Monday, July 12, 2010

The One Gun Year

The One Gun Year.

It seems every year or so, some famous gun writer or, another pens an article called “The Perfect Gun” or “The Perfect North American Battery”, or something along those lines. They go on to tout the virtues of their ideal gun, or group of guns. They say that with just this one gun you can hunt everything you could ever want, anything else would be overkill. Then the next month or the next page they are talking about the “next” best gun.
Well, last year I decided to put up or shut up. I made my one gun choice and I stuck to it all year long. That’s right! I committed to one gun and one gun only, for one year. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no rich gun collector. I’m just your average Joe, with a small K-Mart safe full of guns. I usually have around 12 or so. My safe is a little odd though; it seems to have a revolving door on it. That is because my wife and I made a deal when we were first married. I get to buy all the new guns I want, as long as they all fit in the safe. If I want a new gun, an old gun has to go, to make room for the new one. That deal, and a chronic case of Shooting A.D.D., has lead to more than 100 guns coming and going throughout the years.
The last few years have been a little different though. With the economy, and two kids, and a house I can’t really afford, I have had to sell some guns I would have rather kept. To make it worse I haven’t replaced those guns with new ones, instead I paid bills. These events and my simple “I wonder if I can” attitude led me to my quest.
The two rules I laid down for myself were simple. I would hunt with one gun only, all year, and I would hunt every season and species I would have hunted any other year.

Now for the gun. To choose which gun to use I looked at the animals I normally hunt. In any given year I will hunt: turkey, deer, waterfowl, squirrels, rabbits, and grouse and if I ever win the point’s lottery, bear and elk. Looking at this list it is easy to see that I would have to have a shotgun. Of course, it would have to be a 12ga.
The particular 12ga. that I chose is as plain as it is special to me. It is the first gun I bought on my own. I was 19 and on the way out of town with two great friends. We were headed for our first attempt at duck hunting, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We stopped at the gun shop and I plunked down $219.00 dollars for a Mossberg Model 500 12ga. pump gun.
Now, I’d love to tell you that we filled our limit of ducks that weekend, but I‘d be lying. What we did, was fill the air full of steel in a 3 gun broadside fusillade as a single drake passed by right to left. This happened about three times, then this dare devil duck sailed off unharmed and laughing into the sunset. That was the first of many adventures this gun and I have been on. Not all of them were successful in bagging any game, but they all were wonderful days spent with friends in the great out doors.

This year of the gun started with spring turkey season. The opening weekend I found myself in a stare down with five toms at about 10 feet. I was already posing for pictures in my mind, when they decided that pine tree holding a gun didn’t look quite right and they evaporated faster than I dreamed possible. It took another month of hard hunting before I put a successful stalk on a lone tom. I’m not one for trophies so I didn’t measure his beard, but I am one for pictures, so I took the time to get a few shots with him. I also got a few shots of my 500 with him.

You will notice in the photos that it is fitted with a Weaver Converta-Mount. When I wasn’t turkey hunting I had been testing the mount, the scope, and an assortment of slugs for the upcoming deer season. I came too really like the mount, it allows you to pop the scope on and off without loss of zero.
My next season was the fall small game season. Now, my favorite thing to do in the early fall is to hunt squirrel with a single shot .22, with iron sights. But, in accordance to my rules, I hunted this year with #8’s in the 500. My first day out, I only made it a few steps into the woods before I saw my first Black squirrel 30 yards away. I eased the gun up and connected with my first bushy tail of the year less than 1 minute into my season. I hung him in the crook of a tree and continued on my walk through the beech trees, towards a small lake. Near the edge of the lake on a slight ridge, I saw some branches moving and spotted my next target, a big Fox squirrel. As the echo from the shot subsided I noticed another to my right doing his best to become one with a branch. Without moving from my spot I was able to take this Fox as well. Taking a few steps forward to make sure he was down, I saw another Black about 40 yards away. Wondering if my amazing run of luck could hold out I eased the 500 up and made it four for four. Now, as much as I love to hunt squirrels, I hate to clean them. So, with four out of my limit of five I called it a day.
The next season found the 500 and I back in the U.P. with the same guys that I hunted with all those years before. Technically, we were duck hunting, but it was really just a guy’s weekend. It was my 8th annual bachelor party or 8th annual “Pig Weekend” as our wives call it. On the trip into the cabin off the main road, we flushed a covey of Ruffed Grouse. Unwilling to look a gift bird in the beak, we bailed out of the truck, grabbing guns, shells and hunters orange as fast as we could. A 10 second planning session and a 5 minute hunt ended in a picture perfect going away shot at 20 yards. It was one of the prettiest upland shots I have ever made.

The following days of duck hunting turned into beautiful blue bird and duck less days. I had to wait another month before I could get out for ducks again. This time it was a “Ducky” day. The day dawned with a rain snow mix, as we set the last of the diver line. We huddled in the boat pushed up against the cattails watching high flyers pass just out of range for most of the morning. When, all of a sudden, a flock of Golden Eyes appeared just above the deck, zeroing in on our layout. They set their wings and dropped their landing gear in a textbook approach. At five feet before splash down we opened up, and the flock reversed flight in mid air. The flight disappeared into the west leaving two of their squadron behind. It wasn’t the double or mythical triple I was hoping to write about, but we each got one and at least I didn’t get skunked again. I was able to make it out just one more time for ducks last year, during the two day late season of December. We braved 18 inches of snow to launch into ice thickened water in the aftermath of a blizzard. This dangerous effort gained me one more duck, which I gave to my hunting partner.

Speaking of getting skunked, I had been writing these stories down over days spent in blinds and tree stands. With only a few days left in the whitetail deer season, I was beginning to loose hope for the perfect year. I had blown my best chance for a buck that morning while walking back to the truck with the 500 slung over my shoulder. My area of Michigan didn’t have any doe permits available, and unless you have a big block of private land to hunt, finding a buck is almost a matter of luck. Northern Michigan may not be known for big bucks anymore, but there are still a few bucks out there, and that thin thread of hope had me in the woods until the very last light on the last day. Skunked again.
On this year long quest, I ended up using a cornucopia of ammunition. I shot the turkey with Remington Heavy Shot. I shot skeet and squirrels with Winchester Lead #8’s. The grouse fell to Winchester #4’s and the ducks to Remington Steel BB’s. The deer were unsuccessfully hunted with out of production Activ slugs, because they were cheap and cut one hole groups at 50 yards.
The only season that I like to hunt and didn’t get to was the muzzleloader season. With the aftermarket inline barrel I could have, but I couldn’t justify buying it for the few days of hunting I “might” get to do. If I ever happen to run into one at a gun show someday, I will defiantly pick it up.
My Mossberg 500 isn’t the only shotgun that can do it all. Any brand of pump gun, auto loader, or even single shots could do it; some would even do it better. For the true one gun battery, the current flock of switch barrel single shots offers the ultimate in every season versatility.
Looking back on my one gun quest, the only thing I would change is the number of days spent in the field. The pressure of fulfilling the perfect one gun year, pushed me into hunting more than usual, but still much less than I would like to. I may try it again someday, but for now I am satisfied that it is possible. I just don’t want my wife to discover how much fun I had trying to use just one gun, she may not see the need for a full safe if she does.

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