SHOTGUNS: MAKE MINE HEAVY
June 11th, 2012
Several years ago a U.S. maker of very fine bolt-action and single-shot rifles decided it wanted to get into the shotgun manufacturing business. The founder and president of the company was a devotee of light side-by-side game guns, with straight English grips, double triggers, short barrels, and “between the hands” balance, as he like to put it. Of course, his company had never manufactured a shotgun and was not prepared to do so, so he decided to have the guns made for him by a top maker in Brescia, Italy. All the resulting guns were made according to the formula described above. They had 26” barrels and they weighed on average about 5 ¾ pounds in 12 gauge. I was invited on a pheasant hunt in South Dakota to use several of these guns and, hopefully, write grand and glorious things about them.
On the first morning of the hunt I was issued one of these guns. I inspected it and shouldered and swung it, and thought: beautiful gun, impeccable engraving and balance, lustrous hand-rubbed exhibition-grade Turkish walnut stock, a delight to handle and admire in the gentlemanly confines of a gun room, but how will it perform in the field?
I was handed a box of Winchester Super Pheasant loads with 1 5/8 oz. of #5’s departing the muzzle at approximately 1300 fps. This is an absolutely deadly load, but in a light gun such as the one I was using it kills almost as badly on the back end as it does on the front end. To make a long story very short, the gun practically ripped my shoulder off, and I missed the first five birds! I was totally intimidated by the fearsome recoil of that gun. The worst shooting I had done in a long time, and supremely embarrassing. I asked to be excused from using that light gun, and switched over to the gun I had brought with me, a Browning Gold Hunter gas-operated semi-auto. This gun weighs eight pounds when fully loaded, and it has been back-bored and had the forcing cone elongated by the late Seattle shotgun guru, Stan Baker. Again, to make a long story very short, I never missed another bird in the next three days.
There were two things going on here. First, greatly reduced recoil with the heavier gun. Most shooters do not understand how much recoil affects their shotgunning performance. My old friend, John Satterwhite, captain of the US Shooting team at the Montreal Olympics, and for years one of the best international skeet shooters in the world, tells an instructive tale. He said that the standard shot charge in international skeet loads was for years the equivalent of about1 1/8 oz. However, some shooters shot perfect or nearly perfect scores, so the International Shooting Union decided that they needed to lighten the shot charge to make the game tougher. They lightened it to the equivalent of about 7/8 oz.—and scores soared!! How could that be? Because recoil was greatly reduced, the loads were much more pleasant to shoot, and with the new, much lighter charges muzzle velocities were much greater, reducing the number of targets missed by shooting behind them.
A heavy gun has something else in its favor besides reduced recoil. It is explained by the law of physics that says that a body at rest has inertia, but when that body is put into motion it has momentum, and the greater the weight the greater the momentum. Most misses are caused by stopping or slowing the swing, so the heavier the gun the greater the momentum and the lesser the tendency to show down or stop the swing. Consider the analogy of the freight train. Because of its great weight, it takes a very long distance to bring it to a full stop. Likewise, a heavy gun tracks smoothly through the completion of the swing. With a lightweight gun, however, you can write your name in the sky, as John Satterwhite puts it.
Another old friend, Serge Dompierre, a successful Canadian businessman who used to own Los Chanares, perhaps the finest dove-shooting lodge in Argentina, ordered a matched pair of Perazzi 28 ga. over-unders to be custom=built with 32 inch barrels bored full and extra full. As the guns came from the factory, they weighed about 5 pounds each—much too light for efficient shooting. He had weight added in the forearms and buttstocks to increase the weight to about 8 pounds each, and at that level he was able to do some deadly efficient shooting.
I like to distinguish between guns made for carrying, and guns made for shooting. Most upland shooting nowadays consist of a long hike with a gun, punctuated by an occasional shot. Hence the great emphasis on lightweight guns. Do not be taken in by this hype. Light guns are false friends.
All other things being equal, the heavy gun will always outshoot the light gun.
How heavy is heavy? For a 12 ga. gun shooting standard high-brass 3 ¾–1 1/4oz loads, I think that 7 ¾ pounds should be the minimum weight, and 8 pounds is better. If that is too heavy, better do some weight training with your arms. In any sport in which you have to swing an implement, be it a shotgun, a baseball bat, a tennis racket, or a golf club, the stronger your arms, the greater control you will have over that instrument, and the better you will perform. This is a trick I learned from the great golfer Jack Nicklaus long ago.
By Stuart Williams
Stuart Williams has degrees from Yale and the University of California at Berkeley. He has made hunting and shooting excursions in about 50 countries on 6 continents, including USA, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, England/Scotland, Denmark, Hungary, Spain, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan, among others. His favorite wingshooting destination is Argentina, where he has made over 45 excursions. He has published four books, including BIRDS ON THE HORIZON: A Book of International Wingshooting Adventures; WINGSHOOTING ARGENTINA, vol. 1; WINGSHOOTING ARGENTINA(with Uruguay), vol. II