Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

By Gary Clancy

One of the fringe benefits of having been a full-time freelance
outdoor writer for the past 20 years, is that companies are only
too glad to let me use their products when I go on hunts. They hope
that I will like the product and tell you about it and that you
will buy the product and tell your friends about it. It’s a very
inexpensive and effective means of advertising.

Take guns for instance. Rarely does a company actually give me a
gun. But any of the major firearms companies will send me a gun to
use on a hunt or to test at the range. After the hunt, if I wish, I
can buy the firearm at a discount. It’s a nice perk, and I have
taken advantage of it with rifles, muzzleloaders, and handguns. But
when it comes to shotguns, I like to stick with what I know will
work. For me, that means a pump.

For the past 25 years, I’ve shot the same old 20 gauge Model 12
Winchester on pheasants. Bought it off the Old Scutter when he
decided he needed a new Browning semi-automatic. Sure I’ve
“short-shucked” that little 20 a couple of times during that
quarter century, but other than those infrequent human errors, that
gun has never failed to do its job. And when I hunt ducks or geese,
odds are I’ll be shooting another old Model 12, this one a 12
gauge, that was my father’s shotgun. Like the 20, that 12 gauge has
never failed to fire when I have pulled the trigger, or failed to
eject the empty shotshell or feed a fresh shell to the chamber when
I have worked the slide. Not once.

Semi-automatics, or what are commonly call “autoloaders” are
more popular than pumps these days. A good autoloader is well
balanced, points well, and gives the shooter nearly instantaneous
back-up shots simply by pulling the trigger. If kept clean, they
will rarely jam or fail to cycle. And because most semi-autos on
the market today are gas-operated, they produce less recoil than a
pump gun.

But even the best semi-auto cannot match a good pump in the
dependability department. A pump will keep on shucking empties in
situations that will reduce any autoloader to a single-shot. And
although most hunters believe that a semi-automatic is faster than
a pump gun when it comes to follow-up shots, that is not true. In
the hands of a man who knows what he is doing, a good pump gun is
as fast or just a smidgen faster than most semi-automatic shotguns.
I know a man who is $200 poorer today because he just insisted that
his semi-automatic was faster than my little 20-popper pump.

And if you ever saw exhibition shooter John Satterwhite perform
at Game Fair back in the early days of that popular attraction,
then you know just how fast a pump truly can be operated. John
could take seven clay pigeons stacked one on top of the other in
his left hand, toss them into the air and shucking a Model 12
Winchester pump faster than the eye can follow, break all seven
before any hit the ground.

But dependability, not speed, is a pump shotgun’s claim to fame.
That refusal to jam even under the worst of conditions saved my
life one time. In 1969 I was a young infantryman in Vietnam. One
evening, instead of pulling ambush like we did most nights, our
platoon of grunts walked out of the jungle and through the gates of
an ARVN (Army of the Republic of South Vietnam) compound where we
planned to spend the night.

Since the compound was defended by a company or more of ARVN
soldiers and a small contingent of U.S. advisors, it was like a
night off for us. We did not have to pull ambush or stand guard. We
were all sound asleep when the North Vietnamese Army launched an
all-out attack on the compound. Mortar shells rained down inside
the compound. NVA sappers blew gaping holes in the rolls of
Constertina wire surrounding the compound.

The ARVNs, who never were much for standing their ground,
quickly retreated. My platoon joined about a half dozen U.S.
advisors and the few ARVN soldiers who had not fled, and we
regrouped around the advisor’s headquarters and made our stand
there. Sometime during the first 15 minutes of intense fighting a
mortar round or RPG exploded about three feet from my head. Luckily
for me, at the time I was kneeling on one side of a stack of ammo
boxes that had been filled with sand, and the mortar or rocket
landed just on the other side. The ammo boxes absorbed the
shrapnel, but the concussion knocked me out cold.

I don’t know how long I was out, but when I came to, the NVA
were on top of us. It had been raining for hours and my M-16 rifle
was lying in the mud beside me. I grabbed it and started shooting
but the rifle quickly jammed. I was able to clear the jam, but the
rifle would only fire once and then I would have to manually eject
the empty and cycle a new round into the chamber. A single shot is
fine for some applications, but combat is not one of them.

I either had to find something else to shoot with or I was going
to be a dead man. I crawled on my hands and knees through the mud
and bumped into a body sprawled face down in the mud. It was one of
the advisors. It was pitch black that night, the only illumination
coming from explosions, tracer rounds and sometimes a flare.

I felt around in the mud trying to find his weapon and finally
found it completely buried in the mud under his body. It was a
stubby-barreled 12 gauge pump shotgun, an old Remington Model 31, I
think, but I’m not real sure. At the time, brand was not important
to me.

That gun was solid mud from muzzle to butt plate, but it worked.
I jammed a finger in the muzzle to clear it of some of the mud,
then quickly went through the shells in the magazine. Searching the
dead soldier for more ammunition, I noticed a pouch he had slung
over one shoulder. I think it was a gas mask pouch, but I’m not
sure. What I do know is that the pouch was full of 12 gauge
buckshot shells.

That pouch of red shells and a sawed off pump gun that refused
to jam under some darn tough conditions is the only reason I’m
around to write these words.

Of course most of us will never subject our shotguns to
conditions even close to those I experienced that night, but
sometimes we get into hunting situations that are pretty brutal on
our shotguns. I remember a goose hunt in Alberta one time where we
found ourselves lying flat on our backs in a harvested pea field.
The dirt up in that part of the world is a very fine sand, about
like table salt.

A stiff 30 mph wind was not only helping to keep the geese right
on the deck, but was sifting that sand into everything, including
the actions of our shotguns. There were four of us in that field.
Three of the hunters were shooting autoloaders. All of them
experienced problems. The man with the pump did not.

Cold is another culprit that can quickly transform an autoloader
into a single shot. I’ve seen it happen many times on late-season
duck or goose hunts and several times on late-season pheasant
hunts. The problem here is two-fold. One is that a semi-auto has to
be free of dirt and grime if you expect it to function in cold
weather. But even if the gun is clean, an autoloader needs some
lubrication to keep on working. That oil gets stiff and gummy in
cold weather and the next thing you know, you only get one shot at
that flock of decoying mallards you have frozen for all

All of this might sound like I am knocking autoloaders. I am
not. Today’s autoloaders are a joy to shoot. They point well and
kick less than a pump gun. And if you keep them clean, you will
rarely experience problems with cycling. My point here is that
rarely is not the same as never.

When it comes to the ultimate in dependability in the field, the
pump gun wears the crown.

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