Monday, March 22, 2010

Love: Dale Tate, Sarah Connor and me

Something about getting a new gun is a little scary.

Not scary like the first time I bought a gun, when every step of assembly had me terrified that I'd do something wrong and either break the gun or blow up the house. (I know. Totally stupid.)

Nope. The fear now is something different: What if I can't hit the broad side of a barn with it? What if I don't love it?

I expected that fear when I got my first rifle, because I'd dropped $1,000 on the gun and scope, and the last thing you want after that kind of outlay is buyer's remorse.

But I was a little surprised that I still had the jitters about the new 12 gauge Beretta 3901 I won in a California Waterfowl raffle last month.

I'd been wanting to switch from a 20 gauge to a 12 gauge when the 3901 fell into my lap, so I was feeling pretty lucky. I got what I wanted, right?

Yes. But I guess I was wondering if all the things I'd feared about a 12 gauge when I started hunting - the things that prompted me to buy a 20 gauge in the first place - would turn out to be real problems. Would the extra weight and recoil be more trouble than they're worth? Should I have just stuck with my 20 gauge and traded in the shotgun I won for, perhaps, a target rifle? Read more...
I picked up my gun on Tuesday - having endured my 10-day waiting period - but before I could give it a test drive, I needed to take it to gunmaker Dale Tate for a fitting.

A gun fitting before pulling the trigger even once? Yessir. I shoot left-handed. Shotguns come from the factory cast for right-handed shooting (not to mention for men's proportions). Just as I wouldn't wear a pair of shoes that don't fit, I wouldn't bother shooting a shotgun that doesn't fit, because it just throws your shooting off way too much.

So I took a drive down to Dale's shop at the Camanche Hills Hunting Preserve in Ione on Friday morning to see what he could do for me.

Dale dutifully looked at the Easter card I'd brought him...

(Thanks for sending me this, Hoot!)

... then got to work.

"Let's have a look here," he said, hefting my new gun.

It stood out in his workshop. The 3901 is 7.2 pounds of Plain Jane, a sturdy, just-the-facts-ma'am shotgun with synthetic stock. Dale's shop is filled with the kind of shotguns that are works of art - some that he makes, others that he simply repairs or adjusts.

I think this was the first time I'd ever seen a synthetic stock in the place. I wasn't even sure he could do the fine-tuning on a synthetic stock that he could do with wood, which lends itself to precise filing.

"It's not as elegant as the 391," I said almost apologetically as he inspected it. The 391 - which is what my 20 gauge is - is the newer version of this gun.

Dale peered at me without lifting his head. "Holly, it's a gun," he said. "It's a free gun."

True dat! And there was really no reason to worry about the 3901 - it's gotten great reviews from the likes of Philip Bourjaily.

Dale then had me do that thing I hate: Mount the gun so he can put his face right in front of the muzzle and stare down the barrel to see where my eye is sitting (like my friend Sarah did in this photo on the left for a fitting he did in 2008).

He took apart the gun to see what kind of fit he could get by repositioning the spacer that comes with the gun, and we went out into the field for testing, first on the patterning board, and then on clays.

I hit the board just fine, of course, but the clays were giving me more grief - you know, those pesky moving targets. So we went back into the shop, where he did some filing on the stock to get the precise angles he wanted (synthetic stock definitely not a problem). And when the gun was all put together again, we returned to the sporting clays course.

I shot OK, but not great, at some quartering-away targets. Dale was clearly hoping for better.

So was I.

"Dale, I totally suck at going-away targets," I told him. "I hate trap. I mean, I know I need to master it, but..."

So we moved to targets that were a little more ducky - incoming! - and tried again.

"Ready?" he asked.


Pull. Target flies. I raise my gun. Pull the trigger. The clay is smashed to bits.

"Again," he said, handing me another shell.

Repeat performance.

"Again," he said.


We did that with a good dozen shells and he looked at me and said, "You're fine."

We were done! I was ready to take my gun out into the world.

* * *

Somewhere between that trip to Dale's shop and Sunday morning, I decided to name my gun.

I'm not sure why, particularly since I didn't name either of my first two guns. Maybe it's because saying "my shotgun" would no longer work, since I have two now. Maybe it's because it's my first black gun.

One of my friends named her shotgun Sheena. Nice, but I've never been into the jungle motif. I was looking for a different icon. Someone badass and sexy, but in a tough kind of way. It took about 0.3 seconds for this image to come to mind:

Yep. Sarah Connor. My hero from Terminator II. So that's my new gun's name.

I took Sarah Connor out for another spin on Sunday. I had a screeching headache, but I just wanted to put a quick 50 rounds through her, just to recapture that feeling I'd had Friday morning at Camanche. To reassure myself that this was my new girl.

