Why Your Hunting Shotgun Might Disappoint You

It is easy to get excited when shopping for a new hunting shotgun, or even a mythical “all-around” shotgun, only to discover that in practice, it doesn't work so well. While there are no absolute guarantees, for everyone's personal notions of hunting are all over the map, there are something things you can do before pulling the buying trigger to better your chances of being satisfied.


The way a gun comes up is crucial, particularly so with flushing game. While few would disagree that gun fit is important, a consideration is that when shouldering a gun in the shop or even breaking a few clays with a borrowed example doesn't always tell the full tale.

When you are hunting, what are you wearing? All of a sudden that same shotgun that we thought would make an ideal bird gun can transform itself into quite a mess in the field. Sure, we thought it felt good inside the gun shop, but that wasn't at 20 degrees F., much less below zero. We aren't wearing several layers of clothing, so we cannot possibly be in an ideal position to judge gun fit.

Breaking clays can offer the same lack of information. Even shooting “low gun” is hardly comparable to walking through tall grass or trudging through a ditch. While certainly shooting clays is great practice, when hunting we don't get to “see a pair,” call for birds, or gripe about a slow pull. Naturally, clay pigeons don't change direction rapidly and always slow down, not speed up.

The end result of this may well be that we end up with a shotgun that is too heavy, with far too long and sluggish barrels, with a stock that snags on upland vests and jackets, and so it goes. We sometimes end up with shotguns with worthless center beads and weird light pipes at the muzzle, two silly “features” that just might mean you are going to go hungry.


Stock shims can help gun fit, in a minor sense, but there is a whole lot of things they don't do. All they really do is take the lump of lumber or plastic called a buttstock, and make it project from the receiver at slightly different angles. They don't do a thing to change the actual shape of the stock, the shape and position of the pistol grip, or the relationship of the pistol grip to the trigger and safety. We've all heard the expression, “fits like a glove,” yet who would rely on a baggie of hard plastic pieces in order to get their gloves to fit . . . like gloves?


You might have heard the “I need a xxx.xx length of pull” routine. Well, that's a define maybe. Just adding length to a buttstock doesn't just add length to a buttstock. The trigger guard isn't moved or changed, the shape of the trigger face itself, and now we have changed our grip on the pistol grip, and our cheek contacts the comb at a different spot. When we just add or subtract length to a buttstock, we have changed everything. Perhaps not enough to matter, but perhaps enough to destroy the fit and feel we once thought was so good.


Safeties that are clumsy to get off invariably save the lives of game birds. It is easy to ignore when considering a new purchase, but we aren't likely checking the safety and firing control of a new shotgun with frozen, wet, snow-covered, or gloved hands. That thin tang safety that offers minimal purchase to your thumb, your naked them, can be a real pantload when wearing gloves. The little plastic protuberance called a cross-bolt safety might be okay on the clays field, where safeties aren't needed anyway. Safety buttons and bolt releases shrink quickly in the field and any clumsy button mashing semi-successful attempts can quickly put a dismal damper on your day.


That's one think that carrying a gun through a round of sporting clays, or to your cart as the case may be, doesn't yield an accurate depiction of what hunting conditions entail. While it isn't easy to discern just handling a gun at your pro shop, it is worth taking into consideration if you plan to do a lot of walking or climbing as part of your typical hunting routine.

One example that come to mind is the Browning Maxus. It is a competent shotgun and I've reviewed five different examples since its release. On most, not all Maxus models, when I carry them the side of my right forefinger knocks off the safety, constantly. For that reason alone, many Maxus models are not suitable pheasant guns for me, personally.

While one of more of these components may not be a deal-breaker for you, it just as often could be. In our enthusiasm when getting a new shotgun, it is easy to overlook some or all of these areas: I sure have. The gun you have to buy twice to be satisfied is no one's bargain.

Copyright 2014 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.



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