the Phoenix on his computer monitor.
There was the Anson-Deeley boxlock action ready to fire 2¾ inch shells.
I discovered that a secret to the low recoil of the Phoenix are the three capsule-shaped pockets machined into the bottom of the receiver. They are designed to distribute the load of shooting, improve longevity of the components and help absorb the spent gasses. Moreover, the slightly greater mass of the receiver and monobloc combine to give the Phoenix a lower felt recoil. The less-restrictive 1.5 degree forcing cone and somewhat heavier burled stock also helped tame excessive kick.
In examining the monobloc, Aaron talked about how the barrels are held to the breech section by a tubular connector, instead of being soldered, to improve reliability. At the business end of the 30-inch barrels, the muzzles are dovetailed together, rather than soldered, to prevent distortion from thermal expansion.
That sense of a hydraulic assist when opening the shotgun comes from cocking rods that push against the hammer springs when you move the top lever.
The top bolting mechanism was borrowed from the old Ithaca Knick. It sits high in the receiver for a stronger grip on the monobloc.
Next I looked at how the rib slides into the stanchions and is mounted with a single screw. Aaron said that interchangeable ribs would be available to provide different points of impact.
In the end, the Phoenix would weigh about eight pounds.
Now it was time to see how all the parts worked together.
Mike grabbed the prototype of the 12-gauge Phoenix. The shotgun was still in-the-white with a couple thousand test rounds through it.
We drove a few minutes to a piece of property on a lake that had once been a quarry. A house overlooking it was under construction. The house belonged to Dave and was being built from bubble glass in cinder-block form factors.
In addition to the house and lake, the property also had a trap machine set up by the previous owners.
Mike handed me the gun and in fact it did feel very well balanced. I practiced mounting it a few times. The straight stock fit quite well. Dan Aubill, the guy in charge of Ithaca’s custom stock program, had told me that it was measured to fit the “average guy” with a 14¼ inch length of pull, zero cast, drop at comb of 1½ inch and drop at heel of 2¼ inch.
Pushing the top lever, the barrels slowly fell open. I loaded in two 1? ounce shells. Mike took up the controller and when I called “pull” two things immediately took me by surprise. The first was the extremely low recoil, the second is how I completely pulverized the targets.
Mike and I went through a couple of boxes of shells, the two of us taking turns pulling targets. The trigger was light and crisp, the beads lined up perfectly and the tapered forend enabled a wide range of control.
I turned out to be the last one who shot the Phoenix that day and when the time came to return it to Mike I thought “I gotta get one of these.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I may have been suffering from a mid-life crisis, but ultimately I really wanted to prove that a mainstream semi-auto like the Browning Silver Lightning still had what it takes in our digital era of composite gladiators such as the Maxus and Vinci.
SKB is a shotgun company that flies under the radar of most wing and clays shooters, which is regrettable given the enthusiastic impression the GC7 Three-Barrel Set made on the Shotgun Life Peer Review Posse.
Wouldn’t it be great if four-time Olympic shooting champ Kim Rhode finally appeared on a box of Wheaties?
As legend has it, if it had been up to Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, Kim would’ve been beaming her warm smile on the Breakfast of Champions back in 1996, when at age 16, as the youngest member of the U.S. Summer Olympic Team, she won her first Gold Medal for double trap.
You probably already have some preconceived notions about your dream shotgun, and that is just fine. But sometimes it pays to seek advice from someone who has had literally hundreds of shotguns pass through their hands, had so many different stocks touch their cheek, fondled so many receivers. Lucky for me, I am one of those folks, so hopefully what I’m going to tell you might help with your future purchase.
What is the most important quality to seek in your next shotgun? A beautiful piece of walnut, out of this world engraving, strength to hold up to a million rounds, a stock that fits you perfectly? Or what? To me all these factors are important, as are others, but I think the best quality a shotgun can have is feel. That’s what to look for first.
It’s difficult to describe feel, just as it’s difficult to describe love at first sight. You just know both when you feel either. Once you love how a shotgun feels you are going to thoroughly enjoy it. You are going to have great confidence in it. After that you can always add such luxuries as a custom stock, custom engraving, custom checkering, whatever. But if you don’t start out loving the feel of a shotgun the cards are stacked against you ever shooting that gun all that well.
When it comes to semi-autos I think Beretta attained the feel I’m talking about with the models 303, the 390, and now the many versions of the 391. I don’t think it’s easy to incorporate a good-feeling quality into a semi, but I do believe Beretta has done it. It’s more than balance I’m talking about, but good balance is certainly a big part of having a shotgun feel right. A shotgun with great feel should move almost effortlessly to the target – pitch or feathered. Such a shotgun will probably let you think it actually weighs less than it really does. You should look forward to picking up and fondling such a shotgun every chance you get.
Have you ever picked up a Perazzi? If you have not done so I urge you to do that – do it even if you cannot afford one. There’s something about virtually every Perazzi I pick up that just sings feel. From the initial pick up to the shouldering to the mounting to the swinging, even to the sound of a Perazzi clicking shut – for many it is a love affair at first sight or first feel. This seems to be true no matter the barrel length for this company has a way of matching barrel weights to the receiver, stock and fore-end so that balance and feel are not compromised. To experience feel first hand just pick up and handle a Perazzi intended for field shooting – or one of their sporting clays models.
