By Phil Bourjaily
Photography By Terry Allen
You go to a DU banquet to give back to the ducks. But in addition to supporting conservation, you have a chance to get a special-edition duck gun as part of the deal. That's the promise of DU "dinner guns," which have headlined the organization's grassroots fundraising events for almost 40 years. More than 100,000 guns have been sold at DU events
since 1973, raising an average of $2 million a year for wetlands and waterfowl conservation
DU's first Gun of the Year was a lead-shot-era Remington 1100 autoloader with a 2 3/4-inch chamber and the traditional 30-inch full-choke barrel. The 1100 was an ideal choice because DU had just completed 1,100 projects in Canada at the time. Like many dinner guns to follow, the DU version of the 1100 came in a 12-gauge waterfowling configuration with upgraded walnut and gold inlaid engraving.
Specially decorated and numbered, all DU guns are indeed collector's items, but underneath the fancy embellishments they remain hunting guns too. While many are kept locked up as treasured heirlooms, quite a few still earn their keep in the marsh every season. Together, these modern classics serve as a representative sampling of the diversity of firearms that gun makers have produced—and waterfowlers have embraced—over the past four decades.
1987 Browning A-5 (50th Anniversary Gun)
For its 50th birthday, DU went with a waterfowling classic: a Browning Auto-5 with a 2 3/4-inch chamber and a 28-inch modified-choke barrel. In 1987 John Browning's design—the first semiautomatic shotgun—was almost 90 years old, a testament to the reliability of its long-recoil action. In the minds of many hunters the A-5 is still the greatest waterfowl gun of all. This DU version could withstand steel shot and go to the duck blind if you were willing to risk its high-gloss round-knob stock and beautifully engraved silver-finished receiver decorated with wetland scenes and DU's 50th anniversary logo.
2012 Browning Maxus (75th Anniversary Gun)
Browning's Maxus, introduced in 2009, catches the eye immediately with its distinctive sleek profile. The lightweight, gas-operated Maxus has hunter-friendly features such as an enlarged trigger guard and a three-shot plug that can be easily removed with a key for those spring snow goose hunts. DU's 75th anniversary
gun features upgraded walnut on the stock and forearm and a marsh scene engraving on its silver receiver. This gun has a 3-inch chamber and 28-inch barrel with interchangeable chokes.
1977 Ithaca Model 37 (40th Anniversary Gun)
Fittingly, DU's 40th anniversary gun was also born in 1937. The Ithaca Model 37 features a bottom-ejecting design that stays free of debris and slings hulls straight down to the floor of the blind, winning it favor among waterfowlers and left-handed shooters. This DU version has a 2 3/4-inch chamber and a 30-inch full-choke barrel. The receiver is engraved with a flushing duck, the DU crest, and the number "40." This gun also features upgraded wood and checkering on its grip and forearm.
1997 Browning Gold (60th Anniversary Gun)
For its 60th birthday, DU chose the Browning Gold, the gun that became the company's semiauto standard-bearer after the discontinuation of the Auto-5 in 1995. Introduced in 1994, the gas-operated Gold shares the A-5's speed-load feature, which has helped generations of waterfowlers reload when the action is fast. In all other ways, the Gold is completely different from the A-5. A gas gun, it's among the softest-shooting semiautos, and much lighter than its predecessor. This DU version has a 3-inch chamber and a 28-inch barrel with interchangeable chokes. Utah-based engraver Leon Burrows embellished the silver-colored receiver with gold waterfowl scenes.
2007 Browning Silver Hunter (70th Anniversary Gun)
Browning's Silver is a budget-priced version of the Gold, but there is nothing "budget" about the Silver's performance. It's an extremely reliable gun with a receiver profile that recalls the great Auto-5. No corners were cut on DU's 70th anniversary gun, which has elaborate engraving featuring a trio of pintails by David Maass and a gloss-finished walnut stock with handsome skip-line checkering. This gun has a 3-inch chamber and 28-inch barrel with interchangeable chokes.
