Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Over/ Under Is 20 For The Best Bet In Shotguns

(This post first appeared on December 1, 2009. Updates including today's appear below in chronological order.)
A 20 gauge Mossberg 500 was my first shotgun. I killed a few pheasants with it, quite a few snowshoe hares, and even my first whitetail. I liked the tang safety. But the takedown screw that secured the barrel to the frame was forever loose, and I had to tighten it down every 5 minutes to prevent the next shot from sending both load and barrel down field.

The 20 gauge has wandered in and out of favor with me ever since. When I first read Gene Hill describe it as “bitey,” I was reminded of my ill-advised SKB 20 gauge SxS “goose gun” that shot from both ends. There've been many years when I completed the seasons well enough without a 20 gauge gun in my safe.

Several years ago, though, a Don Zutz article turned my head more than the Swedish Bikini Team. He suggested that the 20 gauge O/U’s trim barrels, slender forearm, and grip conspired to form a right-feeling whole that handled better than the sum of its parts. When I thought about how well I've shot several 20 gauge O/Us on twitchy woodcock, I decided that Don had it right.

The 20 gauge O/U is commonly available “off the rack” weighing around 6 pounds 4 ounces, making it very well suited for upland hunting. At this weight, the gun can be carried “all day” – whatever that means for my challenged coverts – but is still heavy enough to encourage a full swing through my birds. And even if the “Rule of 96” is only loosely invoked, then a gun at this weight is more than comfortable when shooting a 7/8 ounce load.

Here’s how I had it figured in August, 2008:
”As most rough shooters ultimately do, I’ve settled on lighter weight arms, acknowledging that we carry a gun for much greater time periods than we shoot it. Here’s what I’ve saved.
My smallest-framed gun is a 20 gauge O/U, an L. L. Bean “New Englander” from B(atista) Rizzini. Since I don’t shoot registered 4-gun skeet, there’s really no pressing need for me to own a 28 gauge. A 20 can be almost as svelte – too much daintiness as an impediment to good shooting is a good topic for another day – and, when down-loaded with ¾ oz. loads, probably throws patterns just as effective as those from the much-hyped 28. This Rizzini has a rubber recoil pad, a plain fore end (no Schnabel) and a rounded pistol grip. As did Don Zutz, I find that my left hand is on plane with my right in a scaled 20 gauge O/U stocked this way, and strongly believe this adds a comfortable synergy to my shooting. Hunt records do not discourage me in this belief.”

B. Rizzini "New Englander" 20 Gauge O/U

”The New Englander is my gun of choice for woodcock and early season grouse. I rarely swap out the .005” and .010” choke tubes, and own no loads for it other than Remington’s STS20SC in #8 lead.

This particular configuration is about as good as it gets for me. If I ever were to consider an upgrade, without question I’d work with Rich Cole in Maine to have a similar style gun built for me with a custom sized stock wrapped around the universally popular Beretta 686 action.”
Since then, I’ve switched to choke tubes that are nominally .000” and .005”, and if I have not scored as well on woodcock, then I’ve scored better.

When I peeked at Cole's website recently, I was pleased to see that he’ll not only cut a stock to my dimensions, but that he offers a nifty Prince of Wales grip as well.

Cole Custom 20 Gauge O/U
I’m partial to the relaxed radius in the grip and the bold but straight grain in this particular stock. If its hue had a bit more Hershey, and the pad were black, it would be awful damn near my ideal grouse and woodcock gun.

When woodcock season ended recently, I concentrated on hunting pheasants with my 16 gauge RBL. I realized right away that I wasn't swinging the RBL like my New Englander. But it took me a while to figure out why not.

I am not especially tall, but I am slender enough – think Laurel, not Hardy - so that my arms are effectively quite long. Somewhere along the way I fell into shooting with a long left arm, and now that style feels as comfortable as fluffy dry socks in old boots. According to Michael Yardley, I'm not the first to shoot like this. At any rate, I discovered that I was "chicken winging" my left arm on the RBL's splinter forearm; and my swing felt much better after I began grabbing a bit more barrel. When I finally save up enough cash for a Cole Custom, I'll make sure Rich can make me a forearm similar in length to the New Englander's.

A light weight gun that carries and handles "just right," the 20 gauge O/U has earned a permanent spot in my safe.

December 20, 2009

This advert for Fausti’s Dea Duetto caught my eye. What a gorgeous forend for these small gauge doubles.

The Fausti sisters clearly appreciate long wood in their left hands.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Day Duck On The Upper Niagara River

My nephew Patrick took his first woodcock earlier this month. Today, in their seminal tradition of waterfowling the Upper Niagara River on Thanksgiving morning, Pat and his Uncle Dean tried to take his first duck.

It was 48° and calm, with a thin sun peeking on and off through some high clouds. I know this because, even though old Uncle Mike does not enjoy thrashing around in cold water in the dark at an uncivilized hour, I have my own tradition of bringing them an Egg McMuffin and a steamy cup of joe around 8 a.m.

A few birds were flying when I got to their blind, and a few shots had been taken, but missed, earlier. Since the lads were encouraged by the action, they announced that they’d hang in there for another hour or so. This intelligence set me to coughing, and, claiming an ague, I beat feet to the car for a hasty return to my cozy living room.

It was there that I got The Call. Patrick had made a nice shot on a lovely drake mallard with his 12 gauge Benelli Ultra Light. It is rumored that Uncle Dean made a right brisk retrieve, too. Nice work, Boys!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Deer Season + 25 Years = Drear Season

Within six months of our 1978 Christmas visit with my new bride's parents, I'd bought my first shotgun and my first beagle (Nancy's Dad took great delight in showing his city-boy son in law what he'd been missing). And - another first - I'd also joined a sportsmen’s club, a field trial outfit for “brace beagles." It wasn't long before the beagle men urged me to join them for deer hunts on our grounds. By 1981, I was eager for snow by Thanksgiving, as I found whitetail hunting a bit, and cottontail hunting a whole lot, sportier over the white stuff.

Lots has changed in 25+ years. Beagles became less attractive when they started jumping more whitetails than bunnies. Hunting birds behind spaniels in October had, I discovered, three things going for it that sitting on a frozen stump in December didn’t. Not that I didn’t have my days deer hunting. The lead photo shows the deer I took in November, 1986. When he stuck his head out between two pine trees, I whacked him right between the eyes with my 12 gauge Remington 1100 from the stump I was sitting on. No kidding.

So tonight I’m looking with dread at the 3+ weeks of deer season arriving tomorrow. Safety suggests that Gordie and I stay out of the grouse woods until the shotgunners have gone home for the season. I’m not picking on the deer hunters; I’m simply acting as a prudent owner who runs his dog on grouse in what will temporarily become “deer country.”

