There’s no singular image that comes to mind when describing an upland hunt in the mountains of Alaska. For many Alaskan big game hunters, game birds are hunted incidentally for camp meals, and the season opener (August 10) coincides with the opening of sheep season. However, a niche group of upland hunters enjoy the sporting life in country that bears resemblance to the Scottish highlands. Getting to these special places requires the strength and stamina of a sheep hunter, and finding birds demands a high-lining bird dog. Certainly, there are easier ways to hunt birds, but there’s nothing like taking your tailored shotgun and following an English setter on an expedition to the mountains.
My shooting life began closer to sea level, hunting ducks with a borrowed over-and-under shotgun as rickety as an old safari Jeep. The first double gun I purchased featured a Turkish walnut stock and chrome-lined barrels, to withstand the salt. My fellow duck hunters questioned my choice and teased me about carrying a shotgun of any value onto the tidal flats. Setting off with my chocolate lab on a wet morning, to spend a “miserable” day in a duck blind, made us part of a tradition we both loved. Every aspect of our time together is a thing of beauty – from the first pour of coffee, to her trembling as she watched the sky. There’s nothing like the shot and the retrieve, and there’s nothing like the natural beauty of wood-stock double gun to complement the beauty afield.
This year, Syren, a division ofCaesar Guerini and Fabarm, produced a line of field and target shotguns designed exclusively for women. Brian Koch, at Ultimate Upland, who handled the Syren Tempio at SHOT, introduced me to the line. While in Alaska hunting ptarmigan, Brian encouraged me to review the gun. Even though the idea of an “off-the-peg” alternative for women appealed to me, my own .28-gauge has earned a place in my upland heart. I hesitated to leave it behind to review a new gun, even for a single day. It wasn’t until I spoke with Anne Mauro, Vice President at Syren, and she described the design considerations made by Guerini (as well as traded duck hunting stories) that I knew there was something special about this line. My current upland hunting gun is built for a man, and even with a tailored stock, the grip is still an ill-fitting standard. Anne’s excitement about the Syren and what it offers the female shooter was contagious.
My firearms dealer seemed as excited as I was, when the box arrived. Without realizing it, the Syren Elos Venti, in 20-gauge, evoked an unscripted story. As I pointed out features, I told him my take on a tradition that always included women, but never committed to the experience of making guns that fit, complement and ignite our imaginations. On the Venti, the length of pull is shorter, pistol grip smaller, distance between the center of the trigger to the leading edge of the pistol grip shorter and the cast at toe accommodates a female shooter’s fuller chest. Women often have longer necks and sloping shoulders that require an added drop at comb. The drop measurement on the Monte Carlo stock located my eye above the breech, so that the target fell in view without obstruction. The grain of the walnut and pair of roses carved into the top portion of the grip sum the beauty of a double gun.
“Do we need to do the paperwork?” my dealer asked, meaning, would I keep the gun, or would it be returned on consignment. “Let’s wait and see,” I said. The package of modifications would surely make the gun more comfortable to mount and shoot, but the feel of a field gun matters most. How does it carry? How does it handle for a particular shooter?
I planned to take the Venti to the gun range and fire different loads at the patterning board, to see what ammo it liked best, and then practice a few rounds of skeet before ever hitting the field. Plans have a way of not working out. At home, Winchester, an English setter, keyed on the display of the new shotgun. It had rained all week, and the weather forecast for the following week didn’t look any better. At 3 a.m., Winchester woke my partner with a setter kiss and tail wagging. It had stopped raining. We responded immediately, and 120 miles later, we walked in the early-morning mist, beginning our climb. We climbed for an hour, following Winchester’s lead, until he disappeared over an outcropping of rocks.
He didn’t check back in. We knew he was on birds, and made a 20-minute climb to his location. We found Winchester locked up on a covey of whitetail ptarmigan. My partner stayed low as Winchester and I climbed. I did not have a sling for the Venti and the slate rocks felt particularly slick that morning. The rounded receiver fit comfortably in my hand. I fell a few times, but recovered, intent on catching up to the birds. Winchester locked on again. This time, when I moved in, the birds flushed off the edge of the outcrop. My first 2 shots fired from the Venti dropped 2 birds. They fell at the shore of a small, aqua-colored lake below me.
I didn’t look the gun over until we had recovered the birds. I then noticed a scrape on the stock. This is the moment most gun collectors look away in horror. It wasn’t like that for me. Carrying a finely made gun into the field adds to the enjoyment. The wear-and-tear throughout the years is as natural, beautiful and full of character as the graceful aging of a hunter enjoying a life well lived.
Alongside the lake, the 3 of us took our first morning break. The pure mountain air embraced the perfect moment — a stunning black-and-white English setter, the rugged mountain country, 2 pinto-headed game birds in transition and a gun that brought glamour to the field. It all fit me like a pair of shoes I couldn’t bring myself to return.
“What did you think of the gun?” my dealer asked.
“Let’s do the paperwork,” I answered.
Information, including specifications, MSRP and stock dimensions on the Syren Elos Venti can be found at Syren USA.
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