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.”
Something caught my eye on ESPN recently that made me remember a fine spring day spent with a boyfriend in the Shenandoah Mountains, chasing six-inch trophy brook trout and listening to the cushioned thunder of male grouse drumming for love. Maybe, I got to thinking, it was that day that really became the turning point in how I was to progress through my life as a professional in the hunting and shooting industry. I think that, because it had been a day of firsts.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t had any firsts before. I’d shot my first gun before. I’d had my first deer hunt, though no deer had taken the opportunity to step in front of my rifle. I’d had my first turkey hunt, too, and a successful one at that, yet that entire event spanned just two hours, and, when I got right down to it, I’d done little to make the hunt a success except sit still and pull the trigger at the right time. My boyfriend was the one who knew where the turkeys were, knew how to set the decoy and where to set me up, and he’d done all the calling. So while I’d had a good time, was glad to have had the experience, I didn’t feel like I’d really participated.
That day spent wandering along a stream in the Shenandoahs, on the other hand, that was different. I saw the grouse drumming. I pulled on fly fishing waders and felt-soled boots and gravel guards for the first time. I caught my first trout on my first fly line with a fly I’d tied on for the first time. Every foot of water we waded that day revealed something new, something refreshingly challenging. Read the water, see the ripple, watch the drift, Damn, who put that tree there! By the time I was through with the day and Henry and I were back in the truck taking long draws on icy Buds (not my first time with that, but it might as well have been for the way that precious moment stands out in my memory), I was in sensory overload – I’d interacted – and all I wanted was more.
I was sitting in bar with a good friend a few months ago. It was a quiet afternoon, and the establishment wasn’t busy. We had the bar and the bartender to ourselves, and when you’re drinking casually and easily on lazy afternoons like that conversations take on a certain freedom, one where judgment doesn’t come into play; tongues flow freely because there’s a sudden and unexpected intimacy in such moments, rather than because alcohol has loosened them. We chatted and the bartender revealed that she had five children, the youngest of whom she and her husband had adopted. They’d taken the girl in, it seems, when the infant was just a couple days old and addicted to the heroin her mother had used throughout her pregnancy. The bartender was familiar with the problem, having both a brother and father who were heroin addicts. In surprising camaraderie, my friend spoke up, saying that he, too, had an addict in his family, one who’d tried crack just once and had been battling an addiction to it literally from the moment he’d lost his grip on making good decisions in his successful middle-aged life and taken that first hit. My friend said to me and the bartender, “He’s always chasing that first high. The ones after it never match it, but he keeps doing what he does, hoping one day one of them will.”
Chasing that first high. That defines addiction, obsession, in probably the purest sense. I believe that’s why I hunt and fish to this day, have for the past twenty years or so. Addiction is why I get up and climb into a blind on morning five after four previous mornings of not seeing a thing, because the fifth morning just might be the one. It’s why I hike further into new fields and forests, looking for woodcock and grouse and pheasants for quail, because I just might put up a bird or three where I’ve never put one up before. Hell, I might just walk where someone hasn’t walked in a hundred years, or even ever walked before—that first-man-on-the-moon philosophy alone is enough to make me pull on Double Tins and an elbow-patched canvas shirt.
So yes, I am chasing that first high. Again and again and again. And yet I, you, we, are so much luckier than the drug addict, and for more than the obvious reasons. See, we get to repeat those first highs every time we step out the door and load up the truck. We get to have that first high when we sit in a favorite treestand for the umpteen-millionth time, because the sunrise will be different—and sometimes the buck that walks in front of the bow or rifle or shotgun will be different, too. Every ripple in every turn of every creek will be different, no matter how many times we’ve fished it over the years, because today’s temperature and cloud cover aren’t the same as they were last year or last month or yesterday and because a giant tree collapsed down across the stream a mile ahead of us last week and altered, forever, the flow of water where we wade right this moment. And for every ringneck cockbird we run to put to flight when you catch him by eye sneaking through a cutover row of milo, we get the one that scares the bejeebers out of us when it explodes two feet back from what we thought was a bare and birdless patch of ground.
These are our firsts. These are our highs. These are the reasons we call our hunting an obsession, an addiction. Chase it, my friends, chase it.
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.
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.
There is catch-and-release fishing on the ranch but you also have the Madison River only a few minutes away. There is upland bird hunting with pheasant, chucker and all the native huns and sharp-tail grouse available. They also have deer and elk hunting available on a limited basis. There are many others things to do including hiking, horseback riding, wildlife watching and wildlife photography. It’s not unusual to see herds of several hundred deer or elk on the ranch. In winter you can snowshoe or cross country ski. When you get into the high country you can see the four mountain ranges that surround the ranch area. It’s a beautiful area where you can truly relax and unwind.
The majority of the people that come here are the residents of Bozeman, Montana area who want to get away from it all and relax in an Idyllic atmosphere. I always thought if you lived in Bozeman you already got away from it all. But you could also find a couple from Atlanta or Zurich, Switzerland enjoying the outstanding atmosphere of the ranch and the lodge. This is a really unique ranch with a totally different outlook about it being a place to stay. It can be a bed and breakfast, or it can be a hunting lodge, or a fishing lodge or a dude ranch. It can be anything you want it to be. And it can be all yours. They aren’t trying to keep all the rooms full all the time, just the opposite. It’s what they call low impact lodging. They want you to have a really unique experience while you are there for whatever reason. You can be by yourself or just a couple. The lodge will hold about eight to twelve people depending on the mix. And it can be all yours for a day, a week or a month, it’s up to you.
