The September 2016 issue of the “Missouri Conservationist” magazine includes a very interesting article about adult nonhunters who decide to become hunters. I highly recommend it to any adult who’s thinking about jumping into hunting from a standing start.
One subject the article doesn’t cover is the criteria a newly minted hunter should consider when choosing that all-important first firearm. For purposes of clarity and brevity, I’ll address my advice to Sam — short for either Samuel or Samantha — and I’ll be using the grammatically universal pronoun “he.”
When I asked Sam what he intended to hunt, he said, “Deer.” That wasn’t surprising, because an overwhelming majority of Missourians who hunt anything, hunt deer. It also wasn’t surprising that the five friends he’d asked for advice had touted three different brands of rifles in four different calibers. And when he visited the Bass Pro Shops mega-store in Springfield and saw its seemingly endless firearms display, he’d turned around and ran without speaking to a clerk.
The first question I asked Sam was “are you sure you’re only going to want to hunt deer?” I pointed out that, range practice aside, if all went well, he would only get to shoot his centerfire rifle one time a year. Conversely, if he added turkeys–the state’s second most popular game animal–he could shoot twice in the spring and twice more in the fall. Add small game, and he would have long seasons and shooting opportunities galore. Having gotten his attention, I pointed out that centerfire rifles can’t legally be used to hunt either turkeys or any species of small game. (I ignored varmints, because it would be rare indeed for a new hunter to be interested in them.)
Since, at least for the time being, Sam only intended to own one firearm, I told him his only practical choice was a 12 gauge shotgun. He, of course, asked me why.
With the lone exception of bullfrogs, shotguns are the only type of firearm that’s legal to use for hunting every game bird or animal in the state. What’s more, if Sam adds two or three extra screw-in choke tubes, his single firearm will become well-suited to a wide variety of hunting scenarios.
I advised Sam to choose a 12 gauge shotgun for a combination of reasons. No other gauge offers as wide a selection of pellet sizes, slug configurations and powder charges. Plus, since the 12 gauge is by far the most popular, despite the fact that its shells require more materials than do other gauges, they are usually the least expensive and most widely available.
Sam’s next question was whether he should get a semi-automatic or a pump. The advantages of the semi-auto include the fact that it loads a fresh shell into the chamber each time the trigger is pulled and that, at least in theory, some of its recoil is absorbed by the reloading process before it reaches the shooter’s shoulder. Disadvantages include complex maintenance requirements and high initial investment.
Pump shotguns are almost unbelievably rugged. Another advantage — this is purely personal preference — is they don’t load a fresh shell into the chamber without positive action on the part of the shooter. The only “disadvantage” I can think of is that pump shotguns last forever, so you never get to buy a new one. I bought mine when I was 16, and it still looks and shoots like new.
I get to shoot a lot of shotguns at sponsored events throughout the year, and, almost without fail, I’m impressed with every major company’s products. That said, I’m going to do something I rarely do, and recommend that Sam give very serious consideration to the products of one company. Mossberg and Sons. To my eye at least, Mossberg shotguns aren’t as pretty as those produced by most other companies, but pretty doesn’t put meat in the freezer. Mechanics do, and Mossberg doesn’t take a back seat to anyone when it comes to quality workmanship in their products’ barrels, receivers, triggers and actions.
That said, the primary reason I think Sam should buy a Mossberg is the company has several variations on its Model 500 pump shotgun, some of which come with multiple barrels (one smoothbore and one rifled), and almost none of which cost more than $500. If hunting turns out to be a new-found passion for Sam like I hope it will, his grandson will inherit his first firearm. If it doesn’t, he won’t have spent more than he did for his first car.
This was fun. Next week, my friend Sam and I will head a little farther down the line.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]