(Last of two parts)
My first pheasant gun was a dreadful bolt-action .410 made by Mossberg for Montgomery Ward.
Dad bought it for me when I was 10 years old. Somehow, even with its full-choke boring, I managed to kill some birds.
When I was 13 Jake bought me a Remington Wingmaster Model 870 in 16 gauge. I shot hundreds of birds with that gun, had the choke opened from full to modified many years ago, the gun reblued and restocked. I still own it today.
Over the years I used many different guns to shoot pheasants, but only a few remain favorites. One is a Browning “Sweet Sixteen” in 16 gauge that I bought in the Marine Corps PX in 1971.
This is long before the advent of screw-in choke tubes, and this gun came with a 28-inch barrel bored modified and a ventilated rib. I later bought a 26-inch improved cylinder barrel for the gun but always shot better with the modified barrel, so I used the improved cylinder barrel infrequently.
My other favorite pheasant guns are both Model 12 Winchesters - one in 16 gauge with plain 28-inch barrel; the other a 12 gauge with plain 30-inch barrel. I had both guns bored out to modified years ago. I shot dozens of roosters with full choke barrels but came to prefer the modified boring so had all my pheasant guns opened up to that choke decades ago.
For open country pheasant hunting of wild birds, I think improved cylinder lacks range, and full choke is too tight. There are shotgunners out there good enough to consistently clobber roosters with a full choke at 45-50 yards, but I am not one of them. Shooting that far is a great way to lose birds, and I hate losing birds!
I should mention that I never have owned a double gun, although one time a well-heeled fellow let me shoot his Winchester Model 21 in 16 gauge at clay birds. (The Model 21, a side-by-side and an extremely rugged gun, is available these days only in Winchester’s custom shop.) This one had gold inlays of pheasants and double triggers and was probably worth more than both my vehicles at the time. The double triggers presented a problem for me - I never could find the second trigger on quick shots at the second clay bird. I shot my Model 12 in 16 gauge much better.
In addition to using guns bored modified, I advise pheasant hunters to buy the very best shells on the shelf. Stay away from promotional shells that ammo companies sell each fall. They are fine for clay birds, sharptails and doves but they are loaded with soft shot, don’t pattern well, and will get you crippled and lost roosters.
Some of the best shells I ever used have been Winchester Super-X (I still have some magnum 4s in 16 gauge that I bought 40 years ago in Grand Forks), Remington’s wonderful Express shells, and the all-plastic ACTIV in 16 gauge. (ACTIV was taken over by Kent Cartridge Col, which also makes a good shell.) My Model 12 16 gauge has been fond of Federal’s copper-plated No. 6 magnums.
Now, I have shot roosters with shot as coarse as No. 2s, as fine as No. 7-1/2. My favorite shot size is 12 gauge or 16 is No. 5 - the 1-1/4 oz. in 12 gauge, the 1-1/8 oz. load in 16. Again, these are high antimony hard shot loads - not cheap promotional shells. Some of my best shooting over the decades has been with these two loads.
I also have taken a great many roosters with No. 6 shot, which is as fine as I’d go, and many with No. 4s. It is all a tradeoff - the coarser the shot, the poorer the pattern but the more energy per pellet.
Oh, yes, and dogs … my first 15 years of pheasant hunting was without dogs. It was like opening the page to a new world when I started hunting over dogs in 1975. I shot roosters over some very good German shorthair pointers, Brittany spaniels and Labradors - all owned by friends or acquaintances. I started hunting with beagles, and in one two-year period in the late ‘70s Jake and I killed 42 roosters over my merry little hounds.
I have owned five Labradors of various abilities, all of them half-trained by me but enthusiastic hunters. Watching them get excited -“birdy” - their otter-like tails spinning like rotors, enhanced the enjoyment of my many pheasant hunts to the point where I’d never hunt roosters without a dog.
No, none of those Labradors was a field champion, but in my judgement when one is hunting pheasants, any dog is better than no dog.
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974
(Last of two parts)