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Banding Together for Waterfowl

In Praise of the Pump

Revered for its toughness and reliability, the pump shotgun is part of the fabric of American waterfowling
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Regardless of geography, the pump remains the archetypical duck gun for a large, steely-eyed segment of the hunting community. You don't hear from these folks much. They tend not to post hunting photos on the Internet or brag in the diners. They don't Twitter, and they don't have newfangled . . . anything. More often, pump gunners are found in parkas worn threadbare from weeks in the field, and along with dry waders, they cherish one good dog and one good gun. They may have a safe full of guns, but the pump goes on every duck hunt. Pumps appeal to those who don't have time to monkey around cleaning "fancy" guns. The pump is not fussy. It goes along because it rides in the toolbox. It sometimes paddles the boat. And it is regularly strapped to a four-wheeler under a bag of decoys. Most point where you are looking and keep shooting through rain, snow, frozen mud, or anything the dog may shake on them.

When comparing pumps to autoloaders, we usually hear three arguments. The first is speed, the second is recoil, and the third is reliability.

First, let's look at speed. The autoloader is fast. You can shoot three rounds as fast as you can pull the trigger. Indeed, semiautomatic shotguns cycle an empty out and usher a new round into the chamber in the blink of an eye. But a hunter who has spent just a little time with a pump gun is almost as fast, and a hunter who shoots one a lot for ducks actually revels in the time and process of pumping the gun. He uses this time to find a second bird—peeking over the receiver at a greenhead that has ducked behind an oak while he works the slide action back. He hears the satisfying sound of the action sliding open. There's a solid ringing of steel on steel as the bolt returns home. Having calculated the lead during this opening and closing process, the experienced pump gunner anticipates the mallard as it appears again from the other side of the tree. At this point, I don't like the drake's chances. While you shoot a semiautomatic fast, you operate a pump smoothly yet swiftly, and the operation and mechanical feedback make the pump special.

Secondly, there is recoil. Understandably, smaller framed adults and kids getting started in shooting don't want to have their jaws realigned by a gun that bites back. But I like to feel the recoil of a duck load in the same way that I like to feel cold spray on my face when I'm boating to a distant blind in the dark. It's another part of the duck hunter's day. Generally, a pump gun will shoot a modern duck load quite comfortably, and as with any shotgun, while there is recoil, it is not attention getting.

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