Saturday, March 6, 2010

Crippled ducks, raffle tickets and an unusually lucky confluence of events

I am not a gun nut. I do not salivate over the latest guns. My guns are tools that help me put meat in our freezer - neither race cars to brag about nor economy models to hide in shame.

But I have to admit it: For a couple months now, I have wanted to upgrade my shotgun.

Not that there's anything wrong with my Beretta Urika 391 - it's a damn good gun.

But this duck season, more than a quarter of the ducks I got were other hunters' cripples, which made me think about how many ducks I might be sending away crippled. And that got me thinking long and hard about what I could do to minimize wounding losses.

The most obvious is being able to hit your target dead-on, which means practice, practice, practice. But I kept running into one other inescapable fact: If I shot a 12 gauge instead of a 20 gauge, I'd be putting out more shot with every pull of the trigger, increasing my odds of landing a couple pellets in the ducks' lethal zones. Read more...
That's a hard thing to admit when you've prided yourself on telling everyone who mocks your 20 gauge that it can kill just as well as a 12 gauge - that you just have to be more careful about accuracy because you don't have the same number of pellets.

It's even harder to say when you know there's a certain set of people who actually respect you a lot for using a more modest gauge.

But pride be damned. I decided it was time to join the 12 gauge club.

I started to covet the new Benelli Vinci. It's gotten nice reviews for performance and low felt recoil, and with my scrawny girl shoulders, I really wasn't looking forward to the extra beating I might take with a 12 gauge.

When our friend Jim invited us to a duck dinner - you know, one of those fundraisers where you drink too much beer and buy too many raffle tickets in hopes of winning one of the dozens of guns they're giving away - I thought maybe this was my chance.

When we arrived, I circled the room looking at the loot. Not a Vinci in sight.

Oh well.

But I did see that the giveaway gun for people making installment payments on their life membership that night was a big black 12 gauge Beretta 3901. I didn't know a thing about this model, but I picked it up and raised it to my shoulder. It felt good, like my 391. So I dropped $200 for the third installment of my life membership and braced for the inevitable disappointment.

Usually I win nothing. Once I won a mallard print. Snore. But something weird happened at this dinner. You know how there's always one table that seems to win a disproportionate number of the guns and other big prizes? At this dinner, we were that table.

Jim won a gun. His son won a gun. His son's friend won a gun. Jim won another gun when he was still busy doing paperwork on his first gun. We laughed and laughed and laughed because it was just so unreal.

When it came time for the life member drawing, I placed my ticket squarely in front of me on the table and waited as the emcee called out the numbers. Would our table's good fortune swing my way?

"One!" Check.

"Eight!" Check.

"Two!" Check, but this is usually the last number that matches.

"Five!" Hmm...


I screamed.

I leapt out of my chair and bounced like Tigger all the way to the stage, where I grabbed my new gun, and then I skipped with it all the way back to the paperwork table. Nothing like a gracious winner, eh? But, dang, I'd finally won a gun.

Of course, I didn't get to take it home that night, because California has a ten-day waiting period, so when we win guns, we have to find time later to go to a gun shop that handles the transaction.

I hate delayed gratification.

But it gave me time to think: Should I keep this gun? Or should I trade it in for a Vinci? When you win a gun at one of these dinners, you can usually apply the wholesale value of the gun you've won toward another gun in the store that handles the transaction. That might add up to a $400-$500 discount on a Vinci, and my income tax refund would be enough to cover the remaining $1,000 or so.

I didn't know anything about the 3901, but I Googled it when I got home and found that Field & Stream's Philip Bourjaily had counted it among the "Ten Best Bargains in Shotgunning."

The 3901, it turned out, was a plain-Jane version of the 390, which is the predecessor to my 391. And Bourjaily thought pretty highly of it.

"As a 391 owner, it pains me to admit that the 390/3901 is every bit as good a gun and a little sturdier," Bourjaily wrote. "Its reputation for high-volume, low-recoil durability on sporting clays ranges and Argentine dove fields is well deserved."

Well, that sounded pretty good! Maybe new and improved (and more expensive) models aren't always the smartest buy.

I mulled it over for a couple weeks when I was too busy to get to the gun store anyway, and today was the day my gut answered the question: Are you nuts, Holly? You won a good gun. Count your blessings and bring that thing home.