Worse yet, even though grouse remain open through February 28, good or even decent hunting conditions in the "second season" after whitetails close are never guaranteed. The hills of w. NY where I now do most of my grousing are famous as the dumping ground of the infamous Lake (Erie) Effect Snow machine. Those 25+ years have done nothing to make snowshoeing through 4 feet of snow more attractive.

I was doubly fortunate to find a release club where I can run my dog safely on pheasants during and after the general deer season. Because the club fills a gaping hole in Gordie's and my bird hunting season, I’ve come to be a lot less defensive about my membership. Hey, we’d all prefer to be chasing plentiful wild birds in unlimited acres of beautiful country. And God bless any who do! But as my fellow old coot wrote, “It ain’t me, babe.”

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Yankee Spankee Philly Thankee Hideki

Whenever a New York Yankees game is televised, it’s probably playing at Cold Duck HQ. In the post season, erase "probably." Nancy and I are huge Yankee fans.

We were delighted that the Yanks validated their regular season ascendancy with 11 wins in the post season. We’ve watched the Core Four - Jeter, Pettite, Posada, and Rivera - since they won their first title in 1996, and this Fall we rooted hard for them to win one more World Series together.

It'll be interesting, and maybe a bit sad, to see what happens in the off season. But right now we’re going to enjoy #27.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Patrick's First Woodcock

My nephew Patrick D. started walking the field with me long before he was old enough to earn his Hunter Safety Certificate. Pat took to upland hunting like ham takes to eggs. As soon as he was ready, he started learning the game at the skeet field.

When he was old enough, Patrick took his first bird at my release club. Shortly thereafter he went off to college, and had the chance to hunt only over the Thanksgiving holidays with me. We were fortunate to make the most of it.

Last year, Pat started chasing woodcock with Gordie and me. I knew he would like the challenge of this quixotic bird in our tough local coverts. I wasn’t surprised at all when Pat’s initial difficulty hitting the little buggers made the woodcock a challenging Holy Grail for him.

Today, after two seasons and almost a boxful of empties, Pat finally centered an outgoing bird in one of our historically favored micro-coverts. Shortly after Pat had taken the bird with his 12 gauge Benelli UltraLight, Gordie delivered it tenderly to my hand. I passed it to Patrick with a handshake, a verbal “well done,” and a wink.

I suspect that Patrick will enjoy that bird more than several times this evening. Pat might even think he enjoyed his first wild bird more than I did.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Season’s First Woodcock Flight

My old covert Behind The Rifle Range was stiff with woodcock this afternoon. Gordie, the RBL 16 and I had lots of shooting and a bit of luck.

Tomorrow, I’ll pan toast a slice of Italian bread in a bit of EVOO and butter, then divide it into 4 pieces. Next I’ll pan fry 4 boneless breast halves in fresh EVOO and butter for 50 seconds a side. They’ll get dusted with fresh ground pepper and garlic salt while they’re warming up. The centers will still be blood rare when I lay the breasts on the toast points and immediately tuck into a fine lunch.

After lunch, I’ll mail the wings to the Fed’s Migratory Bird Wing Collectors in Laurel, MD. Here’s hoping that the data gathered will inform productive management of little Bec so that he’ll long remain a Fall favorite.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Trigger Finger Calls The Shots

Gordie and I took our season’s first woodcock on October 16. It was a gray day that followed a rainy night, so I carried the Benelli M2 autoloader that’s easy to field strip and clean. Gordie flushed the bird from the bowels of thick cover 10 yards in front of me, and I took the right to left chance with the second shell just before the ‘cock would have disappeared over a tall dogwood clump. Gordie needed a bit of time to sort out the retrieve, but he finally delivered the woodcock tenderly to hand.

While hunting today, I thought about shooting that bird. Two things happened seemingly “on their own.” I bet many seasoned hunters regularly experience the same things.

First, the safety on the M2 is mounted on the aft right side of the trigger guard. My other two guns, an O/U and a SxS, have tang-mounted thumb safeties. I never ever think about them. I just take the gun from the car, release Gordie, and if a bird offers a shot, the safety just releases itself. Somehow, the thumb and the forefinger know which is the proper safety releaser, and they get it right, without a conscious decision, every time.

Second, I never make a conscious decision to pull the trigger right now. The barrels pass the bird, and somehow the gun goes bang. I’d add “at the right time,” except that suggests decision, and the point I’m making is that there seem to be no decisions after I make the only one that’s important: is the shot safe? After that, the shooting process proceeds wonderfully on autopilot.

Too bad that flawless work around the trigger isn’t quite the same thing as flawless shooting. The Red Gods, and Fiocchi, grin.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Folds of Honor Foundation

(This post first appeared on August 11, 2008. Updates including today's appear below in chronological order.)
I enjoy playing golf when bird seasons are closed. I’d rather crush a real golf ball than a fake pigeon.

Golfers will have an opportunity over Labor Day Weekend 2008 to enjoy our games and at the same time give something back to U. S. servicemen, women and their families who have paid the price on the sharp end while we were sweating out our 3 foot putts at home. If this comparison gives pause, good.

But Major Dan Rooney and his Folds of Honor Foundation don’t want golfers to beat themselves up for enjoying their game. Dan would simply like Labor Day golfers to donate a dollar, and hopefully several more, to families whose serviceperson is returning badly injured from the conflicts in the Near East, or not returning at all.

Dan’s insight and action plan are as simply beautiful as a drive 250 yards smack down the middle. Interested golfers – heck, interested citizens – should check the Patriot Golf Day website here.

August 13, 2009

This year's dates bracket the Labor Day Weekend. Shove a few extra bucks in your wallet before you head out for some holiday play. Change your bets for just one day, and have everyone in your group ante up A Buck For A Bogey.

September 6, 2009

I occasionally bitch about the media's fawning coverage of Tiger Woods. The bitching is well merited; but, just to be clear, it's directed at the media, not (usually) at Tiger.

I'm very happy, nevertheless, to publicize a less public side of Tiger Woods. Evidently his father, former Green Beret Earl Woods, taught him about lots more than golf. Brace yourself and read David Feherty's piece in this month's Golf magazine.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Triumph Of An English Cocker Gone Wild

Gordie has always been an exceptionally accommodating dog. He loves to flush live birds within range, loves to hunt for the dead ones, and gyrates his tail in uncontrollable joy when he's bringing them back to me. He alternatively loves snoozling with his head on my lap during a televised Yankee game.

