I was a total nerd on guns and hunting when I was a teenager. I read all the classic gun authors, especially the dean of American gun writers, Jack O'Conner. In my early years hunting on the upper Chesapeake bay, there was a culture of waterfowl hunting that was hard to believe. The DuPont Remington corporation was located not far away in Delaware and they displayed beautiful hunting billboards on major highways in the area. One really felt a part of an important and historic hunting culture in those days. Then, there was Remington farms, a waterfowl refuge and testing ground for new developments in shot shells. Remington farms was once the private hunting reserve of the father of modern aviation, Glen L, Martin. Today the name Lockheed Martin, the worlds largest aero space and defense Industry bears his name. War historians claim that his development of various World War II bombers shortened the war to a great degree. I believe he developed some of his designs by watching ducks!
In Alaska, I have spent quite a few years hunting wildfowl and other game. I lived for years with my family in "bush" Alaska and carried a gun daily. We lived "off the country" as old timers and Alaska Indians and Eskimos termed it. I used guns so frequently to fill the pot, that I became and instinctive shooter to a large degree. This was the case in World War I and II as the majority of Americans lived on farms then and American riflemen were born out of necessity to supplement farm food. "Them boys were shooters" back then as a popular movie proclaims. I have heard that waterfowl shooters were recruited purposely by the Navy in World War II because they had the ability to instinctively lead Japanese Kamikaze which were devastating American warships like never before in our history.
I am trying to point out aspects of the great tradition of American Waterfowling that are not apparent but very important to the American tradition in the above, but this article is about Guns and Shot, so lets get to it!
Some claim the the Browning A-5 automatic shotgun was the best tool ever developed for shooting waterfowl. The humpback design gave a unique sighting plane for leading waterfowl. The gun has been popular for over a hundred years. Being an instinctive shooter I find the design unusual and not user friendly for myself. I hunted ducks and geese for years with the Model 12 Winchester pump and that beautiful, stylistic, tool worked just fine for my shooting style.
The closest modern semi-auto waterfowling gun I have found that feels as right as the Model 12 is the Benelli Black Eagle. This guns will shoot 3 1/2 inch shells. I never shoot 3 1/2 for a number of reasons that you can read about in my advanced downloads. This gun is light and agile and points where I want it to point without me thinking about it. There are so many good guns made today, it is hard to say that one is better than another. Although I have used pumps for most of my waterfowl hunting, I have found the auto gun to be a better choice for me today. For years I claimed I could shoot a pump as fast and true as any auto. Being hardheaded on some things, I never took the time to experience the auto gun for any length of time in the marsh. This was a mistake!
I do believe it is a good idea to start out wildfowlin' with a pump, or even a single shot or double for that matter as it teaches you to call your shots and make every shot count.
I stopped handloading shot shells when steel was introduced and made the shot of the future for waterfowling. Like many duck and goose hunters the negative aspects of steel shot were apparent from day one. Increased loss of birds that would fly off to the next watershed seemingly not hit, that would die a slow death for no good reason that I could detect. You knew the birds were hit as you could see the shot bounce off the outside feathers, but the birds did not slow down a bit, even if they were knocked off their flight path by the force of the shot load. During this time period, wildfowl populations were also down and I did not hunt as much as former years as I figured the birds needed a brake both from the steel shot and the low numbers of birds. This was private conservation matter on my part.
Steel shot has come a long way since those days. We now have developments with shot like Winchesters Blind Side and Federals Black Cloud that are changing the overall picture of steels former inadequate nature. The only problem with these shells and even more with the heavy metal shot shells, is the price, and shot shells are priced to perfection as they say in the stock market. This means that the amount of powder, shot, quality and price are figured out by experts and computers to the last atom of value, that in the end works against the hunter consumer.
If you can afford it, the best bet for modern shot shells for waterfowl are the above loads. If shooting regular steel, get the most heavy load you can shoot for best overall results in all conditions. The last so many years has witnessed the fad of "fast shot". It has been proven that the faster shot is driven down a barrel the FASTER it slows down out of the barrel. This is because of the speed itself and the outdated and inefficient round shot pellet. Round cannon balls went out of use over a 150 years ago, and for good reason. But we are stuck with round shot and must learn to work with it's 19th century ballistics.
In this photo we see the 3 most popular shot sizes. #3 and #2 shot are more similar in size than #4 shot in the upper left hand of the photo. I use #4 in the early two weeks of the season as in a 1 1/4 ounce load there is almost 100 more shot than in the #2 load 1 1/4 ounce load. This makes quite a difference in easy hits as you get your brain and body tuned into the hard won shooting experience they have lost since the end of last season. At the end of the season, for me, it is almost almost hard to miss a bird! I find # 3 to be the best all around load after tons of trial, error and effort over the years. # 3 tends to have the best ratio of size to number of shot, especially in a proper heavy load. It will also bring down geese. #3 is effective on our Aleutian, Crackler, Tule, Dusky, and Traveners geese which in the past were considered sub-species of Canada geese. Today the biologist tell us these species of geese are not sub-species, but their own species of pure Canada geese. Go figure?