1974 Remington 870
As a follow-up to the first year's Remington 1100, DU chose an identically decorated 870 Wingmaster pump as its second Gun of the Year. Introduced in 1950 as a more inexpensively made version of the Model 31, the 870 went on to become a great waterfowling gun and the best-selling shotgun ever made. In 1974 there had already been over 2 million 870s produced, and today that number has climbed to more than 10 million. This DU version of the 870 has a 2 3/4-inch chamber, a 30-inch full-choke barrel, upgraded walnut on the stock and forearm, gold inlaid engraving, and an enameled DU crest on the receiver.
1975 Winchester Model 12
With almost 2 million made between 1914 and 1963, the Model 12 pointed beautifully, lasted forever, and was graceful to look at. Winchester discontinued production of "the perfect repeater" in 1964 but kept it on as a custom gun, then introduced the Y series with some internal changes and cast parts. Y-series guns were made through 1980. This custom DU version has a 2 3/4-inch chamber, a 30-inch full-choke barrel, upgraded wood, a bronze medallion of a canvasback on the receiver, and the DU crest on the grip cap.
1976 Winchester Super X1
The short-lived Super X1 (1974–1981) is perhaps the best semiauto many people have never heard of. Carefully milled and machined, the gas-operated SX1 was made with pride and care. Hunters and target shooters loved it (many still do), but its high production cost doomed it in the marketplace. This DU version has a 2 3/4-inch chamber, a 30-inch full-choke barrel, a bronze medallion on the receiver, and the DU crest on the grip cap.
1983–1984 Browning B-80
A product of collaboration between Browning and Beretta, the B-80 is a gas-operated autoloader manufactured from 1981 to 1988. A well-made and popular gun very similar to the Beretta A303, the B-80 was discontinued only because the Browning-Beretta partnership ended. This dinner gun has a 2 3/4-inch chamber, a 30-inch full-choke barrel, high-grade walnut, and a DU grip cap. The receiver is decorated by famous Browning engraver Jose Baerten and features a bronze medallion with a white-fronted goose by David Maass. "The Plains" designation marks this gun as the third of four in DU's "Flyway" series.
1984–1985 Browning BPS
The BPS has been a waterfowler's standby since its introduction in 1977. The combination of a top safety and bottom ejection make it unique among pumps, and it has proven to be a reliable choice in the blind. This DU version of the BPS has a 2 3/4-inch chamber and a 30-inch full-choke barrel. Like the B-80 of the previous year, this gun features engraving by Jose Baerten and high-grade walnut with a DU grip cap. Called "The Coastal" and decorated with a bronze medallion with a pintail by David Maass, it's the last of DU's "Flyway" guns.
1986–1987 Beretta A303
Beretta semiautos set the standard in gas-system reliability, making them a favorite of sporting clays shooters and high-volume dove hunters. That same reliability makes the A303 a great waterfowl gun. This autoloader was the first DU dinner gun to incorporate a 3-inch chamber, 28-inch barrel, and interchangeable chokes, which would come standard on many subsequent duck guns. It features a richly textured stock with a DU grip cap and an anodized black receiver with a gold inlaid "Ducks Unlimited" and mallard.
1991–1992 Beretta A390
Twenty years after its introduction in 1992, Beretta's A390 remains one of the most reliable semiautos ever made. This A390 was the first DU Gun of the Year to offer complete interchangeability between 2 3/4- and 3-inch shells, a feature we now take for granted. This gun comes with a standard 3-inch chamber and 28-inch barrel with interchangeable chokes. The stock is fancy walnut with a gloss finish, while the black semi-humpback receiver has gold accents—including the trigger and magazine release button.
1996–1997 Browning BPS
This was the Browning BPS's second turn as a DU Gun of the Year. With no ejection port on either side, its silver-nitrate-finished receiver presented a broad "canvas" for wetland scenes engraved by Rob Leslie. This gun has a 3-inch chamber and 28-inch barrel with interchangeable chokes. It served as a companion to the previous year's gun, a 28-gauge Browning pump engraved with artwork by David Maass.