So I went to the gun shop and got the clock ticking. My 12 gauge adventure begins in ten days.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Over here the wildfowlers are mad for a Beretta called an Extrema 2. I'll be interested to see this stage of your adventure unfold. Keep us posted

Ghostrifle said...

Hi Holly
Well done great news. As to recoil I am sure that now you have done some (quite a lot) of shooting it will not be a problem. Don't go mad on loads 32gm in a 12 is a nice square load, no fliers which cause more than a few wounded birds. Mind you if recoil is a problem you can miss the gym and eat loads of pies (works for me).

David Loret de Mola said...

Ooooooooh. I never win raffle prizes! Congratulations!

Now saw off the end of it! Make your 12 gauge thugged-out! ;) haha

Tovar Cerulli said...

Lucky you! Congrats!

Anonymous said...

Congrats to you Holly!

I have never been fortunate enough to win anything at those duck dinners, but if I did I would have done the same skipping and hooting!

Congrats again, and I look forward to reading about how you like your new 12 gauge.

Chad Love said...

FWIW, Holly, I'm planning on upgrading my duck gun to a gas semi this year and it's going to be a 390 or a 3901.

I just can't see where an SBE, an M2 or an Extrema (or for that matter, a brand-new Urika) is close to a thousand bucks better than a 3901 or a Wal-Mart 390 I can pick up for $500.

For the $1600 or so a new Vinci will set you back you can get a brand-new dead-reliable 3901 for $595 and use the rest of that money to buy a couple flats of premium steel, new decoys, new waders, calls, etc. and still be ahead.

Or in your case, not spend any money at all for the gun, which is even better...definitely a good move. I think you'll like it.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have won a couple guns over the years. I enjoy going to those sort of dinners every few years or so. They are a hoot.

Congrats on the new gun. Semi-free guns (or anything) are always something to smile about.

BTW, according to the news media, you now own an arsenal. Just stirring the pot a little, here.


Phillip said...

Yay, Holly! I think that's awesome, and definitely the right choice. Above everything else, it will give you the slight edge in the duck blind by increasing your lethality. Accuracy is still critical, of course, but why not weight the scale a little more in your favor if you can?

It's not like you've abandoned the 20ga. You still have it, and there are times when it can still be a good choice... private land where the ducks can decoy reliably, or for upland, snipe, and rails... not to mention a great bunny gun. And since it's the same basic gun as the new 12, you should be able to switch back and forth fairly smoothly.


Greg Damitz said...

Awesome. I've been to hundreds of dinners and have only won a Mossberg 835 and a black powder rifle. Welcome to the 12 gauge world. Stick with a light, fast, load and your shoulder and brain will than you.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks everyone!

SBW, folks love the Extrema over here too. If I remember correctly, it shoots 3 1/2s? I hope I can live without that, because I really think a gun should be a long-term investment, not something you change every few years.

Ghostrifle: I'm gonna go out and pattern this baby when I get it and experiment with a lot of loads. Now that I have a 12 gauge, I'll actually have a choice of loads - lemme tell you, 20 gauge selection can be pretty slim.

David: No.

Chad: I knew you'd approve - when I was looking at information about the Vinci, I came across an unfavorable comment of yours on another Bourjaily piece. And your thinking was the same as mine: Some of those guns might be better, but would they be $1,000 better? Doubtful.

I ended up channeling most of my refund into paying off my credit card and paying off my car loan six months early, which seemed smarter in an environment where budget cuts could cost me my job. And I might have just enough left to have Dale Tate make the necessary adjustments to the 3901 - lefthand safety and extra drop and cast for my giraffe neck.

Phillip: You're right - I'm not tossing the 20 gauge, and this is one of the virtues about this choice: Both of my shotguns should feel pretty similar.

Greg, yes, I noticed yesterday when I was cruising 12 gauge shot options that lighter = faster, and that my decision to go 12 gauge will give me greater speeds than I can get on some shot I use now (my 20 gauge Hevi-Shot goes just 1250 fps).

OK, now I'm waiting to hear from the people who are bummed that I'm switching...

NorCal Cazadora said...

And oh yeah, I might have a chance at geese now! My 20 gauge shells with No. 2 shot really don't carry enough pellets to get the pattern density I need on geese.

Matt Ames said...


SimplyOutdoors said...

That's awesome, Holly. Congrats.

I never win anything at those things, so it's always nice to hear when someone else comes home with something good. Well...I guess you didn't really get to bring it home yet. But soon you'll be able to.