The gun came up to my cheek perfectly almost every time, and clay after clay exploded in the sky. Not all of them. I'm not that good. But the vast majority of them.

The gun definitely has more kick than my 20 gauge, but I already knew from Friday that my shoulder would be no more sore than it normally is when I hit the range after having gone two months without shooting. And while I definitely noticed the extra weight of the gun, that disappeared every time I yelled "pull" and the stock just seemed to float up to my cheek.

Of course, my head was really pounding now. Note to self: Little explosions next to face exacerbate headaches.

But headache or not, I was a happy woman. This gun was truly mine.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Blessed said...

I like it... name the gun :)

Glad this shotgun is "yours" - and I know exactly what you mean.

Quackity Gal said...


Welcome to the world of 12 gauge! I love my old Citori o/u. The only reason why I'd get a different one is well, this one is just too pretty to beat up in a duck blind!

Barbara Baird said...

You look great in black.

Barbara Baird said...

Oh, and I'm digging the 'power pony' too!

Unknown said...

Here's to new guns! :) I just bought a 12g Winchester SpeedPump for turkeys and ducks. I was a bit worried about being being able to fit it to me, but my husband was able to shim the stock to get the right height for the comb and cut it down without any problems. This is the first shotgun I've had that actually fits, it made such a huge difference in my shooting!

If Sarah Connor is kicking a bit much, would it be possible to buy an after market recoil pad to replace the original?

benedict1 said...


Does that gun have a pad on it? I can't see it since the stock is black and the photo isn't real clear. Either way, I would get Dale to install a 1" Kick Eez on it. The difference would be amazing.

Next you need to start reloading your own shells. Always something!

ironman said...

I heartily recommend the sims R3 but pad. it really tames those 3 inch duck loads! congrats on your new aquisition Holly!

Holly Heyser said...

Blessed: It's a beautiful feeling - it "works."

Quackity Gal: Thanks!

Babbs: "Power pony" - love it! I've been growing out my hair for more than a year and the second I could put it in a ponytail to get it off my neck, I bought an enormous pack of rubber bands.

Shannon, Walter and Ironman: The kick isn't that bad. I notice the extra recoil like I notice the difference between 1% milk and 2% milk. It's not like the difference between nonfat and whole milk. It's just not a big deal.

The soreness isn't different at all. I ALWAYS got this with my 20 gauge when I hadn't shot for a couple months. And interestingly, it's not impact soreness; it's muscle soreness. I'm kinda fascinated by the physiology there - guess my muscles are pushing back after each shot.

Walter, Kick Eez is Dale's favorite pad - I've watched him do 4-5 gun fittings and that's the pad he uses when women are worried about recoil. I'm just not worried about it - if I go shooting every week or two, I'll probably stop being sore after the second week.

The Hunter's Wife said...

I once dropped my Dad's handgun from the kick. And he just finished the gun. Carved it himself. And I chipped it. And then ran in the house.

If I ever own a gun, I think mine will have to have a male name.

SimplyOutdoors said...

I love new guns. And I'm glad to hear that this one is "yours". Sarah Connor is looking good:)

Lindsay Macomber BAGC said...

H er
U ncontrollable
N eed
T o
S hoot

Love the story about your new girl...I love my shotgun so much! You should come trapshooting with us!

Anonymous said...


When you wrote about winning your new 12 ga., I wrote a nice dissertation describing all the benefits I thought you would see when you were Duck Hunting using a 12 vs. your previous 20.

Unfortunately, when I clicked "Publish" it disappeared off into Cyberspace and fed me some sort of error code back. I didn't feel like repeating what I'd just written, so I'll continue here to this new blog.

I really think, in your case, the issue of "12 or 20" is going to be moot. I think that is only an issue in the instance of a person of small stature and weight. It has little to do with gender.

You are certainly "12 gauge capable", so the only real physical difference you'll notice is the weight of the gun.

The "kick" part should work itself out in the added weight of the gun.

The most notable advantage (that hopefully you'll see immediately) will be the added payload when shooting Steel shot.

I think you're going to notice it in fewer crippled Ducks (and Geese).

'Nuff said about that for right now, that'll be a column for you to write next season.

My personal Rx for this gun would be to look for a Magazine Cap with a Sling Stud attached onto it and then find yourself one of those nice Uncle Mike's Cordura Slings, the one with the QD Sling Swivel on front and the Loop that slips around the small of the Stock to make an effective carrying tool when you head out to the blind.

