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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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Consider that pump guns have been integral to the waterfowling landscape since live decoys were commonplace. Pump guns are classics that still function today. It is enjoyable just to work the action of a pump that has a patina of use. Like hats and boots, pump guns get better with age. And even the sounds of pump guns act as harbingers. Working the action of a pump has signaled the beginning and end of countless duck hunts. We've all had mornings in the blind when the solid, unmistakable closing of a slide action has served as a starting bell, telling you it is officially time to watch the skies in earnest.

At morning's end, a high sun, a nodding retriever, and a slowing of conversation in the blind are all signs that the hunt is coming to a close, but it is the slack, metallic sound of a pump gun falling open that ultimately signals "it is over for the day." Shoot. Pump. Repeat. There's something about the action and sounds of a pump gun that seem to communicate.

Pump Gun Pedigree

While a Danish designer conceived the first "piston action" shotgun, John M. Browning designed the American pump shotgun as we know it with the Winchester 1893. The Winchester 1897 soon followed, and it enjoyed great popularity as a dependable repeating shotgun. The 1897 was the first pump gun I ever saw, and when compared to the sleek lines found on today's guns, the Model 97 was an angry-looking gun, with a waterfall of drop in the stock, a corncob-sized forearm, and an exposed hammer, which was the safety.

The 1897 was Winchester's stud dog for the Model 1912, one of the most revered pump guns of all time. Soon called simply the Model 12, it was produced until 1963. The Model 12 was duck hunting's gun in those days; there were no substitutes. Collectors still prowl gun shows and attics looking for the perfect Model 12. To this day, many still report for duty in the marshes each fall.

Following the Model 12 in the parade of pump popularity was the Ithaca 37, another John M. Browning design. The Ithaca was a gun I favored as a teen, since as a lefty, I found the bottom ejection to be a boon. However, I also learned that since the featherweight Ithaca weighed less than a brace of mallards, its recoil could be potent.

Soon my breath steamed the glass of the gun store cabinets, and my next gun was the Remington 870 Wingmaster, a gun I still own and use regularly. Over 10 million 870s have been produced since the gun's introduction in 1951, making it the most popular pump-action shotgun of all time, and the 870 is still used and abused today. Thousands upon thousands were in duck blinds scattered across America this morning. Though value-priced versions of the 870 have boosted sales greatly over time, dedicated pump gunners agree that the wood stocked, steel-receivered Wingmaster stands alone for balance and classic looks. In the duck blind, the 870 Wingmaster has few equals.

Mossberg shotguns have been a staple of the pump-gun market for decades, and though some find them plain, the 500 series, 800 series, and present day Ulti-Mags continue to enjoy popularity as reliable repeating shotguns at a reasonable price.

1978 was a big year for pump guns. Winchester introduced the Model 1300, and at the same time, Browning gave duck hunters the bottom-ejection BPS. Both guns have been popular throughout duck country, but many Model 12 fanciers believe that the BPS comes closer to the Model 12's feel than any other currently produced pump gun.

More recently, Remington has just introduced its 887 pump, which is an armored version of the 870 built to withstand everything from swamp water to your partner's black coffee. Winchester has discontinued the 1300 in favor of the SXP (Super X Pump). With a sleek new age design, the SXP looks a little like Benelli's extremely popular Nova pump. Times are changing, and both the SXP and Nova's futuristic looks seem designed to be classics with a new generation of duck hunters.
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