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By Steve McCadams

Duck hunters always seem to be looking for the newest call, better decoys or one with new motion, another spot to hunt and the latest and greatest shotgun that’s rough and tough.

One with dependability under adverse conditions as those of us in this fraternity are known to perform endurance tests on our equipment every season.

Choosing shotguns is like choosing pickup trucks; everyone may not necessarily like the same brand, color or model. That’s why there are several to choose from at any given sporting goods store or gun shop. Glance down the rack and there are multiple choices.

Truth is, there is no perfect gun. No manufacturer can boast of a “one size fits all” model.

Price range is likely the leading factor for most knee booters when it comes to making that final decision. However, some waterfowlers put emphasis on their gun selection despite having an outboard motor that may or may not start. Reading the ads boasting of a new duck gun’s attributes or listening to testimonials from a fellow waterfowler makes the old smoke pole look a bit obsolete.

Even if their truck tires are bald as a bowling ball and the boat and chest waders leak, a duck hunter will find some way to come up with the money for a handsome, state of the art camouflage shotgun once season draws near. Those new camouflage patterns continue to evolve.

I know a few who struggle to pay the rent yet they find some way to search cyberspace for case prices on duck loads and the final “take it out the door” price for waterfowling’s latest automatic or pump shotgun that just hit the gun racks. Priorities sometimes get mixed when our feathered friends take to the air!

My first duck hunt occurred on a bone chilling morning back in 1962. Duck numbers were down and there was a year or two when seasons got cut to a mere 30 days and the limit was one mallard. Times were tough compared to today’s era of long seasons and liberal bag limits.

And my first duck gun? It was a Daisy long pump BB gun. I was a mere 8 years old so dad figured I needed to start out safe. I graduated the next year to a family heirloom in the form of a double-barrel .410-gauge. There wasn’t even a brand name on the barrel but my dad had it as a kid and squirrel hunted with it.

When you’re a kid you always want a bigger gun. Whatever your dad had or the other grown-ups shot was always in your sights come Christmas, even if you were too young to really tote it or shoulder it properly.

Fast forward to today and I’ve seen several sunrises come and go. My last 40 years or so have been spent in the duck blind as a professional guide and while several interesting observations come to mind, monitoring the particular brand, model and gauge of shotguns from the legions of hunters who passed through the door has been one of my pet peeves.


Most of the popular duck guns of yesteryear now sleep silently in the gun cabinets of grandsons who continue to pass their grandfather’s old workhorses down to another generation instead of taking them to the blind.

Today’s gun are cosmetically more attractive with the impressive camouflage patterns. Guns of yesteryear had wooden stocks and forearms and a dark blue shiny barrel was the norm. Sometimes fancy grades of wood made a gun stand out above the rest but basically, the old dudes were heavy and somewhat drab in their appearance.

Recoil was part of the shooting experience back then too. Although that’s still a factor today, it pales in comparison to the shoulder stompers of days gone by.

Browning’s Belgium A-5 was part of the elite list decades ago and a few still speak when called upon today. Most are considered collector’s items. Sharing the list of old time favorites had to be Winchester’s Model-12 pump. It was indeed a heavy workhorse.

Joining John Browning’s auto loader and Winchester’s Model -12 was Ithaca’s Model-37 pump, which also came in a featherlight model. Handsome engraving on the receiver targeted the waterfowler with a marsh scene of cattails and flushing ducks.

Ithaca’s Model-37 pump was the forerunner of today’s Browning Pump Shotgun (BPS) that featured bottom ejection of spent hulls and loading. All the top waterfowl guns were 12-gauges as even the old days of lethal lead shot use commanded a long range gun shooting the heaviest load available, which back then would likely have been a 1 7/8-ounce load in a 3-inch shell.

Although modern day waterfowlers tend to favor the 3 ½-inch gun and shells, many of the dependable guns of yesteryear had a 2 ¾-inch chamber that was lethal and shot mostly through full choke barrels.

There were several 10-gauges back then too, targeted at goose hunters. Most were single or double barrel guns with high recoil. The real oldies sported hammers. Later on Ithaca pioneered the gas operated 10-gauge automatic (Mag 10) that quickly gained popularity among the ranks, only to die a slow death once steel shot entered the picture in the 1980’s, giving birth to the 3 ½-inch 12 gauge that tops the popularity list today.

Remington’s reliable Model 870 Wingmaster 12-gauge pump was---and still is---one of waterfowling’s most popular choices. It was affordable and dependable. Hunters loved it because it was simple and reliable.

A few years late would see Remington introduce the first gas operated automatic that revolutionized how shooters dealt with unwanted recoil. The Model 1100 hit the market and the company sold thousands.

Remington had an automatic already on the market but it was the Model 11 humpback made on the Browning A-5 pattern and it kicked like a mule when duck hunters shot heavy loads. With the introduction of the Model 1100 Remington autoloader and its Model 870 pump already proven, the manufacturer had two of waterfowling’s top guns to call its own during the 1960’s and 1970’s era.


I’m no gun expert so let’s get that clear right up front. I’ve shot most of today’s top guns and managed to miss consistently with all of them.

Still, I enjoy monitoring the blind and observe what my customers pull out of the case just before daylight draws near. So, if I haven’t mentioned your favorite brand or model don’t be offended; I’m just passing on what appears to be trends in the waterfowler’s world from my little corner of the duck blind.

Again it’s quite interesting as I’ve logged several hundred gun observations over the decades.

Modern day hunters have a grocery list of great guns that continue to evolve as to performance and appearance. Today’s camouflage patterns are quite amazing with full flat finishes that don’t glare from the duck blind. They double as a nice turkey gun too or perform well in the dove field.

Meanwhile, the evolution of steel shot changed waterfowling. Screw in chokes allowed quick changes on patterns and hunters went to bigger shells in hopes of recouping some of their losses when range diminished as steel was and is different from the bygone era of lead shot.

Today’s top guns goes something like this: Benelli’s Super Black Eagle, Winchester’s Super-X series, Beretta’s AL391 and A400 Extreme series, Browning’s Maxus, along with its Gold and Silver series and a few Browning Pump Shotguns (BPS), Remington’s Versa Max, along with the old standby Model 870 pump and Model 1187 automatic.

Several Mossbergs enter the blind such as the Model 835 Ulti-Mag pump, which is affordable but kicks like a left jab from Mohammed Ali at the height of his boxing career. Mossberg’s Model 500 auto and Stoeger’s Model 2000 occasionally surface as do a few old Remington 1100’s.

Today’s popular automatics sometimes jam in cold weather or when dirt and grit slow the action so keeping one clean is imperative if you want it to cycle three shots when the opportunity presents itself.

Having seen a lot of guns malfunction at inappropriate times, such as when a nice bunch of mallards finally descend over the decoys from the high heavens or a goose works perfect and falls into range like a meteor; I can tell you it’s a somber moment when guns jam or won’t shoot.


There are no instant replay buttons in waterfowling.

Having said that the gun with the best reputation for performing day in and day out in all conditions----wet, cold, muddy---has been the Remington Model 870 pump.

Some of us have had to use it for boat paddles or prize poles! The manufacturer doesn’t necessarily recommend that but out in the muck and mud of the waterfowler’s world strange things happen.

The model is affordable and comes in several grades as to the infamous Wingmaster or lower grade Express. The magnum allows you to shoot 2 ¾-inch shells or up to 3 ½-inch if you can withstand the price of shells and the recoil that comes with them.

Two words best sum up waterfowling’s top gun: “it works”!



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