What sort of gun should the budding fowler buy, and what accessories does he need to make the most of his first outing?
For the newcomer to wildfowling the cost of a new gun is an important consideration. Always buy the best you can afford. It might be worth considering buying a good make of second-hand gun rather than a new gun from a lesser manufacturer.
New steel shot proofed side-by-sides with the 3.5in chamber are available but do you need a gun capable of firing a 3.5in steel cartridge? If you are likely to encounter a lot of geese or high-flying ducks it merits consideration. If geese are few and far between and duck are likely to be shot over decoys or at the shorter ranges of flighting, a 3in chambered gun might well suffice.
Steel ammunition in 3in is now very effective. In its American homeland the 3.5in cartridge — once a ballistic necessity when using steel shot — is increasingly losing ground to the modern 3in Magnum. Steel proofed, 3in or 3.5in chambered over-and-unders are readily available.
The semi-automatic is arguably the most popular modern fowling gun in the UK. The pump action represents great value for money, is almost impossible to put out of action because of its simplicity, handles well and is quite inexpensive. Its main drawback is the degree of user input required for rapid operation. You need to “run it in” if new until the action is smooth and slick and you need to practise with the pumping, then practise some more. Once acquired you never lose the knack.
Whatever gun you choose, you must learn how to clean it properly — the salt atmosphere will play havoc with the metalwork, especially the bits inside it such as the magazine tube and stock spring. You must also learn how to remove the barrel, the trigger group and the bolt and how to access the magazine and stock springs.
It is well worth spending some time with your fowling piece and the non-toxic shot of your choice at the range. Steel shot has different ballistic characteristics to lead and learning a new set of sight pictures for any given shot material is best done with inanimate clays rather than live fowl.
Gun safety on the foreshore differs from gun safety anywhere else. One of the greatest dangers is that of obstructing your barrels. Become obsessed with checking down the barrel for a blockage. I carry a small penlight on my key ring that I shine down the barrel via the open breech. I also carry three 12in lengths of 15mm wooden dowling. It costs almost nothing, has no complex screws or joints and it floats if you drop it.
Fitting a sling to your marsh gun is a good idea. It leaves your hands free and saves one from putting a camo gun down on the thick and tangled marsh vegetation, and then not being able to find it.
I use a boat for much of my fowling access so a floating gunslip is good insurance. Its heavy flotation padding helps protect the gun from knocks, its lining does not absorb water like a fleece-lined gunslip might and, ideally, it has a flap top secured with a heavy Velcro scrap. Zip-up gunslips used on the foreshore will eventually grind to a standstill with mud and rust, no matter how much you try to look after them.
I once saw a gunner whose semi-auto bolt was jammed with grit. No amount of wiping would induce it to operate for more than one shot. He solved the problem by Test your knowledge on wildfowling guns with our mini quiz.
Name the 19th-century Birmingham gunmaker famous for big-bore wildfowling guns.
What is the maximum number of cartridges that can be used in a shotgun to shoot wildfowl in the UK?
Who invented the first successful semi-auto shotgun?
In what year did Eley pioneer the first plastic shotgun cartridge case?
“A sling saves you having to put down a camo gun in tangled marsh vegetation”
What coin can you use to alter your choke tube? using a high-pressure jet of water. Where he found that miles out on the saltmarsh I’ll leave to your imagination.
This is the fifth in a fortnightly series that will tell you everything you need to know to become a wildfowler. The next instalment will be in the 20 June issue.
What type of gun you choose will depend on what you are shooting, but buy the best you can afford