But, lately, I noticed a dark change in this sweet hearted dog. Puzzled, I sought help. My lovely and talented niece Rebecca D. and her friend Jimmy H. were asked to study the eternal question, "What happens when Cockers go bad?" Here’s their shocking exposé:

Vroom vroom. It looks like it’s going to be a long season.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

One Question Concerning The Glorious Twelfth Has Left Me Riddled

I first hunted ruffed grouse in 1979 on my in-laws’ gone-back farm in NY’s Adirondack region. On that hunt and every one since, birds in the bag were strictly coincidental; but thorn-raked “brush pants,” tattered game vests with pockets full of duff, and sore feet have always been companion parts of the mix. A hoary bromide has it that a successful grouse hunter seldom wears out his gun, but necessarily wears out many pairs of boots.

And then there are the trees. Spruce, popple, cedar, birch: their varieties are legion. They don't so much occupy grouse country as define it. To make matters worse, every grouse knows each tree by its first name. If my wife could whip up a good meal from all the branches and twigs I’ve shot, we could’ve opened a profitable restaurant.

Finally, a hunter doesn’t wobble off into the grouse woods to be attacked by the terrain and mocked by the birds unless he's following a trusty grouse dog who can roll its eyes at all the missed shots and, whenever possible, roll its shoulders into something dead, rotting and stinky.

I can hardly wait for October!

So I was as surprised as a snared stoat when I learned about Great Britain’s “Glorious Twelfth”, and the season of driven grouse shooting that it ushers in. It offers, as the saying goes, a study in contrasts. On August 12, bunches of wealthy “guns” – sportsmen – dress in short pants and, right out in the open, scattergun at red grouse from “butts.” Not on their butts, necessarily, but in little earthen fortifications. Maybe their grouse are fearsome? Anyways, near as I can tell, the shooters don’t have to take even a single step; in fact, because there’s some risk that an excitable gun standing in one butt might blast a fellow sportsman standing in another one nearby, I suspect that walking around is strictly limited.

Furthermore, each “gun” typically totes two shotguns. Well, the gunner doesn’t really tote them at all. He has a helper – the “loader” – who reloads one double barrel while the sportsman is engaged in emptying the other. That sounds a lot more comfy than bushwhacking through a December cedar swamp with snow sifting down your neck and Jack Frost nipping away hard at your nose and digital extremities. But it sure ain’t what my friends call partridge huntin’.

This “driven bird” thing just isn’t something I’d care to try. But, hey, some say poTAYto and some say poTAHto, eh? And, while it's not something I'm accustomed to, I have to admit that shooting at birds whizzing by at 70 or 80 miles an hour has got to be quite a challenge. I’ve got one question, though. With all those loaders just reloading away as fast as they can, and with all those fellows blazing away at the grouse being driven by, isn’t that just awful damn hard on the vehicles they're driving?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Seal A Meal Passes The Fatty Acid Test

(This post first appeared on February 12, 2009. Updates including today's appear below in chronological order.)
Santa brought me The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Written in 2006, it's a thought provoking book about where our food comes from. No sooner had I finished it than the February, 2009 issue of Best Life arrived. Its “The One That Got Away” focuses on omega-3 fatty acids, high on the list of Good Stuff championed in Dilemma.

Not wanting to be left off the omega-3 bandwagon, I went rummaging around my hard drive for a draft I started in 2006. Here's what it looked like:

I remember my Dad saying "fish is brain food" every time we had seafood when I was a kid. He enjoyed telling me about his barefoot 13 mile treks to school through winter's snow and summer's heat even more. If I recall correctly, it was uphill each way, too. Over the years, those little fish-as-brain-food nuggets migrated to my memory's back burner along with Dad's marathon walks.

At the barber shop recently for my annual hair cut, I absently grabbed a magazine on my way to the chair. Before I could swap The Economist for something more user friendly, I was already swaddled in that bed sheet thingie, so I settled in and soldiered on. While browsing for a really short article not written in Greek, I found this:

"The latest piece of research is into omega-3 fatty acids. Their effects on adults are well established (they can, for example, reduce the feeling of anger in some people who cannot control their tempers). But it now seems that an inadequate intake of them by a pregnant woman puts her child at greater risk of being stupid, clumsy and friendless.... The researchers showed that the children of mothers who ate food with little omega-3 content had a lower IQ than their peers, found normal social relations harder to deal with, and lacked fine-tuned physical co-ordination."
Fried chicken trumped poached salmon on Mom's dinner table every time. No wonder 8th grade was so tough on my first time around.

In 1970, Danish researchers discovered that the Eskimos have a great coronary health record. The scientists wondered how this could be, since the weather way up North isn't suited to growing all those fruits and vegetables we know we're supposed to eat but hate anyway. "Vegetables are what real food eats," the bumper sticker snickers. I gather the scientists were startled as snared stoats when they put two and two together and concluded that all the whale, seal and salmon the Eskimos eat is precisely what keeps their tickers healthy. Cold-water seafood of all stripes is a great source of essential omega-3 fatty acids.

Duplicating that diet could be a problem for some of us. Just the other day, my wife went looking for some fresh blubber at the local supermarket. For some reason, they thought she was joking. Naturally she then asked for salmon sperm sacs. These are real winners, omega-3 wise, and have long been considered a delicacy by native peoples. She was told quite frostily that, since sperm sacs aren't yet "an acquired taste" here in NY, the supermarket didn't stock them, either.

Even if some food retailers might be reluctant to carry these flavorful treats, there's plenty of great substitutes for them. Salmon, halibut, tuna and mackerel are almost as good as blubber or sperm sacs for supplying heart-healthy omega-3s. Eat 'em twice a week and help the old ticker.

Issues surrounding food, nutrition, and health are increasingly prominent in today's news. Writers like Michael Pollan have certainly popularized the "question of what we should have for dinner." In Dilemma, he lists four major sources of Americans’ food, from “industrial agriculture” and its CAFOs at one end to hunting and foraging at the other. Mr. Pollan puts “industrial organic” and local self sufficient farms somewhere in between. Readers who have shown the energy to find Cold Duck will certainly have the wit to form their own impressions of Dilemma, so the book review ends right here.

I’m more interested that The Economist's position on omega-3s is widely expanded in Dilemma and the Best Life article. The benefits claimed for a healthy dose of these fatty acids in the diet jump from producing smarter kids and less angry adults to the diminution of “so-called diseases of civilization: asthma and arthritis, depression and Alzheimer’s, heart disease and cancer, as well as… diabetes and obesity.” And Best Life is not shy about its claims, either, telling us to “Lose the skepticism. This isn’t the next oat bran.”