The English got feel right over 100 years ago – with their side by side shotguns, first with hammer guns, but later with sidelocks and then even boxlocks. Not many of us are going to have the opportunity to pick up, fondle and swing a Purdey or a Boss, but maybe one day you will have a chance to do this with one of the lesser known old English doubles – perhaps an Army & Navy, a Webley Scott (this company made many fine English double guns sold in other names), a Cogswell & Harrison, a Reilly or one from a number of other English makers that don’t bring the prices of a Purdey, a Holland or several others. If you ever get the chance to handle a gun like this you will see what I mean by feel.
Enough about feel – let’s move to fit. Whatever new gun you buy – it probably won’t fit you perfectly. However, this does not mean you have to change the beautiful stock the gun came with – at least hopefully not. Length of pull can be adjusted with a thicker or thinner recoil pad. If the comb is too high you or a stock person can sand away until that portion of the fit is correct, and then minimal refinishing could be all you need to fix the looks of the walnut.
You could also have the stock you buy made into an adjustable comb stock – or it may come with one. These are sort of ugly but not double ugly. You could add self-adhesive Moleskin (available at drugstores) to the comb if the stock is too low – sort of double ugly but serviceable.
The best way to determine gun fit is to have a pattern paper or steel plate to shoot at. The premise should be to shoot over and over – say at least five times – at the same pointing spot on the paper or the steel plate. Is your new gun shooting high, low, left, right or some combination of two of those? No aiming for this work. Just pull the gun up and shoot.
Don’t overlook the recoil pad. Sad to say some recoil pads put on factory shotguns these days are abominable. This is not to say such pads don’t have recoil-absorbing qualities. That’s not what I’m getting at here. A recoil pad should be a significant aid in helping with a perfect gun mount. Too many pads are a significant handicap in allowing the shooter to make a great gun mount. With some pads the consistency is simply too sticky. Those that are cause a lot of gun mounting problems. Another problem is caused by sharp pad edges, especially at the top of the pad. Consider the type of pad that has a plastic insert at the top – a feature that can be a big factor in reducing gun mounting hang ups. Further, rounded edges all around the pad help guard against sharp edges gouging into the shoulder area. The recoil pad is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of new or used shotgun buying. Of course, the buyer can always add the recoil pad of his or her choice after purchase.
For hunting, as opposed to competition shooting, I actually like most shotguns fitted with either a plastic butt plate or simply a checkered butt. These are hunting guns, most of which are shot minimally, as opposed to competition guns which are shot one heck of a lot. With a hunting gun the plastic butt pad or checkered butt stock tends to reduce back-end weight a tad – and certainly facilitates an easy, unobstructed gun mount.
In wrap up I will make one additional shotgun make suggestion for you to consider picking up, shouldering and swinging at the gun shop. This would be the Caesar Guerini, and the company makes many models, those for hunting, skeet, trap and sporting clays. This company goes to special pains to make the guns balance just ahead of the hinge pins or trunnions – and they do this regardless of barrel length. To me all the Guerini over and unders that I have handled have a great feel.
Sign-up at Shotgun Life to Receive Daily Shooting Tips From the Library of Gil & Vicki’s Optimum Shotgun Performance (OSP) Shooting School
PIKESVILLE, Md. – July 20, 2009 – Shotgun Life announced today the new Gil & Vicki Ash OSP store for their instructional books, DVDs and other products and services designed to help shotgun owners improve their game.
The new OSP store on Shotgun Life is the first online retail venture outside of Gil &
Vicki’s own domain. The venture underscores the common commitment by OSP and Shotgun Life to make the shotgun sports more enjoyable and rewarding for shooters of all experience levels.
In conjunction with its new OSP store, Shotgun Life launched its free “Shotgun Life’s OSP 3-Minute Coach.” Subscribers will receive shooting tips via email Monday through Friday that are excerpted from Gil & Vicki’s many books and DVDs. Shooters can sign up now at http://www.shotgunlife.com.
The Shotgun Life OSP store is located at
“Shotgun Life helps shooters steer clear of the conflicting instructional advice that’s dished up in the all those online forums,” said Gil. “We saw Shotgun Life as an extension of our philosophy, and that’s to get new shooters started on the right foot and help experienced shooters figure out those little tics and quirks that drive them crazy.”
“As the first online magazine devoted to wing and clays shooting, Shotgun Life is in a great position to help Gil & Vicki reach as many shotgun owners as possible,” said Irwin Greenstein, Publisher of Shotgun Life. “Shotgun Life is free, timely and women-friendly – breaking down the barriers that have held back so many shooters and advertisers frustrated with the limitations of the six-times-per-year publishing cycle that still persists as the industry model.”
Through OSP, Gil & Vicki provide a complete instructional package. No other instructors in the world have the depth of products, knowledge and experience for successfully teaching clays and wing shooting. Each year, Gil & Vicki add new products and services so that OSP continues to meet the ever-growing needs of the shotgun sports community.
The Shotgun Life OSP store will feature Gil & Vicki’s best-selling books and DVDs.
The books include:
Visit www.ospschool.com to learn more.
Shotgun Life is the first online magazine devoted to the best in wing and clays shooting. For more information about Shotgun Life visit http://www.shotgunlife.com.
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I was a very unlikely prospect, but Gary Jackson knew better.
The past President of Blackwater Worldwide and ex-Navy SEAL took one look at me and saw my inner commando. It speaks highly of his perceptive powers, because at the time my legs were ready to completely give out from under me, which is how we met in the first place.