In my younger days, I spent a great deal of time in the duck marsh. Showing up late to my first class in high school was not unheard of and neither was disappearing from my last class. Where I come from, if the weather is right, nothing can stop a determined duck hunter from getting knee deep in cold, icy, muddy waters in the hopes of bagging a limit of birds.
My swamp was on the shore of the inland sea that is Utah’s Great Salt Lake. The smelly mud bowl surrounded by marshlands is a waterfowler’s dream come true. To this day, when the wind blows out of the west and that familiar pungent smell is carried in on a breeze, it takes me back to those early mornings and late evenings trying to identify ducks against the pale gray backdrop as the sun set.
Shotgunning was my first love affair with firearms, I was drawn to the excitement of connecting with speedy birds skimming across the water. The skill involved was as much instinct as anything. It didn’t matter if you carried a hand-me-down single-shot .410 or an Italian double that you traded for a family sedan. The guy who got the lead right got the birds.
With all that in mind, I’d like to share a few of my choice selections for a day in the marsh.
Pump Action Shotguns
For many of us, shotguns are more of a utilitarian tool than anything. It’s hard to get a simpler, more inexpensive gun than the most common and widely used shotguns – the 12-gauge pump. I grew up using the Remington 870, as did millions of other duck hunters. The 870 is perhaps one of the most well-known and most used pump shotguns, and for good reason. It is available in a wide variety of configurations to fit nearly any use.
For duck hunting, I would prefer to get the synthetic version with a protective finish. Duck marshes can be harsh on firearms, so a well-lubed all-weather shotgun is just the ticket for the salty waters. My younger brothers chose two different but equally useful shotguns, the Mossberg 500 and the Winchester 1300. All three of these guns are a great place to start and will take down more ducks than most people are willing to eat.
Though most duck hunting is easily accomplished with the standard 2 3/4 chambering, you may want to go for something with a bit more power. That’s especially true if geese might be in your forecast. Use something with at least a 3-inch chamber like the Benelli Super Black Eagle 3. Or, if that’s a little rich for your wallet, something like the Beretta A300 might be a better choice.
These wing-busting magnums might be just the ticket to getting your limit of birds, and with semi-automatic function they make those follow-up shots and doubles even faster. Again, if saltwater and bad weather are part of your duck hunting experience, you may want to get all-weather models. Just keep those things cleaned and oiled.
Do you get all tweeded up for your hunt? Are you as likely to have a cigar to your lips as a duck call when sitting in the blind? Then perhaps you may want to check out some of the classic double-barreled guns like the Browning Citori. You can feel right at home whether you’re in a duck blind or striding through a soy field after pheasants. While they may provide less shooting opportunities due to their lack of a magazine, you can stand there holding your empty double looking classy as feathers when you miss.
I feel much better about my poor shooting when I shoot my Fathers Rizzini. The fine European craftsmanship does much to soften the blow of a missed shot. Obviously, you’ll want to consider the conditions before taking a fine Italian double into the weeds, but maybe it’s a good enough reason to get a great double-barrel shotgun.
Whatever you choose, make sure to take the time to get proficient and properly trained with it. Use it as an excuse to get some outside criticism on your shooting perhaps. Bringing home a limit of birds is great. But it’s even better being a responsible hunter and firearm owner, and don’t forget to bring a kid along.