By Phil Bourjaily
What modern duck guns lack in traditional good looks they make up for in functionality. In recent years, waterfowl guns have evolved into near-perfect tools for the task of delivering heavy loads of shot under harsh conditions. They are more reliable, more adjustable, more durable, and more versatile than earlier models.
Here's a look at some of the innovations that have made the modern duck gun such an efficient tool for hunting waterfowl.
Synthetic stocks were first seen on rifles, where their stability represented a real advantage over wood. It wasn't long before weatherproof and abuse-proof plastic stocks became standard on duck guns. These stocks can survive soakings that might ruin or warp wood, and they shrug off the inevitable dings and bangs suffered in boats and blinds. Moreover, many new synthetic-stocked guns come with spacer and shim kits because plastic can't be bent, sanded down, or built up as easily as wood can. Most synthetic stocks also come with length spacers, which allow you to use a longer stock for teal hunts in T-shirt weather, and then shorten the length of pull to accommodate all the layers you'll wear late in the season.
3 1/2-inch Chambers
The 3 1/2-inch chamber has become a standard feature on waterfowl guns. Even if you rarely shoot magnum loads, you might like having a gun that's ready for any situation. The best of the 3 1/2-inch duck guns can handle a wide range of loads. Most will cycle light target loads and still shoot the heaviest ammo without a hitch. The only downside of the magnum 12s versatility is, sadly, that it accelerated the 10-gauge's slide into obscurity.
Hunters want lighter guns, yet they want to shoot heavier loads. The laws of physics say that means more recoil. As alloy receivers and magazine tubes, plastic trigger guards, and other lightweight parts have allowed waterfowl guns to be lighter than ever before, the need for recoil reduction has become paramount. Gas-operated autoloaders have long been known for their recoil-reducing properties, and they have become so reliable that no one calls them "jamamatics" anymore. Although not as soft-kicking as gas guns, inertia-operated shotguns reduce recoil somewhat over fixed-breech pumps and break-actions. Manufacturers have also addressed recoil by other means. Beretta's Kick-Off stock, which features a built-in shock absorber, is especially effective. High-tech recoil pads like the Browning Inflex are designed to direct recoil away from the cheek. And soft combs that protect your face from recoil are standard features of the Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 and the Remington Versa Max.
Mud, grit, dirt, moisture, and salt can all shorten the life of a shotgun. Modern waterfowl guns have progressed far beyond the days when a spray can of rustproof paint offered the ultimate gun finish. The advent of camo dipping processes changed that. The real value of a camo finish is not so much its invisibility to birds, but its ability to protect the gun from rust. Sprayed-on finishes like Cerakote, which can also be applied to some internal parts, are corrosion and scratch resistant. Some Browning and Benelli guns come with Cerakote finishes on their receivers and barrels. Beretta offers a very effective rustproof Aqua finish on the A400. And Mossberg's 930 Pro-Series Waterfowl has stainless steel springs and a boron nitride finish on other internal parts.
Aftermarket chokes are growing in popularity, and they do work. But before you spend the extra money, you should first test the chokes that came with your gun. Manufacturers have learned a lot about making chokes in recent years. Browning and Benelli, for example, offer extended chokes on some of their guns. These longer tubes are easier to change in the field and provide better patterns as well. And even firearms with flush choke tube designs are now offering constrictions such as improved-modified and light-modified. The former is very useful for pass-shooting and the latter is great for hunting over decoys and shooting no farther than 40 yards.