Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

One smoothbore to rule them all: Five gun writers reveal their favorite shotgun

Can one shotgun cover all your bird hunting needs? Some of the nation’s top shooting writers tackled that question. (Photo by Phil Bourjaily)

One of the best shots I’ve ever met uses one shotgun for everything. He does all his upland and waterfowl hunting with an old semi-auto, and it’s taken him to multiple berths on the all-state sporting clays team, too.

Not only does he own just the one gun, he neglects it almost criminally. One year he left it out by the side of his barn and didn’t find it until the snow melted in the spring. Clearly, you can do more than merely get by with a single shotgun, if you choose the right one.

Recently I asked four gun writers what their choice would be if they were limited to one gun. Most people who write about guns own (many) more than one shotgun, so each of their answers required some soul-searching and serious thought about what they need a shotgun to do. Here’s what they said:

Freelancer, Outdoor Life

John Gordon of Hernando, Miss., is a senior communications specialist for Ducks Unlimited and a frequent contributor to Outdoor Life on topics pertaining to shotguns and waterfowling.

A former snow goose guide, Gordon has shot a ton of shotguns, and seen many more in client’s hands. He has a good idea of what does and does not hold up in the dirty, muddy conditions of a snow goose hunt.

He said: “I thought about this a lot. My first inclination was to go with the Remington 870 Wingmaster, but if I can only have one gun, I would want it to be a Winchester Model 21 side-by-side. It would be a 12-gauge with 28-inch barrels with Briley chokes installed, a pistol grip, no vent rib. There has never been a tougher gun made. John Olin made sure of that when he constructed it of the finest steel available.

“No other gun matches the side-by-side’s combination of pointability and aesthetics,” Gordon said. He also cites the reliability factor. “You only get two shots, but you are pretty much guaranteed that those two will go bang. A good double gun locks tight and performs flawlessly in any weather. Do I own a 21? No, but I have shot them, and am currently saving up for one.”

Freelancer, Ron Spomer Outdoors

Prolific writer, photographer, naturalist, and TV host Ron Spomer has hunted all over the world and contributed dozens of articles to Outdoor News.

While many may associate Spomer’s name with rifles and big game, at heart he remains the South Dakota farm kid who grew up hunting pheasants on the home place and shooting pothole mallards. He still returns home every year for a few weeks of pheasant hunting with his English setter, Covey, Making a gun writer choose just one gun isn’t easy. Spomer narrowed his choice down to one of two guns, a 20-gauge and a 28-gauge.

“Obviously, I haven’t one shotgun for all my hunting/clays shooting,” he said. “I don’t even have a favorite. But if I had to choose one gun only, I would lean toward a lightweight side-by-side sidelock 20-gauge Kimber Valier.”

Spomer’s gun was made for Kimber in Turkey by Akus, one of the country’s top makers of high-grade guns. It has 28-inch barrels, fixed improved cylinder and modified chokes and double triggers that allow Spomer to instantly choose between chokes. He said the oil-finished AAA Turkish walnut stock helps him savor upland hunts.

While the side-by-side is his first choice, Spomer hedges his bet with a second:

“My other favorite is an old Ruger Red Label 28-gauge O/U that has tumbled every North American upland species from all the Arizona quail species to wild South Dakota pheasants and big Idaho sage grouse. It’s primarily an upland gun, but along the way it has dropped teal, mallards and a goose or two just to earn its waterfowl merit badge.”

Shooting Sportsman

Shooting Sportsman Editor at Large Gregg Elliott has been interested in double guns since he was a teenage grouse and woodcock hunter in northern New Hampshire. Today he hunts throughout the northeast, writes about shotguns and keeps his finger on the pulse of the double gun market on his Dogs and Doubles website.

Asked to choose one gun, he said: “Dreamer me would want my only gun to be something British, best quality, and made before World War II. It might be a side-by-side 16-gauge by either Holland & Holland or James Purdey, or a 16-gauge Boss & Co. over/under.” But, he quickly adds: “Practical me wants something that’s easy to find ammo for, easy to repair, and easy to live with. For that, I would pick a 20-gauge Beretta 686 Onyx or a Zoli Expedition. Those guns are as worry free as double-barrel shotguns get. I would want 28-, 29- or 30-inch barrels and the gun would weigh right around 6 ½ pounds. Either gun has all the modern “improvements,” including modern actions and choke tubes. Both guns are easy to fix right here in the U.S. should anything go wrong.”

Unlike the classic doubles “Dreamer” Gregg mentions, the Zoli is currently made. The Onyx is discontinued, but there are a lot of them around. “If the airline lost either one, I’d take the insurance money and buy another,” Elliott said. “It wouldn’t bother me a bit.”

Shotgun columnist Pheasants Forever

Pheasants Forever shotgun columnist Rachel Hoveland grew up in Minnesota hunting ducks and pheasants with her father, then got hooked on trap shooting in college. A stint working in the gun department of a sporting goods store taught her about all kinds of shotguns. Today she hunts whenever she can, but admits that now she’s a mom, she only gets to shoot trap once a week.

Her choice for an all-around gun is her Beretta 391 Urika II. “I got a great deal on the gun and I think it’s extremely versatile and reliable. I took it on a trip to Alaska for ducks and ptarmigan and it worked in -15 temperatures. I believe in using only a little bit of oil, and keeping any oil off the gas piston.”

Hoveland’s gun is a 3-inch 12-gauge, and while she said a 20-gauge might be better for upland birds, if she could only have one gun it would have to be a 12. “I want a 12-gauge for tough birds like diving ducks, and you’d be a fool to shoot trap competitively with anything but a 12,” she said.

Shotgun columnist Field & Stream, Ducks Unlimited

Much as I love to hunt upland birds and would like to choose an O/U as my one and only shotgun, I like hunting waterfowl too, and I think a third shot is essential for duck and goose hunting.

If I had to get rid of all my guns and keep one, it would be the Browning B-80 I currently use for geese. The B-80 was actually made for Browning by Beretta in the 1980s and it’s really a Beretta 303. There are plenty of target shooters who still believe the 303 to be the best semi-auto ever made.

Mine is a 12-gauge, with choke tubes and 28-inch barrel. I could do all of my goose hunting, duck hunting, turkey hunting, and sporting clays shooting with that B-80.

At 7 ¼ pounds, it might get to be a little heavy for an all-day walk in the uplands, but that’s a tradeoff I would have to accept, and am willing to do so.

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