Omega-3s are produced in plants’ leaves while related acids, omega-6s, are produced in their seeds. Humans' joints and organs don't know a seed from a leaf, of course. But they understand that omega-3s are anti-inflammatories while omega-6s are just the opposite. And apparently our 21st century bodies are plenty inflamed. The ratio of omega-6: omega-3 in ancient hunter-gathers’ diets approximated 1:1. Western man, it is claimed, highly overweights omega-6s in his diet, sometimes by as much as 20:1. To lower this ratio back toward 1:1, either omega-6 consumption must be reduced, or omega-3 consumption increased.

That’s why those Danish scientists’ findings are so important. Cold-water fish contain higher levels of omega-3s than land animals. Eating such fish is part of the answer. But meat, eggs and milk from pastured animals (grass eaters) contains higher levels of omega-3s than the same products taken from animals that are fed grain (seed eaters). Although it's contrary to contemporary “common knowledge,” grass-fed beef may be better for humans than grain-fed farmed salmon. It’s not so much what you eat, then, but what you eat eats. That bumper sticker actually has it partially right.

The “what you eat eats” part is slick and catchy. I like it. But, among the several questions I’d like to ask Pollan and the others over a few beers, here’s a starter. If acid rain is drenching our grasses here in upstate NY, and “you are what you eat eats,” then what am I to think of eating local grass-fed beef? I hope there’s no problem at all, but I lack the scientific background to reach an intelligent conclusion myself. I’ll have to keep my eyes open.

In the end, Dilemma and Best Life offer essentially the same conclusion as The Economist. Eat more seafood, especially shellfish and smaller fatty fish such as herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. God bless my Dad: he was right all along.

For fans of hunting-gathering good food from wild places close to home, Cold Duck recommends The Wild Harvest Table. It’s written by some cagey friends in central NY who can talk the talk because they walk the walk. I'm pleased to include Table as a permanent resident in our links.

April 25, 2009

Articles that catch my eye seem to sneak in "Michael Pollan" or "high-fructose corn syrup" or "locavore" a lot these days. What's up with that?

This piece in the April/ May "Garden & Gun" addresses the lure of Coca Cola sweetened the old fashioned way with cane sugar.

Since my subscription kicked in last year, I find myself checking the mailbox about two weeks early for "Garden & Gun." I'm going to pop it into our permanent links section.

August 2, 2009

This dairy farm can supply much of Chicago's demand for fresh milk. I wonder whether Pollan would consider the farm Heaven or Hell. Watch and form your own opinion.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My New RBL Has Arrived

Just one day after the 8-month anniversary of its order, my 16 gauge RBL arrived. Two boxes of low-gun skeet have since gone through the gun. This afternoon I’ve given it a good scrubbin’ from its packing grease, lightly oiled its metal parts and waxed its wooden ones, and have it lying on the gun bench downstairs. In this entry, I’ll record my first impressions starting with those most favorable, and provide several photos.

• When I opened the packaging, I found that the gun was exactly as I ordered it. It had 29” barrels with fixed chokes, nicely marked on the barrel flats as Skeet and Imp Cyl. The gun sported a single selective trigger, and the butt was finished to a thin, hard rubber plate.

Anyone wondering why this comment appears at the top of the list hasn't sufficiently endured the vagaries involved in ordering (semi) bespoke guns in the four-figure price range. Specially when dealing with guns made abroad, it’s a very, very happy day when the gun arrives as ordered.

• The next thing to worry about with a brand new SxS is barrel regulation. In the case of my order, the reliability of the single trigger was also guilty until proven innocent.

While 50 rounds constitute an admittedly small sample, they positively crushed any concerns I had. The relatively open chokes I ordered for this woodcock and grouse gun were perfect at skeet range distances, and several of the clays disappeared in satisfying puffs of smoke. And the gun went bang every time, whether right barrel first, or left barrel, or when fired at doubles.

Summing up, the gun arrived looking like it should and shooting like I hoped.

• I really like the look of the standard RBL rib. I am also happy with the “standard” wood on my gun. Since beauty is in the eye et c. et c., I’ll just post some photos here and let the wood speak for itself.

• When I weighed the RBL on the ancient mechanical scales that my country vet father in law gave me, it came in at 6 lbs. 8+ oz. Ten or so years ago, I may have thought this to be a tad heavy for a grouse-woods 16 gauge. Having owned and shot a lovely Arrieta 16 gauge that weighed an ounce or two over 6 lbs., I am no longer so much of a Rule of 96 purist. If I am going to find fault with actually shooting an upland gun, its 6 1/2 lb. weight is not where I'm going to start. Probably won't get there, either...

• As I understood at the time of my order, many features of the RBL are not subject to customized order. It is a $3,000 gun, after all, not a $30,000 gun. With that said, I found the wrist a tad bulky and of a shape “rounder” than what I’m accustomed to. But the checkering is sharp, and the gun feels secure in my right hand.

• Through the first 50 shells of its life, the gun has ejected the right barrel’s empties every time. The same cannot be said of the left barrel. This will not spoil the hunting that I do. What with all the missed shots that punctuate my bird shooting, the balky 2d-barrel ejector might just fix itself by grouse season's end.

• At several stations, the fore end seemed just a tad loose. I will monitor this, too. I'll probably have CSMC fine tune both conditions, and give the gun a proper cleaning as well, after the shooting stops on February 28.

I’ll probably shoulder the gun a few times tonight, swinging it on an imaginary right to left grouse in my basement. Then I’ll wipe the gun down well and lock it in the safe. A pre-season trial run will start in September when Gordie, the RBL and I can work out the kinks chasing some released pheasants. “Early” grouse season starts in northern NY on September 20. “Southern Tier” birds open on October 1, while woodcock open statewide on October 6. If we’re all lucky, I’ll report on how we three are doing then.

Friday, July 10, 2009

See No Bad, Hear No Badly

The vast but vastly underpaid editorial staff here at Cold Duck collectively cringes whenever it notices “badly” badly become “bad”’s substitute. And vice versa.

A pair of YouTube clips can help clear up the confusion. Watch this clip of a dog yapping at a skunk.

There are two things to learn from this clip. First, if you let your dog yap at a skunk so you can film him instead of getting your yappy dog out of harm’s way, then the inevitable conclusion is, as the kids say, on you. And on your yappy little dog. Second, and more to our point, the post-skunk yappy dog smells bad.

Now watch this clip of a beagle pup chasing a rabbit.

