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Selecting a duck gun

by John McDougall 

With the 2018 duck season almost upon us, there are a few pointers that I would suggest to the budding hunter who is anxious to buy a gun for the imminent campaign. As the gun will be for duck shooting, I have placed a cap of $1600 on a purchase price as there are plenty in the marketplace that can be bought for less than this sum.

Such a gun might find that it is treated a little more roughly than say a sporting clays or trap gun – mainly due to the environment it will operate in, especially if you are using a boat and the hunter may therefore not want to invest in a more expensive shotgun. With the introduction of non-toxic/non-lead shot for duck shooting during the government gazetted game seasons in the various areas within the Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania, it is imperative that you purchase a gun that is suited to steel shot use ie, one that is proofed for steel shot loadings. As all guns are NOT created equal, this is a challenge as to which guns are steel shot proof and which guns are steel shot compatible for there is a huge difference.

CIP, the European governing body for the proof of all firearms including shotguns, has two levels of steel shot proofing: ‘Standard’ steel shot and ‘High Performance’ steel shot. Understanding the difference between these may save you a great deal of expense and damage to your gun so let’s take a look at them.

‘Standard’ steel shot is set by shot size and velocity. The shot size must be size four or smaller and travelling at a velocity less than 400m/sec, (1312 fps). Most modern day shotguns are at least capable of firing these loads provided the choke used is not tighter than modified (half choke), which with steel shot is equivalent to full choke in lead shot loadings. To this end guns not having the CIP Fleur de Lys proof mark will have some directions in their instruction manual that they are suited to steel shot, but no larger than size four shot and with modified choke or less. These guns are deemed steel shot compatible CIP definition and many will be chambered for 70mm or 2¾” loads and not the semi-magnum 76mm/3” cartridges.

‘High Performance’ steel shot features shot sizes equal to and larger than three-shot with a velocity that is greater than 430m/sec (1410 fps). These often come in 76mm (3”) loadings and are only suited to those guns that have passed a superior proofing level of 1370Bar or 19,870psi. While many European guns come under CIP, many from Turkey and additionally those from Japan are guaranteed by their manufacturers to be proofed to the levels required by CIP even though they are not ‘member states’ of CIP jurisdiction. Just as many guns made in the US are not CIP proofed but they are proofed to a level under a different organisation, SAAMI. So it can all be a little confusing but a read of the instruction manual and a discussion with the gunshop dealer you are purchasing through should be able to allay any fears and provide good advice. For many of my gun reviews I have had to go back to the distributor to clarify this situation, for you do not want to be putting wrong ammunition into a gun not suited ‑ the reason why we have proofing of shotguns to protect the shooter.

Having clarified the ‘proofing’ and ‘compatibility’ issues, it is now time to look at what is further required of a duck gun and what is on offer under the price ceiling that I have set.

Interchangeable choke tubes are another accessory recommended for a duck hunting gun ‑ for you never know whether you will be shooting in a quiet backwater retreat over decoys where you would utilise open chokes. Alternatively you may be shooting above the tree tops in a swamp or even ‘pass shooting’ on a large creek or river when a tighter choke might be required. The ability to change your chokes is always a benefit under these circumstances. I prefer more open chokes for decoys rather than the same chokes with smaller shot. A few friends talk about ‘swatter loads’ for shooting close over decoys but I prefer to kill ducks with fewer pellets in sizes two or four shot than using size six and seven shot loads and bruising the birds extensively. Both will kill ducks outright but spreading your choke with larger sized shot is the way that I prefer to go with fewer hits but deep organ damage that takes them humanely and with a minimum of bruising. Some aftermarket manufacturers offer steel shot proof chokes right up to full choke but most gunmakers will recommend no tighter than modified choke (½) in lead shot, which is equivalent to full choke steel.

The weight of a gun is also important. If you are going to be firing off High Performance steel shot loads in 3” semi-magnum offerings, then a nicely weighted gun with a good recoil pad is almost a necessity. I can remember my early days of shooting off boxes of 36-gram loads, (1¼ oz), without a care for recoil but nowadays I am a lot more recoil conscious, especially after two back operations. Weight in a gun soaks up recoil, prevents muzzle flip and flinching and coupled with a well-constructed recoil pad makes shooting ducks more of a pleasure than a punishment. So have some weight in that duck gun or choose light loads to suit.

