“…if I only had one gun to go ducking with, it would have to be a pump.”
“I’d rather look good shooting than have what I’m shooting look good!”
– from Shotgunner’s Notebook, a collection of essays by Gene Hill (1928-97)
Pernicious pump guns
Until I cut down the stock on my pump-action shotgun to a 13 7/8 inch length of pull, I could not shoot it worth a damn in the field. Now that I can shoot it as well as any of my other shotguns, I wish I had never stumbled onto that solution.
A devotee of the cult of double guns, I disdain taking any semi-automatic or pump shotgun to hunt birds in the uplands. A finely made side-by-side double gun is a creation of the craftsman’s art and science, a thing of elegance and refinement, a symbol of the upland hunting credo, and the ultimate example of the joining of form and function.
Conversely, I have always regarded semi-autos and pumps as machines, inventions of the artless mechanical engineers of the industrial age of gunmaking, intended for shooters who worship firepower over grace and beauty. The tools of the devil.
So I have never owned or hunted with one. Well, not many, and not often. Maybe three pump guns and four semi-autos at most. And I have rid myself of all of them except two, both 12 gauge guns, a Remington 11-87 sporting clays model for competitive target shooting and a Remington 870 for ducks, turkeys, deer, and the persistent raccoon or woodchuck that invades our gardens.
I have used three different pump guns to hunt ducks and geese, a sport from which I am now retired, but that decision was based more on practicality than personal preference. A few close calls over the years made me aware that wind and wave can quickly tip a canoe or small boat in the pre-dawn darkness on the river, and unsecured guns could be lost overboard. If I were to lose a gun, I wanted it to be a $300 pump of no special significance rather than a $1,500 double gun packed with family history and memories of past hunts.
Never did I take a semi-auto or pump on a hunt for upland birds. Well, not often. One season I occasionally hunted pheasants with a 20 gauge semi-auto, but I saw the error of my ways and the danger of sliding down the slippery slope of ethics into the abyss of moral turpitude, so I cast it out of my temple, like cheap whiskey and cigars. Even though I shot rather well with it. Damn, I wish I hadn’t sold that gun.
The Remington 870 pump gun was acquired a few years ago when friends persuaded me to try firearm hunting for deer on my farm. Previously, all my deer hunting was with bow and with muzzle-loader rifle. The Orange Armies of Autumn sweep through the North Country during the annual gun season, using rifle-barrel shotguns (centerfire rifles are prohibited for deer hunting in the county where I live) to kill hundreds of deer on shoots conducted with a half-dozen “drivers” and a half-dozen “posters.” I do not object to these game harvests, but it is not my idea of deer hunting. New adventures are good, however, so I gave firearm hunting a try, which required a suitable gun.
After buying a Remington 870 Express, I had to tinker with it in my normal overreaching fashion. It came with a 26-inch smooth bore barrel. I swapped an old military rifle moldering in the back of my gun safe for an open-sighted, 20-inch rifled deer barrel that I could attach to the 870’s receiver to shoot slugs. My aging eyes did not permit accurate shooting with open sights, I discovered, so I bought a 23-inch rifled deer barrel with scope. The gun shop had a sale on 30-inch waterfowl barrels that day, so Satan convinced me to buy one of those, too.
One of my hunting buddies now refers to the gun as my “Remington 870 Weapons System” and suggests I get a grenade-launcher barrel to complete the set.
I never fired a shot at a deer with the 870 in two seasons of hunting, and since I had to justify the purchase of all this artillery, I took it out to shoot trap and sporting clays a few times. Shooting singles was fine, but I was hopeless at working the pump action and getting back on target to shoot doubles. A shooting coach at the range wisely noted that my build, short arms and deep chest, was forcing me to hold my lead hand well back on the forearm slide, and he suggested I exchange the thick factory recoil pad for a thinner one to shorten the length of pull – actually, to shorten the reach of my left hand to the slide.
After I attached the thinnest pad I could find to the butt, the gun was a different animal. True, the thumb of my grip hand bumps into my nose every now and then, but the stubby stock is an otherwise good fit. So the gun breaks more clay targets. It breaks more targets than my field guns. My beloved doubles. One afternoon it broke 44 of 50 on our back pasture “sporting clays range,” the most ever.
It is impossible to express my self-disgust and loathing in the discovery that I shoot better with this hideous, mechanical, satanic pump gun.
Fortunately, the 870 is much too heavy to lug around on an upland bird hunt, so I do not have to struggle with the attendant moral issues of hunting grouse, woodcock, pheasant and quail with a pump gun. Pouring salt into an open wound, the same friend who tagged the 870 the Weapons System has suggested that I get a lighter 20 gauge pump gun and do all my upland hunting with that. He recommends I sell all my double guns and invest the money into savings accounts for my grandchildren’s college education. The jerk.
In response to this merciless baiting, I fall back on the wisdom of an old trap shooter and duck hunter in northeast Missouri who was chided by his hunting companions for buying a pricey over/under Browning shotgun to take to the wildfowl blinds, possible weather and water damage be damned.
“Life is too short,” he observed, “to hunt with an ugly gun.”