This fine looking pup looks like she’s from good stock. And since her owner has taken the trouble to find – let alone keep – a starting pen, I suspect that the pup will be a fine rabbit hound some day. But today, the pup loses the trail too often. To our point, sometimes this pup smells badly.

Get it? Then let’s consider this entry’s title. During deer season, or in the winter months when we’re snowed out of grouse country, Gordie and I chase a released pheasant or two at my shooting club. Although the club does not offer hunts for wild birds, it does offer us a chance at something second-best when third-best is the sofa and Oprah Winfrey. In these cases, I am happy to chase released birds, as I see no(thing) bad in it.

Suppose that on one of our deer-season hunts at the club, I see Gordie ecstatically rolling some substance deep into the fur behind his shoulder blades. Hint: when I get there, there will undoubtedly be some white tissue paper lying near what Gordie is rolling in. When he continues to joyously cover himself with this awful offal even as I run at him screaming “No! No!,” Gordie is then guilty of hearing “no” badly.

Studious Cold Duck regulars will want to complete this exercise to determine whether they’ve mastered the lesson. Suppose you’re hunting grouse with your brother in law on Tug Hill in January. It is raw and cold, of course. Your brother in law is suddenly offered an easy right-to-left shot at a grouse in an astonishingly open covert. However, although he swings at the bird, it fails to fall from the sky. In fact, no shot is heard. When you ask him what happened, he claims that his fingers were so cold that he could only feel the safety __________. Hours later, driving home in the car, you both grouse that that was the only grouse all day. You, of course, rub in his inadequacy in creative and cruel ways. You’re enjoying making him feel __________.

Shame on you!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Where Did The Other Dollar Go?

(This post first appeared on June 13, 2009. Today's update provides a solution to the proposed problem.)
I don’t remember when I first heard this riddle, but I recognized it right away as a sweetie. I’m offering a Quack of the Cold Duck itself as a prize for the first solution. If there isn’t a prize winner in a few days, I’ll fill in the blanks. Here’s the riddle:

Three buddies walk into a bar and order a pitcher of beer. After downing a glass or two, they decide to order a large pizza loaded with the works. The waitress takes their order and tells them that the pizza costs $30. They each toss a $10 bill on the table, and after pocketing the cash, the waitress heads for the kitchen.

Meanwhile, one of the boys uses the men’s room, and on the way back to his table runs into the waitress. She apologizes, telling him that she had the price wrong. Since the pizza only costs $25, she hands the fellow 5 singles back. Thanking her for being honest, he gives her $2, then pockets $1, and gives $1 to each of his two buddies back at the table.

So each buddy spent $9 counting the 3 $1 refunds. And the tip was $2. That makes $27 plus $2, or $29.

Where did the other dollar go?

June 18, 2009

Like a magician’s trick, this problem is all about misdirection. The charm of this misdirection is that the $1 difference is so small that solvers don't smell the rat in the problem itself, but rather doubt their own addition.

Each boy in fact spent $9. Each boy laid out $10, and each got a $1 refund. As a group, they spent $25 for the pizza and $2 for the tip. $9 times 3 = $27 = $25 + $2. There is no “missing” dollar.

The problem as phrased sets up a spurious equation.
By adding the tip to the $27 total cost, the problem adds the tip twice.

If this explanation doesn’t work for you, let’s try another one that avoids the original mental landmines entirely. Suppose you take a cab ride to the airport. The cabbie tells you that the fare is $25. You hand him 3 $10 bills, and ask for 3 singles as change; he can keep the $2 as a tip. No tricks here. This is the identical payment scheme found in the original problem, except that 3 people each get $1 returned in the original, while one person gets $3 returned here.

The misdirection in this problem is so powerful that my solution has been greeted more than once with a response like, “Well, your answer makes sense. But you still didn’t answer the original question.”

I guess I’ll just have to get smarter.

While waiting around for that to happen – I hope you’re all comfortably seated – let’s take a break and see how another mathematician struggles to correct his pals’ faulty long division.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bob Is A Golfer

I am not A Golfer. I love to play the game. I prefer to carry my sticks around the course, and I don't cheat. I even practice. But I am a golfer, not A Golfer.

I can explain the distinction with an example. Two of my buddies and I headed to a nearby muni today. As we were warming up on the first tee, the starter waved a fourth player into our group. Howdy ‘n shake revealed that Bob was a 70ish retiree who played there often.

Bob had a lovely swing… in practice. He released his right side well, and rotated around a tall left leg. Other than having stiffness issues common to us all on the Back Nine of Life, Bob took a pretty nice swipe at the ball… in practice. But when it came to actually smacking the ball, Bob had one of the most pitiful reverse pivots I’ve ever seen. His weight shifted with a wobble onto his right foot, and the left one often left the ground. Please understand that I am not criticizing Bob or his technique, as he was a hail fellow well met; I’m simply describing the business end of his long game.

On the seventh tee, Bob “cracked” a drive about 100 yards at a 30 degree angle to the right. At least this tee ball was airborne. It was headed for either a dunking in a wet ditch or the out of bounds stakes protecting the adjacent suburban back yards. Bob seemed doomed to lose one stroke unless he lost two. But his ball somehow found the only tree in the vicinity, pin balled noisily in its branches, and then miraculously pitched safely into the light rough just off the fairway. With disaster averted, we all gave Bob a grin and started walking toward his ball. When he got there, he ruefully examined ball and lie. After cursing the golfing gods and his rotten luck, he then muttered sourly that he'd be lying in the damn fairway if that dumb ball had just kicked another 6 feet left.

A Golfer sees only the half empty part of a half full glass.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Know What “Reintarnation” Means?

(This post first appeared on February 6, 2009. Updates including today's appear below in chronological order.)
The Washington Post hosted two annual wordsmithing contests in the years bookending Y2K. In the “Style Invitational,” readers were invited to pick a word of their choice from the dictionary. The challenge was to alter it by adding, subtracting or changing precisely one letter, and then to supply a clever new definition of their own invention. As an example, someone was a winner with

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

I’ve thought about entering the contest, but I'm not even sure the Post hosts it any more. So I've decided to start a blog entry with two new terms of my own, and add to it whenever my Muse sings. The entry will be open to Cold Duck readers, too. Feel free to add your own definitions as Comments. Better yet, send them in an email and, in lieu of a substantial cash prize, I’ll put your definition in the body of the entry and give you full credit. Just be prepared to live with your hard earned notoriety.

February 6, 2009

Endolphins: Powerful hormones that produce euphoria in whale watching ecotourists.

Maribund: Someone dying at sea.

April 7, 2009

Ruffled grouse: A partridge that’s just survived a Bang-Bang-Damn! moment on Opening Day.

