silhouette of a duck hunter aiming his firearm

Spomer: Shotguns: Practical Fire Power

Gun-makers focus on all kinds of “selling points” while advertising their guns. One of the favorites is speed.

“World’s Fastest Pump!”

“Fastest Autoloading 12-Gauge in the Universe!”

“Quickest Single Shot in History!” (I made that one up.)

You get my drift. But do you need their speed?

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the hype, which is what PR managers and ad copywriters depend on. So slow down for a second and consider what cycling/shooting speed can do for you.

Six shots in 1.8 seconds? Ummmm…

OK then.

The truth is, few of us mere mortals are capable of taking advantage of the speed with which most shotguns fire. I certainly can’t put a muzzle on six targets in two seconds. Heck, I probably can’t even pull the trigger that fast.

This shooter has the quickness to pour three shots through his Benelli Inertia-Drive autoloader before the first hull passes his belly. But is he hitting anything?
This shooter has the quickness to pour three shots through his Benelli Inertia-Drive autoloader before the first hull passes his belly. But is he hitting anything?

And how many targets are we allowed to shoot anyway? If we’re playing clay target games, by all means lay out a barrage of five shots as quickly as you wish, but if you’re targeting today’s game birds, you’re likely limited by the daily bag. Or the three-shot restriction universal for waterfowling. In most jurisdictions, two- to four pheasants end your hunt. Three forest grouse — whether ruffed, blue or spruce — are usually all you’re allowed. Ditto open-country species such as prairie chickens and sharptails.

Partridge and quail do provide a legitimate need for speed and volume. Limits of these smaller covey birds are usually set at five- to 15. After trudging four miles and climbing 3,000 feet, a chukar hunter is leaning toward shooting as many of those sadistic partridges as he possibly can. Some young, quick quail shooters have been known to lay down as many as six bobwhites from a single covey flush.

Where legal, such feats are impressive, but of questionable merit. Veteran hunters wonder where aesthetics enter the hunt? Where is the appreciation for the hunt, the search, the dog work, the observations of habitat, and bird behavior? How can you get your money’s worth from a day’s hunt if you shoot so well and fast that it’s over in one or two covey flushes?

Then again, some days you only move one or two coveys, and if you’ve driven 1,500 miles to southern Arizona to find them, you kind of want to take advantage of the rare opportunity.

Then there are those overly abundant snow geese and, in some places, even Canada geese. A couple of years ago we hunted a part of Canada where the limit on Canada geese was 10 per day! Given the rapidity with which even those huge geese can pedal out of range, a high-speed shotgun is indeed welcomed, even if restricted to three shots. And snow geese! By the time you finally get a flock of those ultra-wary migrators in range, you want to tumble as many as possible.

So yes, Virginia, there is a need for speed. And volume. But temper this with a more important consideration: dependability. Every bird hunter would be better off with a shotgun that fired and cycled, guaranteed, every time, than one that burns through five shots in a millisecond one time, but jams the next.

Seek shotguns that combine sufficient speed with dependable function and durability over the long haul. If you aren’t quick enough to take out three birds in three seconds, consider a side-by-side or over/under. If you’ve gotten so old and slow that you can’t even take doubles anymore, enjoy the light weight and feel of a single shot.

In short, consider your capabilities while you consider your shotgun options. Sometimes you need the speed. Sometimes less is more. There are options for everyone.


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Guide Outdoors Readers: Is speed important to you with a shotgun?

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