The lodge is really a work of art, from the timber and glass exterior to the hard wood floors, marble counters, luxurious furniture and game heads from around the world adorning the walls. It reflects the personality of its owners and is one of the finer places I’ve ever had the pleasure to stay at.
You can pick one of their guest packages or design your own. Instead of the typical B&B package which includes your breakfast, you could do your owning cooking of dinner in their state-of-the-art kitchen or have their gourmet chef come in and cook your dinner right before you every evening. I don’t think you’ll ever find another place like this where they consider your experience as a greater value than having all the rooms full.
My first experience there after it just opened in 2007 was a real surprise. I came up from Idaho to do some bird hunting and met several hunters from Bozeman who I hunted with and had a great time. They were there for the day just to bird hunt while I was going to be spending several days there doing different things in addition to bird hunting.
We had a fun-filled day with some great bird hunting. We also had some good laughs about the birds we missed. We had a pheasant that was hit hard, but not dead and all four of us were looking for it very intensely as were the two dogs. Something caught my attention and I looked up at what I thought was a large flock of song birds, they didn’t look that large. Someone else also saw them and didn’t think anything about them as well. When the birds were right in front and above us, we realized it was a huge covey of huns. All the guns started to move and there was a lot of gunfire at the going-away birds, but not a bird dropped from the sky. We all looked at each other somewhat dumbfounded and burst out laughing. It took awhile to get over what had just happened. We did finally find the one we were looking for. We all ended up with a good mix of birds. Each one of us had either three or four birds.
The next time I was at the ranch was early in January of 2010. We just had over a foot of snow in Idaho Falls and a few days of single digit temperatures and when I got up to around Ennis, Montana, the temperature was 34 degrees, the skies were clear and the roads were clear and dry. I was expecting a foot of snow or more at the ranch and the ground was basically clear and dry. After a quick, small lunch, Chris, the ranch manager, and I headed out to one of the hunting areas with his dog, Katie. In the time since I was here last, Katie had matured into a first-class hunting dog.
We headed out to one of the areas that had very deep cover for the birds. After some walking, Katie went on point as Chris and I walked a little closer. The cock finally couldn’t take it any longer and tried to make his escape while Chris and I started to mount our guns. Chris got the first shot off and hit the bird but it didn’t go down and when the bird got clear of Chris I took my shot and hit the bird as well but it still kept going. We saw where it landed and backtracked to where the bird was and Katie quickly got the birds scent and went on point.
When the bird took off it looked like it was just hanging there and when I shot the bird it took a couple of somersaults in the air before it hit the ground for the last time.
During the rest of the afternoon hunt I got three more birds, but one got away. It was hit hard but managed to maintain some gliding flight for awhile. We went to look for it and could not find it after seeing where it landed and searching for some fifteen minutes. After we started back to the truck Katie picked up a scent and took off on a diagonal run while Chris and I stayed on track to the truck. When Katie got to the base of the hill we saw her pick something up and then drop it and then came running back to us. Chris and I both thought the same thing. The bird we were just looking for didn’t go into the heavy cover where it landed; it doubled back to the hill close to where I shot it and died there. Thanks to Katie, I ended up with the four birds I shot.
Being that I was the only guest at the ranch, I decided to soak up some of the ambience of the lodge and get some writing done. The chef was coming in that evening to cook dinner for Chris and I and I knew it was going to be a grand and memorable dinner. Chris himself is an excellent chef, so when “the chef” comes in you know it’s going to be even more impressive.
I was not disappointed. Tiffany started us off with a delicious squash, carrot and potato soup that was out of this world. Our salad was light and very tasty with some citrus that was a delight. The entrée was pheasant with a red wine and fig reduction glaze and polenta, and was without a doubt the very best pheasant I ever had; Chris agreed. And I have a few good recipes for pheasant myself. The dessert was as exceptional. It was a roasted pear sorbet which I have never had before and will never forget it was so delicious.
The following day Chris and I went out to shoot some clays. They have five automatic Promatic traps set up in some interesting terrain. They have a formal shooting station for each trap, but Chris and I tried to make it more interesting and fun. We also shot between two stations so we could shoot report and true pairs off of two stations. On stations four and five we had the most fun. Standing 10 yards above station four, which was a fast left-to right quartering bird that you couldn’t dally on. Station five was a high incomer arching right to left that was always in transition. Four was the harder bird to hit so we tried report pairs to start and we both accomplished getting the pair. Then we went for true pairs and we both accomplished that after a few misses. Then we got ridiculous. We shot them in reverse. There were a lot of misses but we were able to get a pair and Chris’s second bird, the one quartering away looked like it was in China, and he still got it. We sure hooted and hollered and high fived on that one.
Grey Cliffs Ranch is a great experience in itself, but when you add the outstanding food served there by either Chris or Tiffany it really becomes a truly grand and memorable event. To book your fun experience or adventure call 406-285-6512 or go to: www.greycliffsranch.com
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.