Young guns

At some point in their lives most hun­ters get The Look. You may even re­mem­ber giv­ing it your­self as a young­ster. It means, in the most ob­vi­ous way pos­si­ble, ‘please, please take me with you’.

Field and Game - - ACROSS THE DITCH -

You’d have to be a hard case to ig­nore it. The first port of call for a bud­ding hunter is al­ways equip­ment. Mag­a­zines and cat­a­logues are re­lent­lessly pored over, dream guns be­come the cen­tre of a thou­sand fond imag­in­ings. I know this to be true be­cause I was once that boy (and ac­cord­ing to my wife and bank man­ager, still am). For many look­ing to start a young­ster, this is where the sub-gauges come in. The lit­tle .410 — a cal­i­bre rather than a gauge — works well on quail or rab­bits kicked up at close quar­ters, but it’s a tool for ex­pe­ri­enced hands. Giv­ing a beginner a .410 to hunt ducks is like teach­ing them to ride a bike by giv­ing them a uni­cy­cle. That leads us to the 20. There’s an old rule that no house with a 12 should also have a 20 and it’s not a bad rule. As ev­ery­one knows, a 20-gauge shell fits neatly down the bar­rel of its big­ger brother, leav­ing enough room to put an­other car­tridge be­hind it. Touch­ing off that com­bi­na­tion will ruin your day. You wouldn’t do it … but a young­ster ri­fling through a mixed bag of rounds in a hurry might.

At the heart of all this is the idea that the smaller gauges help a beginner cope with re­coil. This might of­fend some old hands but that’s not quite true. Ev­ery ac­tion, so Isaac New­ton tells us, has an equal and

op­po­site re­ac­tion. There is only one thing that re­ally counts — how much is go­ing down the bar­rel in re­la­tion to the weight of the gun. (Well, two if you count how well the gun fits.) A fast, heavy shot charge will give a light gun re­coil re­gard­less of gauge. It’s hard to imag­ine a worse com­bi­na­tion for a young­ster than hot mag­num field loads in a feath­er­weight twenty.

If New­ton had been a duck hunter he would have told us that loads are as im­por­tant as gauge. The mar­ket is awash with hot and heavy car­tridges, but shot is fan­tas­ti­cally in­ef­fi­cient com­pared to a ri­fle bul­let — it sheds ve­loc­ity like a ping-pong ball. How many young­sters would be bet­ter off with mild, af­ford­able loads that pat­tern sweetly, es­pe­cially if they can burn through plenty in prac­tice?

There’s lit­tle dif­fer­ence be­tween an ounce (28 grams) com­ing out of a 12 or a smaller gauge, ex­cept that the slightly heav­ier gun will have less re­coil and might keep its swing bet­ter. The 12 can also be had in pow­der­puff loads (24 and even 21 grams) at very mild ve­loc­i­ties. Those are gen­tler than the av­er­age 20 and not far off the .410 on the com­fort scale. Add a nice soft re­coil pad and you’ve tamed the 12 way down for clays and gen­eral prac­tice shoot­ing. As a young­ster grows they can sim­ply scale up to big­ger loads with­out chang­ing their gun.

So here’s my ad­vice, for what it’s worth. Let ‘em work for that first one. If they want it, they’ll mow the lawn and earn pocket money and do the hard yards. They’ll be bet­ter peo­ple for it — and if they won’t, they were never se­ri­ous to be­gin with. Con­sider the ba­sics of gauge, ac­tion and load, but re­mem­ber this: how the first one is got is just as im­por­tant as what it is. There’s a lot more to the first gun than the gun.

The late, great Gene Hill wrote these words in 1972, when I was just a small boy. He un­der­stood all this bet­ter than any­body: “As long as there is such a thing as a wild goose, I leave them the mean­ing of free­dom. As long as there is such a thing as a cock pheas­ant, I leave them the mean­ing of beauty. As long as there is such a thing as a hunt­ing dog, I leave them the mean­ing of loy­alty. As long as there is such a thing as a man’s own gun and a place to walk free with it, I leave them the feel­ing of re­spon­si­bil­ity.

This is part of what I be­lieve I have given them, when I have given them their first gun.”

If New­ton had been a duck hunter he would have told us that loads are as im­por­tant as gauge …

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