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