Enjoy it. And welcome to 12ga. shotgun land.

sheweewoman said...

Holly, my advise would be to trade that gun in on a Vinci. We have a kid on our youth sporting clays team that shoots one. It definitely kicks harder than my Beretta 391. I have looked at the Vinci and they certainly are nice guns. I bought a Winchester SX3 last year for geese. Love the gun but it is not the easiest to clean. You might laugh but I am selling my SX3 and have gone to a pump. I think it is more sporting. An 82 year old friend of mine gave me his old Remington 870, I've been shooting that but then I found an old Ithaca 37 bottom eject, it makes collecting your shells much easier. The pumps definitely kick more than the semis but I just think they are more sporting and classic. Take your time and shoot them, go to a sporting clays course, you might be able to try some different guns. Good luck and Lucky YOU, I never win anything.

Stephen said...

Congratulations! You won't have any problems with recoil. Lighter loads for practice, and adrenaline as recoil compensator during the hunt. I'm envious. Despite untold $$$ coughed up for drawings, raffles, etc., I've never won a single thing. I'm a Remington 870 kinda guy, but I definitely wouldn't turn my nose up at that new scattergun of yours.

The Hunter's Wife said...

A 12 gauge winner...Congrats Tigger.

Shannon said...

Woohoo! Congrats Holly.

I can't speak from personal experience but I've heard that the Vinci is not a light-kicking gun. Gas semiautos generally kick less than the inertia driven guns (like the Vinci).

It's so exciting getting a new gun! Just last week I bought a 12gauge for waterfowl and turkeys. Nothing fancy, just a Winchester SpeedPump that my brother-in-law wanted to sell. My husband shimmed and shortened the stock last night and I can't wait to shoot it. It feels great and I've never had a gun that fits before.

sportingdays said...

I agree with Phillip. Use the 12 out on the refuges and have fun with the 20 when you get invited out to those swanky duck clubs where the shots are inside 35 yards.

Hmmm ... I love Berettas but I've been looking at the Benelli Vinci myself for next season. I shoot a 12 0/U, which tends to draw some similar disdain or respect from the duck hunting crowd as the 20 gauge. Like "Wow. Only two shots."

As I get older, I seem to notice the recoil more on those heavy duck loads. I've found myself playing this game where I'm trying to find the perfect nontoxic load in 2 3/4 to cut down the recoil and yet still maintain maximum lethality.

And, with a young family, I now find myself with fewer days and opportunities to get out into the marsh so want to make the most of my chances to bring home ducks when I get them. So thinking about a third shot.

clayinstructor said...

Congrats Holly. Good gun but don't forget to make an appointment with Dale. I still shoot 1100's

Live to Hunt.... said...

That's great! After years and years going to those dinners I have never won a gun. However, last year my son was finally old enough to go and at his first dinner guess what, yeah he won the youth gun. Lucky sucker... :)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Harv: I've already called Dale and taken steps to get an extra set of shims (no spares in the box at the store, and I know the standard shims will not provide enough drop and cast for my stupid giraffe neck).

Sportingdays: Thanks for not giving me a hard time!

Sheweewoman: I don't think you're crazy at all. My friend Charlie swears by the pump because it keeps him from firing the second and third shot too quickly. First time I picked up a pump at the store I hated it - didn't like how it felt in my hands - but that's a personal thing.

LTH: Your son is just a charmed soul, isn't he?

Now, about that Vinci: I told the guy at the gun store that I'd considered trading up to the Vinci and he didn't have anything nice to say about the gun. Said the recoil was about what I'd feel on the 3901, and that he'd had a hell of a time putting it together the first ten times.

I'm sure it's a fine gun and I would not have disliked it. And I would've loved an opportunity to at least try one out, but that wasn't in the cards. But I'm just not worried about the choice I made. If Bourjaily's right and the 3901 is as good as, and a little sturdier than, the 391, I'm going to be happy with it.

Ingrid said...

This post (and related ones) are courageous writings. If more people (hunters and non) showed the consciousness you've applied to your efforts, working in wildlife rescue would be a lot less discouraging than it sometimes is. Educating from the "outside" feels futile at times. I don't ever diminish the power of incremental change from within.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks, Ingrid. Let's just hope that the steps I'm taking now will make a noticeable difference next season.

Everyone else: Ingrid is a regular visitor on Tovar's blog and I invited her over here to join some of our discussions here. Please welcome her!