Triungulation: GPS navigation technique for lost deer hunters.

Molsin: DUI.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Guns And Hunting Must Be Banned Now!

Cold Duck has always stood four square behind our honored hunting tradition. But today I must reject that stand. It is possible to go too far in pursuit of one’s passion. I think the account linked below clearly demonstrates that some hunters have crossed the line. When innocent school children at play are traumatized, I say that enough's enough. In the name of decency, I call for an end to it!

Read the shocking story of Royal abuse and decide for yourself.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Western NY had many small local breweries in the 20th century. One of the last old timers within the City of Buffalo was the Iroquois Brewery.

I guess its product was a “locabeer.” Some of its natural ingredients weren’t local, of course. Good hops might have come from Czechoslovakia, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, or going back a few years, even from the region around Malone, NY. Floy Hyde’s book claims a North Country origin for the term “hopping mad." It seems that pickers put the leafy clusters of hops in large baskets and were paid by volume; the picker had to fill the basket to get full pay for it. If the picker wasn't careful in handling his basket - perhaps setting it down a bit roughly at a rest break - his easily compressible load would settle, and he'd have to return to the fields to top off his basket, making him hopping mad.

If the Iroquois hops weren't local, certainly the Lake Erie water was. And the brew makers were recruited from "Kaisertown,"a nearby German neighborhood. Despite the brewery's attempts to achieve a wider regional distribution, most of its product probably washed down Buffalo's ubiquitous fish fries, home cooked meals, and summertime picnic fare. And in neighborhood saloons it was a staple whistle wetter for men on their way home from long shifts in mills and factories.

My Dad really enjoyed “Erie” beer as it was sometimes called; he said it reminded him of the good Canadian beers he'd drink when we'd visit attractions like Crystal Beach just over the Peace Bridge. But I was never much of a fan. "Never" ended, however, on the day I sampled the beer super fresh right at the brewery.

During my college days in the late 60s, the "legal age" was 18. Beer was centrally located in campus social events. One year our History Club booked a trip to the brewery, ostensibly to see how beer was made, listen to the old German workers, and just take it all in. I recall our amazement and jealousy when we learned that the taps located all around the building were there to facilitate the workers' time honored tradition of "quality control."

Well, we really did enjoy taking all that in. But what made these visits so enticing was the opportunity to sit in the “Rat” after the tour and freely sample the Iroquois product with pretzels and player piano favorites served up by pretty young ladies in costume. Honestly, I was shocked by the difference in the bottled product Dad drank at home and the ambrosia served fresh right there on the corner of Pratt and William Streets. That recollection is certainly the most vivid of the few I've retained from Junior year.

I wonder whether the locavore movement will help bring locabeer back. Buffalo currently has one micro brewery, and its suburbs have several more producing a variety of tasty elixirs. I hope they thrive and prosper. But I miss the rathskeller and singing along with my beerily cheery friends as By The Light Of The Silvery Moon rolled melodiously from the player piano.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

When Manhattan Came To Niagara Falls

"Model City," read the street sign.

Back in 1996, after being snowed out of our southern tier grouse country again, I was determined to find a release club where I could extend the season for my young American Water Spaniel “Bean.” That’s why I found myself driving down back roads in northern Erie and Niagara counties on that particular Sunday in February.

It was only lately that I began wondering about that street sign. “Model City” is a pretty grand designation for a quarter mile of country road sporting a post office at one end and a dump at the other.

When I Googled “Model City” the other day, this website covered it nicely in a paragraph or two. But as the story unfolded, Model City became a minor historical sideshow while the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works became its unfortunate and enduring focus. After reading the entire piece, I Googled "LOOW," and found several related websites. This one provides a strong personal perspective.

It's beyond sobering to read about the toxic mess still on and beneath local ground. But like Oscar Wilde, “I am not young enough to know everything.” I suspect that local residents were proud of their contributions to the war effort against enemies they believed were devils incarnate. American families lost more than 400,000 brothers, husbands and sons in WW II. My Mom had the chance to meet and date my Dad only after her fiancee, pilot Richard S., was shot down over the Pacific in his B-25 and later killed by the Japanese.

Every family that suffered such a painful, personal loss must have felt a linkage to and urgency for the war effort that would have been difficult to trump with "environmental concerns," had that even been a popular term in the 1940s. The websites' authors seem to have trouble understanding this. I'm reminded of what Anonymous said: "When you're up to you ass in alligators, it's real hard to remember that you're there to drain the swamp."

Cold Duck readers are invited to decide for themselves.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Coming To Grips With The Prince Of Wales

Let’s get one thing straight right away. Considering the way their stories end, it’s not Captain Ahab, but Jonah who wins the title Prince of Whales. This entry, though, is about the Prince of Wales. Specifically, it’s about the "Prince of Wales grip" that's found on some shotguns.

There have been homegrown princes in Wales since at least the Iron Age, and English Princes of Wales since Edward II in 1301. I haven’t been able to establish positive ID on which of all these Princes of Wales favored a partial pistol grip so much that it would forever bear his name. But for many people, the smoking gun, so to speak, seems to have been pointed by Edward VII. Born to Queen Victoria in 1841, Albert Edward – “Bertie” - was apparently a rebellious hell-raiser who enjoyed generous doses of women, food, drink, gambling and sport. One source said "while Victoria's bleak piety coloured her age, the Prince of Wales's passions for girls, gambling and gluttony reflected the debauched mood of the society in which he moved." Someone else noted that "he favoured ripe bodies and ripe minds, lovely women with curves that emphasised their womanhood." The Cold Duck staff sure would have enjoyed a week or so at his woodcock camp.

If there is no certainty that Albert Edward is the eponymous Prince, neither is there agreement on the exact form a Prince of Wales grip properly takes. Manufacturers advertise "Prince of Wales" grips having either flat sawn or rounded ends. Further, the terms “half pistol” and “semi pistol” are in some places used to describe a Prince of Wales grip, but in others to differentiate them from a Prince of Wales grip. Apparently you pays your money and you takes your choice.

None of this confusion, of course, will stop me from throwing out my favorite “definition.” When I think of the Prince of Wales grip, I imagine a relaxed radius partial pistol grip (half- or quarter-) that's sawn flat on the end, approximately parallel to the line of the barrels, and finished with a metal cap. And if I could afford a "London best," I'd specify this grip for it.

Is This The "True" Prince Of Wales Grip?
Thanks To Griffin & Howe
Even if Edward VII is “the” Prince, and even if my favorite is "the" definition, the question of exactly why he favored this grip configuration remains.
  • Did the partial pistol give him some slight extra purchase? Did his gun locate more reliably in hand for his driven pheasants?

