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Rainy Day Guns by Ron Jones

The Benelli Montefeltro, when teamed with wax canvas clothing, Kent Fasteel shells and Mallardtone walnut calls, can contribute to a productive morning when the weather is miserable. And when you want to relive memories of those challenging days in the marsh, just curl up in your easy chair by the fire with Bill Buckley’s humorous pictorial review Misery Loves Company.

f I was pressed to describe a “rainy day gun,” it would probably go something like this. A rainy day gun is a moderately priced double, pump or semi–auto with few, if any, cosmetic embellishments that complements your shooting style and will withstand repetitive exposure to severe weather and environmental elements without significant deterioration or depreciation. And a good rainy day gun can be cleaned and dried with minimum effort.

A gun meeting those criteria will preserve the value of your high–grade upland, waterfowl and sporting guns — many of which are representative works of the gunmaker’s art — for future generations while you continue shooting during inclement weather. We all have guns we prefer to carry on our hunts when weather conditions are favorable, but when the weather predictions turn ugly, your backup gun might be a better choice.

For those who do not have the flexibility in their work schedule to pick and choose the days they hunt, it may rain on your perfect day to roust a grouse, shag a rooster or lure a big ol’ mallard into your decoy spread. When that happens, many of us reach into the back of the gun cabinet for that rainy day gun or, at a minimum, pack it along with our favorite woodcock, chukar or goose–getter.

wetlands

When I head into the wetlands under the most challenging weather conditions and want to “walk in the shoes of the Old Duck Hunters,” I choose my 1940 Ithaca Model 37. Sans bluing and stock finish, the old gun performs as it did in 1940. Bottom ejection keeps your action dry, and the simple takedown feature of the John Browning–inspired pump makes cleaning it after a rainstorm a simple task for an exhausted hunter.

That happened to my friends and me on opening day of waterfowl season 2013. We were taking Dick’s grandson Korey on his first–ever waterfowl hunt, and the weather at 5:00 a.m. was dreadful. Korey had dutifully made it to the gun club weekly during late summer and early fall to practice trap with Dick, and Dick gave Korey one of his “easy to blow” duck calls. I loaned him my Buck Gardner duck–calling record, and he had been practicing his calling every chance he got. Now, all of the practice was behind him and it was time to put all those hours he had committed to practice into reality.

A regular rain would have been okay. Dick and I have no reservations about venturing out onto the dark lake in a steady downpour given the rain gear we all had dutifully packed “just in case.” Wind was moderate, and we had our handheld Garmin® GPS set to navigate the blackness straight to the blind. But thunder and lightning rolled over the Leelanau Hills surrounding the lake like incoming artillery, lighting up the sky to near daylight and magnifying the thunder claps to deafening proportions. We waited it out, but while we were waiting, it gave me time to consider the appropriate selection of rainy day guns.

I’d packed my old 1940 Ithaca 12 bore, the one I paid $175 for at Williams Gun Sight. But I wondered if it was the best choice in the event the weather made me think twice about taking my pristine Grade III New Ithaca Double into the marsh. I quickly concluded the selection process was not simple.

Making The Choice

Many of us think of rainy day guns as old beaters with little or no trade–in value that could easily be considered disposable should a day of hunting in inclement weather rust the action parts and bore. But are old beaters actually the best choice for those days when Mother Nature keeps the faint of heart in the lounge chair and only the most rugged among us dare venture forth? Let’s review some of the criteria to consider in making the choice of a rainy day gun.

Did you choose your particular rainy day gun because it was cheap, because it was designed specifically to withstand the rigors of inclement weather, because it would be simple to dismantle, dry out and clean at the end of a day or because you shoot it well? All of these are important, but some may be more important to you than others. Look in the back of your gun cabinet to see which of the criteria most closely fit your favorite rainy day gun.

Zak, Ron and the Merkel 28-gauge double.

Zak and I frequently choose a Merkel 28–gauge double when aspens turn gold in October. But on days when the dense understory is dripping with water after a rain or grouse are feeding in brambles, a better choice might be an entry–level gun by Winchester (Model 21), Stevens (311A), Savage/Fox (BSE), Ithaca (Lefever Nitro Special or Western Arms Long Range) or perhaps a Parker Trojan or Fox Sterlingworth that has lost all collector value.

Ithaca 37 pumps have always served me well. They complement my style of shooting, and the bottom–ejection feature makes them, arguably, less susceptible to the ravages of inclement weather than side–ejection guns. Their simple takedown feature makes the barrel a breeze to swab out or clean, and cleaning the action is not all that difficult. But you do have to remove the butt plate and back out the stock bolt to remove the stock before you can remove the trigger guard. For most weather conditions, it’s not necessary to remove the trigger unit, but if the gun happens to fall into the slop on the floor of the blind or into the gumbo–clay at the end of a corn strip, well, a thorough cleaning is in order, And that does take a little time and energy — energy you might not have after you’ve endured Mother Nature’s worst while trying to harvest some game. I’d rate my old Ithaca Number Three on my list of all–time favorite rainy day guns!

