Thursday, January 21, 2010

Out With The New, In With The Old

In January, 2009, while keeping a perfectly straight face, I wrote:
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.
Reports of my fidelity were greatly exaggerated.

It turns out I was closer to the truth when I wrote in August, 2008:
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.
I should have read my own writing. I never considered that I might not shoot the M2 as effectively as I did the Ultra Light. I doubt that my problem was solely the M2's light weight; Benelli lists my old 24" 12 gauge BUL at 6.0 pounds and the 26" 20 gauge M2 at 5.8 pounds. But an unaccustomed number of birds gliding safely over the hedgerow, for whatever reasons, confirmed that I wasn’t swinging the 20 gauge M2 very well.

So I recently traded it and returned to the 12 gauge Benelli Ultra Light. This time the gun sports a 26” barrel which will serve it well in its mission of shooting larger birds – ducks and pheasants – out to middlin’ distances. With its protective WeatherCoat finish, the BUL will also serve as my rainy day gun for grouse and woodcock.

I like to use low brass shells to toss light loads at about 1200 fps. When possible and justified, I keep the shells color-coded, too. For chasing woodcock and grouse with the BUL, I’ll load it with Winchester AA Xtra-Lite Target Shells in #8 lead (AAL128). I have a long and successful history killing pheasants with Remington’s ShurShot Heavy Dove load of 9/8 ounce of #6 lead (R12HD6). Even so, I’m going to try a box of Fiocchi’s Light Field Upland load of 17/16 ounce of #6 lead (12FLDL). I don’t shoot ducks very often, so I expect I'll just mooch non toxic shot from my genial duck hunting buddy and b-i-l Dean A.

I'm really happy to be reunited with Benelli's 12 gauge Ultra Light. This one won't get away so easily. That said, there’s another shoe yet to drop in this gun trading business. But whether my perfect 3-gun battery will shrink to 2 or expand to 4 is a story for another day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

50 Years Enjoyed In Woods, Pond, Field & Stream

Field & Stream Cover from November, 1934
In 1959, struggling under the academic burdens of 6th grade, I was nevertheless open to a curriculum extension. My adult neighbor Alois R. routinely brought home all manner of trout, rabbits, grouse and deer. I was often invited to hear how they were taken, and to observe how they were processed. Mr. R.’s son had grown to a certain age, no longer young but not old enough, when his Dad just didn’t quite "get it" anymore. So “Louie,” as his wife Gladys instructed me to call him, picked me up as a sort of project son.

Prior to my first-ever outing trouting, I spent a tough hour under his critical eye learning to snell a fixed dropper below a snug slider we’d use to attach salted minnows for a downstream drift. As beaten up as I felt when I got home, I was even prouder several days later when I showed Louie the rigs I’d tied myself. I still have a few of my originals tucked away in my equally ancient tackle box.

In addition to sharing his camp, his beloved beagle “Pepper,” and his great good nature with me, Louie also presented me with his old Field & Stream magazines. Those magazines were like the proverbial seeds that fall on fertile ground. I devoured each issue page by page.

I was delightedly surprised this New Year’s Day to find the October, 1959 issue of Field & Stream buried with some tax records I was searching for. Having pored through this issue again, I'm not sure which reading was more eye-opening. Things sure have changed these past 50 years.

Here’s what you found inside in 1959:
  • Phone numbers without area codes. Remember when numbers looked like Baldwin 9-9415; Chestnut 6-2000; and Palace 4-5214?

  • Great prices by today’s standards. The Browning Superposed listed from $280. Model 12s listed from $94.95. Model 37 Featherlights listed from $105.

  • Advertisements for preserve bird hunts in NY. The preserves were all “downstate,” meaning a not too inconvenient drive from NY City. I would have guessed preserves weren't popularized until a bit later.

  • Articles by now iconic writers A. J. McClane, Warren Page, Clare Conley, H. G. Tapply, Robert Ruark, Corey Ford, Ted Trueblood, and Ed Zern. All in one month’s issue! For 35¢!