  • Did he have some disability in his shooting hand for which this grip was a palliative?

  • Or was this simply a device to preserve the elegance of the straight grip while providing his engravers an additional surface for their art?

  • Was this a "supply side" grip? Did a particular gunmaker – maybe Woodward – offer this style of grip that for some reason suited Bertie’s hand or eye?

  • Or was it driven by demand? Was Bertie a keen shooter, and did he approach a gunmaker with this concept he had developed?

  • It's certainly possible that Bertie experimented with several grip configurations, so that they all were properly "Prince of Wales" grips. Such a promiscuous use of the term would neatly account for the lack of uniformity in its application.
Until a written document specifically addressing this issue materializes, the origin of the term is conjectural, and any talk of a “true” Prince of Wales grip is without basis. Or, as I often ask when I'm shooting, am I missing something here?

A Nice Pair
If Queen Elizabeth II ever invites me to tea at Sandringham - hey, she is a spaniel lover, too - I'll be sure to browse through the royal gunroom for some informing reference to the Prince's smoking gun.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Catch And Release Hunting Smells Fishy

Early in October, flight woodcock had yet to arrive in my favorite covert right out the back door. So on one overcast day I decided to wait on the 'doodles and drive up to my release club instead for a pheasant hunt with Gordie.

After parking the car, I grabbed my 12 gauge Benelli Ultra Light and vest, released Gordie, and headed for cover. That’s when I discovered that my vest was full - of 20 gauge #8s. A flailing search through the mess in the trunk failed to produce any 12 gauge shells. While re-casing and storing the gun, I decided that I’d run Gordie anyway. But after about ten minutes I returned to the car, put Gordie up, and drove back home.

When I reviewed the day’s events over a wee dram that evening, a signature line used by a poster at the Shooting Sportsman bulletin board came to mind. I cannot quote his text, but I can come close. If he ever arrived at a distant cover without his dog, he wrote, he’d go home. But if he arrived without his gun, he’d go hunting. I’d always liked that signature. For guys like me, working beautiful cover with a canine buddy is what it's all about.

In “Meditations On Hunting,” philosopher Ortega y Gassett begs to differ. He writes “…one does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.” It’s obvious he’s never seen me shoot or he’d know better. Philosophy always trumped me, anyway. If anyone is interested in splitting the hairs of matters like this, you should go see what Jim T. has to say over at Grousers.

After another wee dram and some reflection, I figured that the poster and I had it almost right. If I ever arrive in wild bird country with Gordie but not my shotgun, we’ll get out and run all right, but we'll be scouting, not hunting.

When I cast Gordie off that day at my shooting club, technically I wasn’t even scouting. I've belonged to the club for 12 years. Its 300 acres hide no surprise hotspots for me, and if it weren't for released pheasants, there'd be no upland birds there at all. Furthermore, if Gordie had found and flushed any leftover ringnecks, I’d have wasted $15 of member resources every time one flew over our fence into an adjoining property. It didn’t take long to realize that if this exercise wasn’t useless, then it was selfishly extravagant.

But the fix was easy. As mentioned earlier, I drove home where I exchanged the Ultra Light for my 20 gauge Rizzini and went looking for woodcock out back. And although we didn’t see a bird, with absolutely no apology to Ortega y Gassett, we enjoyed hunting until it was almost dark.

Scouting Beautiful Cover For Wild Birds Is Always Fun And Often Productive

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

FC Buster Brown, King Of Meadow

Buster was always special.

When my neighbor Mike Ludwig peeked through his blinds and saw the liver and white English Cocker frolicking with his littermates outside my place on a sun drenched Saturday morning in October, 1996, he fell in puppy love at first sight. And after the little guy had played, visited the woods and shared affection with them for several hours, Mike and his wife Kim assured Harold Bixby of Windwhistle Kennels that Buster had found a loving home.

It didn’t take long for the pup to conspire in mayhem with my two year old American Water Spaniel Bean. They played furiously in our back yards, Buster chasing Bean in tight circles until they crashed to the grass in a tangled ball of asses and elbows. On days when Mike was pressed for time, he’d ask me to take Buster along when I ran Bean on the trails behind our houses. The three of us enjoyed a seamless fit. I was beyond contented every time those two dogs were tearing it up in front of me.

Boy, could Buster run! From his early days chasing Bean, to the time he arrowed out 60 yards to retrieve a chukar as a young trainee, to his many flawless runs in tests and trials, he covered his ground with speed, grace, and fearlessness to cover. Cocker trials were reintroduced shortly before Buster was whelped, and the first National in 36 years was held in 1998. So the newly minted “Cocker judges” were really “Springer judges” learning to wear a different hat. Mike heard more than one of these judges say – and at the time it was understood as a compliment – that Buster reminded them of a mini Springer working the course.

While Mike enjoyed woodcock and duck hunting with Buster, he was proudest of his field trial performances. They learned the game together, quickly, with Mike taking Buster to his title in 2000. At the 2004 Nationals, only passing a third bird in the fifth series denied Buster a Certificate of Merit. And as you can see here, Buster was still performing at a high level in 2006.

The little dog’s heart and spirit were still strong after that, but health issues slowly overtook him. Mike and his family recently spent several emotionally full days comforting their pal before Mike shared one last ride together.

All good dogs leave us too soon. But in the Better Place that I envision, old Bean has welcomed Buster with open paws. They’ll be chasing each other’s tails and flushing woodcock just for the Hell of it until it’s my turn to join them. Meanwhile, I’ve added Buster’s photo to the Old Friends section in the sidebar.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

I've Upgraded My 3-Shotgun Battery For Positively The Last Time Ever

Back in August, I wrote an entry about my comfort level with a safe reduced to three favored shotguns. For those hopelessly snowed in, you can read the entire entry here.

For those with less time to kill, here’s a snip from what I wrote about my 16 gauge:
To my eye, the 16 gauge has the prettiest silhouette of all the SxS’s. The tubes on a .410 or 28 gauge SxS sometimes appear too thin for the stock and action; and some 12 gauge SxS’s are too popeyed at the fences for my taste. My 16 gauge SxS is an AyA 4/53 Classic from Cabela’s....
This 4/53 may be a bit too tightly choked to become a dedicated grouse gun. Further, because my hands are sensitive to cold, the double triggers are not easy for my gloved fingers to negotiate after winter sets in. If CSMC ever offers a 16 gauge RBL with a reliable single, non-selective trigger, I would strongly consider going for the upgrade....
When CSMC began offering a 16 gauge RBL SxS in November, I was delighted. My long-suffering bride liked my plan: I’d drive to the CSMC showroom in Connecticut, actually handle an existing RBL, speak face to face with CSMC staff, and make an informed decision after that. Here’s why I ordered an RBL:
  • CSMC is about 420 miles from my garage door. If I ever need service, I have the option of driving there and delivering the gun to a CSMC employee whose ear I can chew. This adds great value to a gun that’s not even built yet. While I am happy to “buy American” when prudent, in this case I am even happier to “buy a 7 hour drive away.” The commute to Birmingham, Brescia, Belgium, or Eibar is not nearly so convenient.