I was looking for an exceptionally lightweight semi–auto 12 bore I could use in the marsh when ducks became wary, days when mallards generally avoid my decoy spread and the limited range of my vintage 16–bore doubles and pumps. The gun also had to handle steel shot, be relatively inexpensive and a good shooter in my hands. Purchased more for its weight than any thought of it becoming my rainy day gun, I found the Benelli Montefeltro at Jay’s Sporting Goods in Clare, Michigan. It weighed a scant 6 pounds, 11 ounces, so I gave it a try. I shot it reasonably well on Vintage Skeet, so I decided to give it a go in the marsh.

By the time early October rolled around, I had already discovered how simple it was to completely dismantle the Benelli and how minor the recoil was when I loaded it with my favorite 2 3/4" Federal, Fiocchi, Kent or Rio steel–shot loads. As you might suspect, I took it to the patterning board adjacent to the International Trap range at Saginaw Field & Stream, and with the supplied Modified choke, it shot exactly where I looked and delivered excellent Modified or Full–choke patterns (depending on the shot size selected) with the Modified choke tube in place.

I had to wait until that fall to determine how well it performed as a rainy day gun, but it didn’t disappoint. I shot it almost as well as the Ruger Sporting I had sold to Dick, and the mop–up after a rainy day in the marsh was simple. The black alloy receiver will not corrode, and the trigger and bolt assembly are simple to remove, dry out and lubricate. The only thing easier would have been having a sealed breech, making the Benelli my Number Two all–time, most–favorite rainy day gun!

I was thrilled when I learned Ruger had begun making the Ruger Red Label shotgun again. Back when they first introduced the Sporting Clays version, I had to have one. I was looking for a multipurpose gun that would serve me well in the marsh as well as on the local sporting clays courses. I had been shooting a Beretta 682 Sporting over/under at sporting clays but didn’t like to take the gun in the marsh. It always seemed a little too nice to risk cosmetic or, even worse, internal action damage on days when it rained all morning. When your opportunity to harvest game finally arrives but you cripple a goose that immediately starts running and flapping across the water, headed for the middle of the lake, you toss your gun in the boat and, along with your favorite retriever, head out after that departing Canada. There’s usually 2" of murky marsh water sloshing around in the bottom of the boat, and one of the dogs knocks your open gun off of the boat seat behind you into that slop while you are frantically rowing to catch your departing quarry. You know that scenario is not going to end well for many pretty sporting clays guns!

Ruger may not mention it in their ads, but I can tell you the Red Label was made for that kind of abuse. The bright, shiny stainless steel doesn’t exactly remind you of a slick camo–clad waterfowl gun. If you plan to hold your shotgun out in front of the blind for every incoming duck to admire and don’t want them to flare, by all means cover the stainless–steel portion of the frame with brown–colored duct tape. I did that until I realized by the time any incoming duck caught a glimpse of my Ruger, he should be dead in the decoys.

My Ruger has weathered nasty nor’westers more times than I care to remember, and I never provided any more maintenance than wiping off the exterior of the gun, swabbing out the bores with an oily piece of flannel and removing the accumulated moisture under the forend. Of course, it’s best to let the forend wood dry out before reassembly. I’m sure some moisture found its way into the action through the cocking rods or between the juncture of the stock and frame, but after over 20 years of service, it shows nary a sign of fatigue. My duck–hunting partner now uses that gun, complete with my set of Briley extended sporting clays chokes, and actually shoots it better than I did. In addition to being his favorite waterfowl gun, it serves double duty as his favorite trap gun. Can’t tell you why I sold that gun to Dick; sometimes we all make impulsive decisions.

There must be other guns out there that meet the perfect “rainy day gun” criteria, I just haven’t owned one. So I’d rate that old Ruger stainless–steel Sporting Clays Number One on my list of most–favorite rainy day guns!

If you’ve read some of my musings in the past, you know double–barrel guns are among my favorites and frequently accompany me into the pheasant fields, grouse woods and duck blinds. But, alas, I would have to give my vintage side–by–side doubles low marks as rainy day guns. They are too precious to me and do not meet the criteria we discussed.

Don’t let the weather keep you from enjoying a day in the field. But choose the right gun and stay safe out there.

Ron Jones is a retired pharmacist of 49 years who confesses his first love after family and God are shotguns and hunting. His first shotgun experience was his grandfather’s 1911 Ithaca Flues 20, and that experience nearly caused him to look for more pleasurable avocations. He admits to missing all 50 targets his father threw with their Remington hand trap, and the experience resulted in a headache which wouldn’t quit. But his love for guns, particularly vintage scatterguns, has remained with him in the ensuing 60 years. Our heritage is important. Preserving and embracing the values and traditions which our forefathers have handed down will enrich the experiences of those who follow. In some small measure, Ron hopes to contribute to that body of knowledge the younger generation embraces.