I find # 2 shot's sparse number of pellets and dispersed shot patternlacking as an effective duck load, though better on geese. I sometimes will use it if only going for big Mallards, but other than that, find it a poor choice for medium ducks like Pintails and Gadwalls. I do not use 3 1/2 shells as the noise defeats carefully planned out hunts. There are other reasons also that do with fast shooting not to mention recoil. I use the most heavy shot loads I can find in the 2 1/2 or 3 inch hull. I want just moderate speed, no need for the sports car fast loads which tend to have lighter loads of shot, unless you want a ton of recoil.
The above photo is the only one I have ever seen that explains in an exact visual way the SHOT STRING behaves on a moving target. I have toyed with this for many years and was never satisfied with typical pattern boards that only show a non-reality static expression of a shot load without the shot string taken into effect. I devised this pattern board that shows the shot string. All shot going thru a barrel turn into a shot string shortly after leaving said shotgun barrel. Shot do not all hit in the typical 30 inch circle like you see on a pattern board when the shotgun barrel is being swung on moving bird. The above shot load depicts what a real shot string looks like. This is in fact a short shot string that is the exponent of steel shot, modern wads and modern precise shot shell loading. Shot stings were even longer in the old lead days, but the lead shot were more effective for a number of reasons.
The background flying mallard drawn on the board has received a near perfect lethal load of steel. There are shot delivered to the vital organs and the head. There are shot delivered very close to the major wing bone that are close to the body. We cannot say for sure that major wing bones would have been hit as they are rapidly moving in an arc. All of this dispersal of shot onto the target happens in 100's of a second. If the duck target was just 2 bars back or 3 bars forward it would have received many less shot or none into the vital organs in the body. We can see from this shot string photo why we all miss at times.
This duck target is fairly centered in the shot string, but if it was caught by the front or back of the string it would have been wounded or missed. There are 3 shot in the vitals and 3 in the head, which is about what we see in many cleanly killed ducks. Many times there are more in the body and less in the head. Depending on wind and other conditions, shot strings can be as long as 6 feet or more. But, the point of all of this is this all happens in 100's of a second. If the duck was moving forward one panel or bar forward, it would have had more shot to the body, which would be a lethal kill, but just one bar more forward and it would have less shot in the vital organs. One more bar or panel forward and it may have not been hit at all. This is a rare perfect shot string and few of us will ever have it centered on the flying Mallard. We most likely will be behind the fast moving duck, which means the duck will be flying through the sparse front end of the shot string 3 or more bars forward. This is indeed shot shell food for thought!
In my down load I discuss finer points of shot shells and shooting including the best brands and loadings and secrets of professional guides. Do you know why it is always better to put shells in your pocket than outside on shell holders? Why 3 1/2 shells are a poor choice? What is the very best 3 inch regular steel load? These are just a few of many tips to improve your shooting and waterfowl hunting. This download includes wildfowl hunting techniques of Far North Natives. Indian and Eskimo tricks seldom known that can improve your skills over the competition no matter where you live.
LEARN How to Shoot Waterfowl and all game birds and clay birds. Pro instruction will improve your shooting. Or teach you how. Find out what you are doing wrong and get things right. I specialize in instinctive no aim shooting, but also can teach other methods. If your aiming, your not doing it right! In South Central Alaska call: Mike Robinson 887-6066
THE TRISTAR STORY
For 8 years I shot the Benelli BEII which is considered the cream of the crop, the upper crust of the auto-loader waterfowl shotgun world. It is a good gun, but not bullet proof by any streatch.
After about 3 boxes of shells, it tends to do the "Benelli click" where it jams and does not feed the next shell from the magazine. You can read about it on the internet. Some of the BEII's seem to do it more than others. I also did not like a few other things about this gun, and was considering the new fangled Benelli Vinci. I just happened to be a local gun store who was not a dealer for Benelli and spotted a gun that looked like a BEII on the rack and asked the clerk to see it. Picking it up it sure felt like a BEII also. It was a Tristar Raptor.
This gun was lighter than the BEII and felt great and pointed like my finger. At just under $400 at the time, I had to have one. This gun has proven to be a total "sleeper" meaning that it is good, maybe even the best, but monetary value has no part in the guns makeup or value. The gun is a product of globalization, which I am not exactly for, but yet, am not sure much will be done about it. It turned out that after research, that the gun is indeed made on Benelli machinery in low wage Turkey. The gun is excellent and does not do the Benelli click and is very reliable after a few test waterfowl seasons. It is fast and puts to rest the myth that inertia actions are better than gas loading. It handles like a dream. It is easy to clean. It shoots soft. I could have bought four of these guns for the then price of the Vinci. Go figure as the saying goes!