  • CSMC offers the RBL with a single selective trigger. Their experience with the Model 21 augurs well for its reliability. As noted earlier, a single trigger reduces the hassle on my stiff and gloved fingers come winter. The selective part is not important to me. Hunting grouse and woodcock on the brushy edges of NY forests, I shoot at most of my birds as they angle away from me at high speed. Having the right-then-left built in to my gun wouldn't handicap me at all.

    Speaking of birds and places, I ordered fixed chokes. After discussing the issue with CSMC, I’m delighted with my choices of Skeet 1 and Improved Cylinder. In the event that my patterns are too open for a given hunt, I can tighten things up simply by shooting harder shot. The RBL will safely handle pellets made from soft lead all the way up to steel.

  • Some of the boys at the usual upland hunting bulletin boards have expressed concern about the predicted weight of an average 16 gauge RBL. CSMC’s website promises weights from 6 lb. 4 oz. to 6 lb. 8 oz., but some conjectured that this range was optimistically low.

    The old “rule of 96” suggests that a shooter can comfortably fire a gun that weighs 96 times its payload. For the 16 gauge’s 1 oz. load, that comes out to 96 oz., or 6 lbs. 0 oz. When I owned such a 16 gauge, a nice Arrieta 557, I found it a bit “bitey,” and thought several ounces more on its lovely frame would not have hurt at all. So if CSMC’s FAQ page is a reliable indicator, I’ll be just fine.

    I’m turning 60 at the end of this month. NY's small coverts and, to a lesser extent, my age gives form to my typical day afield. Most often, I'll hunt the day's best covert for an hour or two. Then I water the dog back at the car, maybe share a sandwich, and drive to the next spot. After 90 minutes there, I’ll repeat the process at the car. If it’s a really nice day, maybe I’ll put a long hour into my last stop of the day. So an "all-day carry gun" is not nearly so valuable to me as to a Nevada chukar hunter, for example, who heads up a mountain in the morning and doesn't come down until late in the afternoon.

    And while a very light weight gun is fun to carry, it may be a bit challenging to connect with. The RBL’s extra few ounces – and, assuming the gun comes in under 7 lb., they’re only “extra” if the rule of 96 is elevated to The Rule Of 96 – should help me swing better through the grouse that Gordie works so hard for.

  • Finally, I find the 16 gauge RBL’s wrist a bit too thick for my tastes. The receiver’s engraved setters don’t do much for me, either. But these are very minor quibbles on a gun that costs less than $3,000 and features the three benefits just listed.
According to CSMC's FAQ page, some deliveries will begin in April. I’ll be delighted if I get my RBL in time to chase a Christmas bird in 2009.

Prototype 16 gauge RBL from CSMC
I have also been doing some thinking about my 12 gauge. I'd written:
My “big gun” now is a 6 lb. 0 oz. 24” 3-shot 12 gauge Benelli Ultra Light auto built around the Montefeltro action. Somehow the Benelli engineers have kept its felt recoil to a minimum. Further, the gun seems to point exactly where I look, swings incredibly well, and goes bang every time. It has arguably become the most effective gun I’ve ever owned.

I use this gun for all birds shot while training dogs; for pheasants and ducks; and, with small steel shot, for an occasional snipe. As much as I cherish my 20 gauge O/U, this sweet-shooting auto would probably be the last gun to go if the big bad wolf were ever to blow down my financial house.

Of all the mistakes I’ve made in selling off shotguns,...
…this may turn out to be the biggest. Time will tell. The Ultra Light is gone, replaced by another Benelli, this one a 20 gauge M2 Field with a synthetic black stock. I traded down for a simple reason: recoil. Many gunners who also wrote (O’Connor and Foster come immediately to mind) ultimately went to a smaller gauge to diminish the pains that the 12 gauge perpetrated on their “experienced” bodies. I'm just acting pre-emptively. I can still shoot the 12 gauge without pain. But my right shoulder is getting a bit creaky generally, so I figure it's a good plan to reduce stress to it any way possible.

Here's why I believe this 20 gauge can replace my 12 gauge Ultra Light:
  • Near as I can tell, 3 or 4 pellets of a target-appropriate shot will cleanly kill most birds taken within range. It’s not gauge or dram equivalent or initial velocity or the right choke tube that kills the bird, it’s energy at or beyond the lethal limit delivered by appropriate shot. At comfortable distances, the 12 gauge's extra payload isn't worth its wallop.

    I’ve shot enough birds to recognize which are the chances that I usually shoot dead. If a bird rises outside my reliable killing zone, I know I can make potential problems go away simply by not squeezing the trigger. And this is one thing I can control, every time.

  • I'm also comfortable downsizing because I no longer see birds that I need to kill.

    I've been privileged to be an official gun at spaniel and NAHRA trials and tests. I have enjoyed helping others train their spaniels, and one necessary part of that training is making a live, flushed bird into a dead one in a manner that pleases the handler. For a number of reasons, I’ve decided to let the younger guys take my place. Many of them practice their shooting much more than I do these days. Some of them are keen to start building their mountains of feathers. Mine is pretty much big enough.

  • I haven’t done much deer hunting lately. For reasons I don’t completely understand, I'm interested in taking a deer for the freezer one of these years. If shooting bird shot through a 12 gauge is problematical, then shooting deer slugs through a 12 gauge is positively painful. I have no doubt of the lethality of a 20 gauge slug fired broadside at a standing whitetail out to 50 yards. As when hunting birds, I'll be fine if I simply take the right shot.
This M2 has a 26” barrel and uses the Crio choke system. It will adapt well to different hunting environments, and be easy to clean. It also features the ComforTech stock. After firing about 10 rounds through it, I can happily say it is virtually free of felt recoil. Finally, a fully rifled barrel is available. If my current interest in deer hunting survives until August, I’ll pick one up and sight it in then.

So there you have it. I now have my perfect 3-gun battery. It's swell to know I'll never even want another gun. No, really. Trust me.

20 gauge Benelli M2 Field