  • Two advertisements for tiger hunts under the heading “India," and one offering safari in Vietnam:

    “Experienced guides dedicated to give you the very best in hunting thrills for Big Game – Elephant, Tiger, Gaur, and many others.”
    The first official large unit military action of the Viet Nam War occurred on September 26, 1959 when the Vietcong ambushed two ARVN companies. I suspect that demand for gaur safaris dried up soon thereafter; and this may have been the last issue to contain such an advertisement.

  • Hunting season dates and limits for all 49 states. Hawaii was admitted to the Union on August 21, 1959, and presumably was otherwise busy when asked to forward its sporting calendar. Surprisingly, there was a Hungarian Partridge season in NY with 3/ day and 9/ season limits.

  • An “original Frontier Six-Shooter” in .22 calibre for $47.50. Here is the quaint ordering information:

    “Send cash, check or money order. When ordering pistols, enclose a signed statement reading: ‘I am not an alien, have never been convicted of a crime of violence. I am 21 years or over.’”

And here’s what you didn’t:
  • Forget about websites or email addresses: there are no zip codes in the ads. For those of you young enough not to remember, this is not an omission.

My friend Bill D. from The Black & Tan Bombshell will probably think the title picture shows a Gordon Setter; and it probably does. But regular readers will recognize that the dog is a dead ringer for my ECS “Gordie.” The February, 1935 cover dog, just like my good old “Bean,” was an American Water Spaniel. Prints of both covers were presented to me at Christmas several years ago, and hang proudly on our living room wall.

Field & Stream Cover from February, 1935

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Trust Is A Must If You Lust After Cooperation That’s Robust

In the off season, Gordie and I enjoy going for walks down a long service road that meanders through an expansive meadow bordered by a forest of mixed-age oaks. It’s a pleasant place to walk. Deer browse; red tails soar over head; foxes and coyotes slink off when we give them a hard look.

A technician uses this road for his job maintaining servers at an otherwise deserted TV tower at its dead end. Whenever I see him slowly rolling toward us, I whistle Gordie in and hup him at my feet. The little spaniel comes running in every time, sits before me, and studies my face with keen attention lest he miss the signal to release and resume his joyous romping. The first time that Roger saw this modest performance, he was immoderately impressed. He lowered the driver’s window, lavishly complimented Gordie’s behavior, and asked me facetiously if I’d train his neighbor’s %@$#&$% dog. Since that initial meeting, we’ve chewed the fat on many occasions; and every time he sees Gordie scoot in and park his butt, he shakes his head with a grin just like he did that first day.

I’m not a particularly good dog trainer. In Gordie, I had great luck in getting an especially cooperative pup. I also knew that he was a well-bred dog from a great kennel, and from a breed known for its biddability. And I’d gotten lots of help from reading and from talking with people whose dogs were well trained. One of the best pieces of training advice I received was this injunction: Never fool your dog.

When Gordie was a pup, he got lots of sweet talk and ear scritches when he obeyed the command “Here!” Now, when he comes in on command, even after he’s bumped and chased a bird to hell and gone, or rolled in dead raccoon, he still gets rewarded for compliance with his last command. Never fool your dog.

Whenever I put on my boots and grab the walking stick, Gordie wriggles with excitement over our impending walk. On a day when our route starts at the back gate, he knows he must sit there on command, not just until I open the gate, but until he’s released with the magic word. He always sits there like a turtle basking on a hot rock, because he knows that compliance always produces a fun run. Never fool your dog.

When Gordie was learning to fetch tossed dead pigeons, I never tricked him by either failing to toss a presented bird or tossing it into an impossibly difficult spot. Gordie always found his early marks, and got lots of love when he brought them to me. Now, there is no quit in him when I give the “Dead bird!” command. Good habits are forged if you never fool your dog.

My friends' simple injunction remains good advice. No foolin'.