Mechanical versus inertia-operated trigger systems have long been a point of concern for me, especially with a field gun – the reason why my own duck gun has mechanical triggers. With mechanical trigger systems you will always have the option of a second shot regardless of whether the first barrel discharges so no opportunities can be lost. Inertia-activated guns cannot fire their second shot off if there has been a misfire with the first barrel therefore that shooting opportunity can be lost unless you are fast to operate the barrel selector, which will manually select the other barrel to fire. I have fired a large variety of shotguns throughout my years as an outdoors writer and at the end of the day I have exactly what I would recommend for the reader ‑ a shotgun that utilises a mechanical operating trigger system.

Another option that I also like for a field gun is either a dark receiver or a camo-hydrographics coating to avoid reflected light glints that occur with a silver receiver. These are a dead giveaway to ducks as the sun rises, giving away a hunter’s position and spooking them. Some of the guns mentioned in this presentation have silver receivers but these can easily be addressed by placing camo tape over them to avoid the glints I am speaking of. The camo tape is available from most gunshops and can be easily removed with the adhesive cleaned off using gun oil or similar.

Finally, barrel length for the avid duck hunter. I prefer 700mm barrels, (30”) and with the provision of interchangeable choke tubes the gun can be turned into a 26” barrelled gun for close shooting over decoys by using a cylinder/improved cylinder choke combination or a long-range gunning outfit with modified/modified chokes inserted. Perhaps even use tighter aftermarket chokes duly suited to steel shot with tight choke constrictions. My advice here is to always check with the manufacturer’s recommendations - not only to minimise damage to your gun but also primarily for safety.

I will list the shotguns that I highly recommend for duck hunting. They are priced from less than $1000 up to $1500 and all should serve the avid hunter well. In some cases the guns are a little on the light side when it comes to weight but this just means you have to be more selective with the loadings chosen. There is an extensive range of loads in the market place you just need to be discerning and use a little common sense and seek compatibility with your shotgun. For example, I would not recommend a light gun such as the Yildiz side by side for use with Remington Hypersonic, 36-gram loads travelling at 1700fps. The gun will handle the loads proof-wise but the recoil and muzzle flip will not make for a comfortable outing. You could choose far more wisely with Gamebore, Eley or even Remington loads in 32-grams travelling at reduced velocities around 1400fps for more comfort and less recoil and muzzle flip.

The Stoeger Condor is distributed by Beretta Australia and comes in a 30” barrel configuration with automatic ejectors and 3” chambers suited to HP steel shot loads up to modified choke. It is supplied with two modified choke tubes (additional choke tubes can be purchased) and it has a blued finish on the receiver and barrel with walnut stock and fore-end wood work. It is fitted with a great recoil pad to absorb those HP steel loads and weighs in at 3.4kg. Selling at about $760, this is the entry-level gun that is backed by a one-year warranty from the distributor.

Turkish gunmaker Yildiz offers two models of shotguns that have been available in Australia for more than 10 years and have proved their reliability. The under and over is priced at approximately $900 while the side by side, for those who prefer a double gun, will cost about $1050. Both models come with a three-year warranty and are suited to steel shot use. I would recommend using no larger than size three shot in these guns with moderate 32-gram loads travelling around the 1350-1400fps for comfortable shooting. Both models come with suitable recoil pads and despite their silver receivers, which can be covered with camo tape or similar, offer very good value. Mechanical triggers are utilised with both models. They are imported by Spartan Global and the distributor can be contacted on (03) 9338 1115 for your nearest retail outlet.

Another Turkish shotgun is found with the Radikal under and over 12-gauge shotgun distributed by Raytrade in Victoria. This is priced at about $995, featuring its camo hydrographic coating and was quite a serviceable shotgun during my review. Chambered for 76mm shotshell loadings, the gun is compatible up to size three shot in steel with the use of chokes no tighter than lead modified. It was fitted with a comfortable recoil pad and during testing it shot well and proved to be reliable. The Radikal utilises a mechanically selected and operated trigger system that is supported by a 12-month warranty from Raytrade. Priced at just less than $1000, it was excellent value and would suit as a first purchase.

