I will probably get eviscerated for even writing this column however its one of those things I have to say. I read the upland Facebook groups daily and everyday the subject of beginners shotguns comes up. Someone will ask “what’s a good 28 gauge over and under for a beginner?” It won’t be 30 seconds before someone chimes in with a 555 Stevens or another of the plethora of Turkish guns available. The logic applied is almost always that you don’t have to worry about scratching these under 500.00 guns. Perhaps it’s just the old man in me but I have never, ever worried about dinging a stock or scratching a barrel. My go to quail gun has some dings and scuffs but they are more memories than detriments in my mind. I have never worried that one of my shotguns will shoot straight, mainly because I pattern them on an actual patterning board. I would venture to say most of the “cheap gun crowd” has no idea how their gun patterns because “its a 500.00 gun and it must be a super duper value for a beginner.”
When you bring up “little things” like how a gun patterns you get hammered by the cheap over and under crowd with the venerable statement ” It will kill birds as dead as a 3000.00 gun” Yes they are right it will kill birds but then again, I saw a man kill three pheasants with a slingshot loaded with number 6 shot. I have also watched people kill upland birds with a recurve bow as well. That does not mean that we should all trade in our shotguns for slingshots and recurves, It simply means that someone has done it. I read a post about someone who shot a Turkish gun, hunted over a pit bull, and wore Chaco’s sandals on their upland hunts. There may be nothing wrong with any of that but why ? I think the answer to why lies in the social media world. People just want the attention of others, not to mention the manufacturers. The logic here seems to be traditions get no attention so everyone jumps into the abyss of craziness to get their proverbial 10 seconds of fame.
Good guns all have a couple things in common. Of course they all kill birds consistently, and the barrels both shoot where you point them. If your top and bottom barrels don’t shoot the same that 500-dollar gun is no more than a single shot. If your shot dispersal is not 60/40 or 50/50 the gun is not actually a shooter its a shot slinger. So unless you have taken the time to shoot at a patterning board with all your chokes you don’t actually know where your gun shoots, and yes it’s possible to kill some birds with a poorly patterning gun. I mean blind squirrel’s actually do find nuts also.
Then there is the suitability of a cheap gun versus both mid grade and high end guns. If you hunt upland birds twice a year as a social event then a cheaper gun it probably not a bad idea. However, if you’re a hardcore bird hunter and/or shoot sporting clays a lot you may be in trouble. The cheaper guns are just not built for someone who shoots 50K rounds a year on the range and in the field.
Upland hunting is steeped in tradition, some are admittedly ridiculous and some pretty dang logical. However the influx of younger folks into the sport has thrown tradition out the window, among other things upland related.
Now all that said my first upland shotgun was a Harrington and Richardson Topper model single shot 20 gauge. Of course I was 7 years old and only an idiot would have placed a fine shotgun in my hands. I, like most of the inexpensive gun crowd, can say I killed a lot of birds with that old gun. The reality is that in the 70’s that was an adequate starter gun and an Ithaca model 37 featherlight, in 16 gauge was what I dreamed about at night. After growing up and getting out on my own I couldn’t stop myself from handling every shot gun I could find looking for a better option. I never did acquire that Ithaca, thanks to an extended stint in the Military. However I I found my true love in some Browning and Beretta over and Under shotguns. Much like a divorce, good shotguns cost so much because THEY ARE WORTH IT!