1998–1999 Remington 11-87
Remington's 11-87 was the first gun from a major manufacturer to shoot all 2 3/4- and 3-inch loads without adjustment or a barrel change, making it almost as revolutionary as its predecessor, the 1100. This soft-kicking gas-operated semiauto remains one of America's most popular waterfowl guns. This DU version has a 3-inch chamber, a 28-inch barrel with interchangeable chokes, a gloss-finished American walnut stock, and an engraved satin nickel receiver.
2003–2004 Beretta AL391 Urika
Successor to the A390, this gun picks up where its forerunner left off as a supremely reliable semiauto that can fire unheard-of numbers of rounds between cleanings. Like its predecessor, the AL391 is one of the few semiautos reliable enough to be a serious sporting clays gun. This workhorse cleans up handsomely as a DU dinner gun, with a two-tone black-and-silver receiver decorated with gold engraving and a high-gloss deluxe walnut stock. Weighing just seven pounds, it has a 3-inch chamber and 28-inch barrel with interchangeable chokes.
2004–2005 Winchester Super X2
Winchester took the proven gas-operating system of the Browning Gold and put it inside a gun with the lines of the classic Super X1. The result was the Super X2, which proved to be every bit as reliable and soft-recoiling as its predecessor. This DU version of the SX2 has a 3-inch chamber and 28-inch barrel with interchangeable chokes. Upgrades include a gloss-finished walnut stock and forearm as well as a receiver decorated with gold inlaid artwork by David Maass.
2005–2006 Beretta White Onyx
Beretta's 686 White Onyx has the distinction of being the first over/under ever chosen as DU's Gun of the Year. The Beretta 680 series is popular the world over for its low-profile action and durability. This gun was the first of a set; identical smallbore versions were selected as Guns of the Year in 2008 (20-gauge) and 2009 (28-gauge). This White Onyx features a silver receiver engraved with gold inlaid ducks. It also has a schnabel forearm, 3-inch chambers, and 28-inch barrels with interchangeable chokes.
2010 Winchester Super X3
Winchester's Super X3 has become a waterfowler's favorite for good reason: it offers all the performance of the SX2 in a lighter, sleeker package—thanks to an alloy magazine tube and slender stock and forearm. This DU version of the SX3 has a 3-inch chamber and 28-inch barrel with interchangeable chokes. Upgrades include a silver receiver engraved with gold inlaid waterfowl scenes.
2011 Beretta AL3901
When Beretta replaced the great A390 with the 391, the company launched the AL3901 as a value-priced gun, and it remains a standard "house gun" at many South American dove lodges for its incredible reliability. This DU version of the AL3901 has an upgraded gloss-finished walnut stock and a silver receiver decorated with waterfowl and floral scrollwork. This gun has a 3-inch chamber and 28-inch barrel with interchangeable chokes.
Although author Nash Buckingham died in 1971, two years before DU launched its Gun of the Year program, there is no question the great hunter-conservationist would have approved. It is only fitting that his two famous shotguns—Bo Whoop and Bo Whoop II—are on display in the lobby of DU national headquarters along with a complete Gun of the Year collection donated by Tony Palermo.
When it came to waterfowl guns, Buckingham believed you should "never send a boy to do a man's job," and he practiced what he preached. In 1927, the original Bo Whoop was the finest long-range shotgun money could buy. An H.E. Grade Super Fox, it has 32-inch barrels specially bored full and full by gunsmith Burt Becker for 3-inch loads of size 4 shot. The gun weighs 9 1/2 pounds and is decorated on the receiver and the breech end of the barrels with leafy scrollwork.
Buckingham lost the gun in 1948. In the early 1950s, friends ordered a new Bo Whoop from Fox (by then under Savage ownership) and presented him with Bo Whoop II. The original Bo Whoop finally resurfaced after 60 years, and now both guns are displayed at DU headquarters, thanks to the generosity of Hal B. Howard Jr. and William B. Dunavant Jr.
Phil Bourjaily sold his first story to
Field & Stream in 1985 and today serves as that magazine's shotgun columnist. He is co-author (along with rifle authority David Petzal) of
Field & Stream's new book,
The Total Gun Manual, available in bookstores this fall. Based in Athens, Georgia, Terry Allen specializes in print advertising, food, lifestyle, and travel photography. To see more of his work, visit terryallenphotography.com.