Winchester distributes another brand of Turkish gun, the Huglu. This is quite a reliable gun and I first reviewed one in 2008. They seem to have passed the test of time with serviceability and are supported by a two-year warranty from Winchester Australia. Chambered for 76mm steel shot loadings they are suited to CIP High Performance steel shot loads discussed earlier, including all steel shot loadings sold under the Winchester banner, and are fitted with a well-constructed recoil pad. The camo hydrographic model sells for around $1000 and represents excellent value. The silver receiver model, the Ventus, would need some camo tape treatment and it also sells for about $1000. The trigger system is mechanically operated and the gun is fitted in an ABS case with all accessories for that price.

The ATA 686S camo from Nioa is another well-priced shotgun at $1250, with a three-year warranty. These have been coming into Australia for some time and are, again, from another Turkish gunmaker that seems to be establishing a following in Australia. This hydrographic, camo coated model also features a great recoil pad and mechanically operated triggers – ideal for the avid waterfowl hunter. Proofed for C.I.P High Performance steel shot loads while using a maximum lead shot modified choke, the gun is well suited to all steel shot loadings sold in Australia. The gun is fitted with all accessories into its own ABS case and represents good to excellent value.

Italian gunmaker Bettinsoli is the creator of the X-Trail black, which has a standard walnut configuration with its stock work and a black receiver to prevent unwanted glare. This model sells for about $1400 and comes with a five-year warranty, steel shot CIP proofing for High Performance steel shot and it also has a 76mm chamber for 3”, semi-magnum loads. Fitted with a mechanically operated trigger system and supplied with a set of three chokes, along with an ABS fitted case, this model represents excellent value. The maximum choke tube constriction recommended is modified (lead). The constrictions and steel/lead shot suitability are marked on the choke tubes and the gun has a well-fitted recoil pad to tame any high velocity loads that are available in Australia for waterfowling. Bettinsoli guns are sold by SJS Trading and the guns can be viewed on its website.

Famous English gunmaker, Webley and Scott, has had somewhat of a journey during recent years moving some of its operations from England to Turkey and contracting a gunmaker in Italy to make the less expensive models. The latest W&S 1000 Sporter and Game Gun comes from Italy and has a three-year warranty. Despite its silver receiver, it sells for around $1440 and comes fitted in its own ABS case along with all accessories. The trigger system is mechanically operated and for the shooter who likes to hunt and shoot sporting clays, it is a most reasonable gun for its price. Chambered for 76mm semi-magnum loads and proofed by C.I.P for High Performance steel shot loadings, this is an excellent gun for the newcomer. It is distributed in Australia by OSA based in Melbourne.

 Another entry from Italy is the Marocchi First. Although a little on the light side, this is a well-made gun suited to waterfowl hunting with HP steel shot proofing and mechanical triggers. The receiver is in a matte silver with gold ducks inlaid but if this becomes a concern then out with the camo adhesive tape. Fitted with an English-style recoil pad, the gun is chambered for 76mm semi-magnum loads and, as mentioned, also suited to HP steel shot loadings. The gun carries a two-year warranty. The Marocchi First sells for about $1600 and is the most expensive of all guns reviewed in this presentation. It is available from Trophy Arms in Essendon and can be viewed online while Trophy Arms can advise you of your nearest re-seller.

For those who might want to modify their existing gun, there is the option of camo pattern hydrographic dipping offered by Miall’s Gun Shop in Melbourne (POA) and the fitting of steel shot choke tubes as either a thin-walled option whereby choke tubes are installed into a gun that has fixed chokes or Briley Replacement Chokes (BRC). This will replace the manufacturer’s original choke tubes and permit the use of ¾ choke with special titanium choke tubes printing an over-full pattern with steel shot – mainly used for long-range gunning. Whichever way you go it is best to seek the advice of Briley technicians at Miall’s Gun Shop. Some guns may still only be suited to standard steel shot loads for under CIP a truly HP steel shot proofed gun is also made from superior barrel steel made to a cited specification. Miall’s Gun Shop can be viewed online.

In closing, there are many guns on offer that are more expensive than those selected but for the newcomer or the hunter who is wanting to update their duck gun, these are a few recommendations priced less than $1600. There are also excellent buys for less than and around $1200 and a silver receiver gun can become more suited to duck hunting with the application of camo tape without having to necessarily become a permanent fixture. Enjoy your shooting and choose wisely with your gun’s ammunition selection. Do some research and ask plenty of questions and your duck hunting outing will be an enjoyable activity.

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