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The Great American Shotgun
Wednesday, September 1, 2010 • Posted September 1, 2010

Sometimes I wonder if the Remington people realized, when they came out with the 870 shotgun in 1950, that it would end up being the most popular shotgun in the world. I wonder how many people can say they shot their first dove or quail or duck with an 870. I wonder how many people still have the old 870 their dad or uncle or grandfather gave them when they were kids. And I wonder why I keep missing with mine.

Not that I miss all the time. Sometimes I actually hit birds with it. But it seems like I miss way too often. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just buy a bag of 7½ shot and go pour it out in the pasture where I plan to hunt. It would accomplish the same purpose, make a lot less noise, save time, and keep me from getting eaten up by mosquitoes. It just wouldn’t be any fun.

Not long after my wife and I got married I bought a shotgun at a gun show in San

Angelo. It was an old Western Auto beater, and I used it for years. I never hit much with it, either, but it gave me an excuse. I used to say, "Well, if I had a good shotgun I would have hit a lot more birds." After a while I started to believe it myself.

So, after years of drooling I finally broke down and bought a brand new 870 Wingmaster, the fancy 870 with the walnut stock and fore end, and the engraved receiver. I’d always wanted a really nice shotgun, and for a while I was so careful about scratching it that I would take the case hunting with me. I wouldn’t even lay it down on the ground or lean it up against a tree. And I wouldn’t let anyone else handle it without checking to see how clean their hands were first. I wouldn’t even let anyone look directly at my shotgun if they were in a bad mood.

My first trip with that gun was a duck hunt. Duck hunting is generally done where there’s water and mud and nasty weeds and such, and I almost took my old shotgun instead. But I wanted to shoot the Wingmaster bad enough that I finally decided to chance it. I took oil and rags and patches with me, and carried the gun in a floating case, just to be on the safe side.

It was worth it. The first four times I shot that gun I killed three ducks. I never even shot any clay birds with it, or patterned it on cardboard, or anything. So obviously I had a lucky shotgun.

Unfortunately, I have a way of leaching the luck out of just about anything. Before long I was missing doves and quail with my Wingmaster just as well as I had with my old shotgun. But at least I looked better while not shooting birds.

When my oldest son was about twelve I got him an 870 Express 12 gauge, with a black synthetic stock, and he started going dove hunting with me. I taught him everything he knows about using a shotgun, so he doesn’t hit birds any more often than I do. Still, if you’re going to miss birds, I figure you might as well miss them with a comfortable, dependable shotgun.

When you have three boys you have to keep things pretty much equal, so before long my younger two were making whiny type noises about dove hunting. So I started them a little earlier, and ended up with two 870 Express Youth Model 20 gauge shotguns. The middle one, though, watched me pretty closely, and before long he was pointing out that he could hit a lot more birds if he had a 12 gauge. Last year he got his own 870 Express 12 gauge, the one with the camo synthetic stock. He doesn’t hit any more birds than he did before, but he did quit complaining, so it was worth it.

My youngest just turned fifteen, and we gave him an 870 Express 12 gauge for his birthday, with a gray laminated stock. I seriously doubt it will improve his average, but you never know. At least he’ll have the advantage of putting more shot on the ground this year.

When my wife hunts with us she uses one of the 20 gauge 870s. She hardly ever hits anything, probably because I told her you’re supposed to close your eyes before you pull the trigger. It would be pretty embarrassing to have your wife outshoot you, especially when you’re blasting away with a top-of-the-line Wingmaster. If you know my wife, don’t tell her she’s supposed to be aiming.

So now we have five people in our family, and six 870 shotguns. I figured the Remington people would have been calling me by now, asking us to do a commercial for them, or something, but they haven’t. The only thing I can figure is that maybe someone from Remington, at one time or another, must have seen me shoot . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who makes sure his clay bird thrower is aimed toward high grass, so the skeet can be picked up and used again. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or jeep@verizon.net

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