My first day of shotgunning was as an adult at a gun club in Alaska. The heavy object was placed in my arms and felt as unfamiliar, mysterious and deadly as a chainsaw to a girl who had never so much as chopped a single piece of wood, much less felled a tree. A professional had made the variety of choices for me—shotgun type, barrel length, automatic ejectors, pistol grip, pitch, drop and length of pull. There was a quick explanation of ballistics, and all I could think was, It’ll be a miracle if I ever hit a target. Yes, my first experience with shotguns.
For months I had been listening to old trap boys on the sidelines, trying to glean shotgunology as if by osmosis. For years I toiled not to embarrass myself on Saturday hunts and Sunday shoots. Then one day, a group of shotgunners stood around the stove in the clubhouse as a pipe-smoking member extolled the virtues of a particular gun so modified that it looked like an artificial limb. I shook my head and said, “I would never shoot a gun like that.” Everyone looked at me. If I could have looked at me, I would have looked at me. The quiet girl had an outspoken opinion about a shotgun!
I won’t say that I started drinking whiskey and smoking a pipe after that, and it was awkward to defend my first newly formed judgment. The fact was, though, that I had an opinion, and, after the first one had escaped my lips, they flowed like water. I liked over/under shotguns with wood stocks. I liked case-hardening on the receiver. I didn’t care for too much engraving (at the time). I thought it was cool to take a 12-gauge waterfowling and a 28-gauge for upland game or early-season teal, but a bit arrogant to take a .410. I inspected everyone’s choices as if they were character traits—guns, chokes, loads. My opinion-forming grew at the rate of a child’s ego. At 5 years old, I was ready to open up my own gun shop.
Luckily for me, I checked myself before it went too far. The truth of the matter is that choices are not universal. For instance, the weight of a shooter has some say in how competently he or she can handle a heavier gun. Someone who chooses a pump-action or automatic doesn’t necessarily prefer the ability to kill more game over the refinement and balance of a double gun. There is much more that goes into the decision. The reason many of us prefer a particular type of action may be because it was what we shot with when we were starting out, or because of family tradition. The choice of shotguns comes down to a mix of influences as well as the practicalities of the game hunted and where, and tells the story of how each gunner has developed over time.
Here are just a few examples of what a gun might say about it’s owner:
A field-worn semi-automatic 12-gauge weighing 7½ pounds with a 28-inch barrel, and chambered for 3½-inch shells with full chokes may belong to an experienced duck hunter who has put some thought into the purchase. Alex Brittingham shoots a 12-gauge Benelli Super Black Eagle II as her primary gun and the first shotgun she purchased on her own as a waterfowler. Looking at just her gun, you would learn she was left-handed and the length of the stock would give you an idea of her height. You wouldn’t know she started hunting at the age of 4, and this gun was the first left-handed gun she ever owned. When she first started bird hunting, she was given a Remington 870 pump to shoot. That season, she became an expert at shooting a pump shotgun and could reload faster than anyone hunting with her. However, it was quickly brought to her attention that she was worrying too much about reloading and not enough about aiming. After using a pump for an entire season, she made the decision to purchase a semi-auto Benelli, so she could put more effort into hitting birds.
A 20 gauge over/under with a nicely figured wood stock and weighing 6½ pounds with a barrel length of 26 inches and improved cylinder chokes may belong to an upland hunter who appreciates the aesthetics and traditions of the sport.
Sarah Deline shoots a 20-gauge Fausti Conrad as her primary gun. Besides finding the overall design attractive, Sarah was drawn to Fausti USA as a brand due to the involvement of the three Fausti sisters, Elena, Giovanna, and Barbara Fausti, who represent the company and who are all shooters and hunters. My own favorite shotgun is the Syren Elos Venti, in 20-gauge and, similar to Sarah, I was attracted to the beauty of the gun and story behind Syren, the first company to provide an entire line of shotguns designed for the female shooter.
Nance Ceccarelli primarily shoots 3 shotguns, but the first gun she picked, was her Beretta Urika in 20 gauge. She picked it by selecting a black queen out of a deck of cards at a Friends of the NRA banquet. But, the reason she played the game was that the Beretta was engraved with a beautiful English setter pointing a ruffed grouse, and the shotgun came with a matching print. Both the gun and print number are the same. She picked the black queen because “the Queen B” or Bonne was her new young dog that year. She loves the gun, which fit her right out of the box. It has been refinished a couple of times, and has travelled well with her in the chukar hills she frequents.
A shotgun can say a lot about its owner. The condition of the gun demonstrates the cleaning habits of the shooter and the environment it’s been used in. The scratches and scrapes tell untranslatable stories of days afield. There is no right or wrong in the judgment of what is behind the firearm as much as there is a story in every gun. It’s the story of the gunner. As many grandmothers have said, “You can tell a man by his shoes.” A shotgun can reflect so much about us, whether it’s our outdoors activity, our level of maintenance, our interest in details, or whether we favor tradition or trend. Most importantly, like a good pair of shoes, they fit the kind of life we live. What does your shotgun say about you?
Rad more about Christine’s Syren Elos Venti here.
Christine Cunningham is a lifelong Alaskan, author and outdoor columnist known for her contributions to outdoor magazines and her commitment to creating opportunities for women to connect and share their stories. Her first book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” profiles some of Alaska’s most outstanding female hunters. View all posts by Christine Cunningham