The suggestion for a Kick-Ezz Pad isn't a bad one either. Even though the recoil might not "bother" you, just like a race car driver, it's nice to reduce ANYTHING that distracts from your performance and concentration. Less "felt" recoil adds to your ability to concentrate on the next or followup shot. (It comes off before it's time to shoot)

It was great that you have a good gun fitter and it sounds like you found the key to hitting those difficult targets. I.e. having a knowledgeable coach help you shoot the same problem target over, and over and over!

(This is something that most shooters don't have the luxury of doing at many public gun ranges where you can't do that while shooting "a round" of whatever type of Clay birds shooting you're doing)

It really has all about teaching yourself "what it looks like" to make that difficult shot. Once you know what you want to see, it gets much easier.

My 2 Cents...

Bill C.-Orygun

Anonymous said...

Oops! That "It comes off before you shoot" was added to refer to the Slip-on Sling.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Biggest bummer for me is that now we'll not be able to share shells in the blind. No way I'm giving up my little 20 gauge Franchi Veloce! If I had to name this gun, it'd be "Tinkerbelle"


Alison said...

"Sarah Conner" huh? I love it! I wanted to name my gun but for a long time I couldn't decide if it was a boy or a girl. After reading your post I decided to name her "Starbuck", in reference to the cocky booze-chugging, cigar-smoking, sharpshooting ace pilot from Battlestar Galactica. In the original series Starbuck was a man, but in the re-imagined series she's a tough-as-nails woman!

Josh said...

Great post, and a great last pic! Truly cool.

I never named a gun, but as a Firefly geek, I was very happy with "Vera". I have named a couple of vehicles, one in particular I still own (though it's non-op. right now), also named after a bad-ass female character: Tomoe, after a character from a favorite comic book of my youth(...), Usagi Yojimbo.

Anonymous said...

Seen that grin before although I think it was a big mallard and a little widg you were toteing.

Holly Heyser said...

Jody, you could have a contest to name your gun. Then you could do a pool to see how many years it would be before you actually pulled the trigger on it! ;-)

Bill C., I'm undecided about sling. My buddy Charlie thinks I'm nuts not to use one. I used to have one on my 20 gauge, but I got pretty sick of it catching on tules in the marsh and keeping me from taking shots, so I removed it.

HAGC, sorry about that, Babe. I'm just glad I might be able to buy steel shot at local stores once in a while now instead of always HAVING to order it.

Alison: Starbuck - perfect! I've never watched the new one so I didn't know that was a woman now, but I remember the old Starbuck well. A hottie, back in his day.

Josh, this is the first inanimate object I've named since college.

And anonymous Charlie, yes, that is exactly the smile, isn't it? And for that smile to come out on Sunday with that headache I had, you just know I had to be a happy girl.

Anonymous said...

Something wrong with google acct only way to get in is anonymous oh well. Get a buch of steel 3in 11/8 oz steel and start shooting clays at 40yds help get the lead down although at 1500+fps there isn't much lead. I know a lot of ranges don't allow steel but you and Hank get a hand thrower and find an open field.

Holly Heyser said...

Great idea! I want to go out and do some patterning anyway. No reason not to add some clay action too. Definitely can't shoot steel at the range - I'll have to find someplace to go in the boonies.

Unknown said...

I had a Supernova for a little while that I named Lula. After Lula in the Stephanie Plum books. She was big, black, and had a lot of attitude. lol.

Ghostrifle said...

Hi Holly
Glad to read it is all going well. I have gone the other way and I am picking up a 20 bore for my girlfriend tomorrow. Just out of interest what loads are you shooting?

Holly Heyser said...

So far, just Federal target loads (1 1/8 oz of 7 1/2 shot, 3 drams - 1200 fps).

Congratulations to your girlfriend! What kind did you get her?

Anonymous said...


I used to think/be that way too (I started off that way), thinking "No place on any Shotgun for a sling!"

But over time I've changed my mind.

Often I need to carry something or navigate over recently flooded uneven bottoms with downed limbs, grass clumps, etc. in the water I wade. The sling becomes my "extra hand" while I'm using a stick to probe the bottom in front of me while dragging a decoy bag with the other.

Although I sometimes still do hunt Tule or Cattail areas, nowadays I'm more frequently hunting flooded timber.

And sometimes it's even handy to leave the sling on (oh blasphemy!) while shooting. Especially when in knee deep water and I have to set the gun aside suddenly,just hang it over a short or broken off tree limb.

Obviously different conditions where we both hunt? It's handier to have it and take it off when not needed than the other way around.

Bill C.-Orygun

David Demola said...

Holly! You need to dress up like Sarah Connor for Halloween! If you got the right clothes, you could be a spitting-image of her! ;)