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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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Thirdly, there is reliability. I am not looking to start a debate here, so please don't send letters. Somewhere out there in duck country, somebody has a pump gun that jams on every duck hunting day that ends in the letter y while someone else has an autoloader that has not jammed since disco was the rage. But the heart of the matter is that there is more "stuff" going on inside semiautomatics, while a slide-action gun is beautiful in its simplicity. Too much oil on your pump? Not a problem; wipe it on your sleeve. Not enough grease in the action? No worries, steal a little off the outboard. Drop your pump in the lake? Clear the barrel and then fire away. The pump is not powered by gas, springs, or inertia. It is powered by the operator, so it will usually accept a shell with a little ice or a few rust spots on the brass.

Beyond the pump's legendary reliability, there's something immeasurably satisfying about manually sliding the forearm of a pump open to eject a fired shell. Watching the whorl of smoke that floats from the blackness of an empty receiver is as mesmerizing as watching fog that seems to grow from the surface of a still marsh. There is something about the feel of a pump gun and the experience of shooting one that cannot be explained or measured.

Shooting a pump is like driving a truck with a clutch. It's not like an automatic transmission, where you just grab the wheel and go. You negotiate with a manual transmission. You work the clutch in and out, shifting as the time is right. With a pump gun, as the geese drop their feet over the decoys, you swing, shoot, and the first goose folds. Then you have time—a precious second to look, listen, and react. Recoil helps you slide the forearm back, ejecting a shell and chambering a new one. All this activity raises the muzzle, so you are forced to bear down and find another goose. Maybe you focus just a little harder because you are not simply along for the ride. Finding a goose flaring to make his escape, you swing through, and with luck, he goes down too.

Another byproduct of the pump-gunning process is that when I shoot one I seem to remember hunts longer and see shots in my mind more clearly. Perhaps the pump is akin to the shutter of a camera, providing a pause that freezes the moment with more clarity.

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