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Classic Canadian Fowling

by Jay Strangis   |  November 3rd, 2010 0

What MIGHT be done with a 70-year-old shotgun and a thoroughly modern load.


I felt like Hernando Cortez, burning my ships, eliminating all of my options when I headed out on a Canadian waterfowl hunt carrying only my old Model 12 duck gun, no backup, nothing to turn to if I didn’t like its results on big Canada geese. I’d gotten used to shooting 31⁄2-inch guns, semi-autos, which delivered big payloads at high pressures and rocket-like velocities. Now I was heading into the wilds where the 23⁄4-inch chambered pump gun would be my only recourse, like it or not. There was no going back.

Yep, I felt anxious as I walked to the truck with what felt like a too-light gun case; like I’d forgotten something but couldn’t recall what it was. All is well I told myself as I glanced in the back seat and saw the case and my duffle, but I still had that pit in the bottom of my stomach.

This was all too simple, and something this simple had to be wrong. Not only was my gun case light, but I carried no ammo. I’d packed light, and anyone who knows me knows that’s not my style. I normally bring the equivalent of a sporting goods store on a hunt. But this hunt was going to be different. A return to simple; and I had good reason.

President, What President?
I met Ralph Nauman, president of Environ-Metal, you know, that company that makes a load called Hevi-Shot, at the Edmonton airport just after clearing customs. Ralph was my host on this hunt and as it turned out we would be roommates and blind partners for the duration of the trip. We were headed to what we hoped would be the killing fields with the new HS Classic loads, what might be called a replacement for the hole Bismuth had once filled with its softer, no-tox loads and lower pressures for classic fowling guns.

Ralph doesn’t really fit the “president” mold. Oh, he’s plenty business savvy and all that, but what sets him apart is his involvement in the product. You see, Ralph also is one of the designers of the heavy loads himself. There’s no white-collar smoke and mirrors here. He’s chief cook and bottle washer in a highly competitive business, never mind that he’s also the boss. A highly trained metallurgist and engineer, Ralph can tell you every component of the loads, especially the advantages of the composite metals, their relative hardness, density, and how the guts of the load were developed to carry better pattern to the target. Cool stuff.

I quickly came to understand that Hevi-Shot is not just a bunch of guys dropping high priced tungsten into any old hull and lettin’ fly. Each specific load is highly engineered and tested, tweaked, and tested again and again and again. Even the alloys that make up the pellets themselves have received the highest scrutiny, the most sophisticated development and testing imaginable. Once you’ve spent any time visiting with Ralph you realize, this IS rocket science!

As Ralph and I negotiated the miles and turns toward camp, he related that the crew at Hevi-Shot like to say, “Everyone has a Hevi-Shot story. So I told him mine.


Setting up in the thistle ditch in a worn pea field.


Ken Johnson shows what a little pea stubble can do.

We were hunting in western Minnesota late in the season in one of the first years that Hevi-Shot hit the market. We’d broken ice to get out to a weedy, muddy island that a weak sun had kept ice free around its margins.. Birds were everywhere. I was shooting Bismuth and my buddies were shooting steel. On this day my friend Boris’ old dog Kota was doing duty and we’d worn him out in the ice and cold water as we approached our limit of drake mallards and big honkers. A crippled drake hit the water and Boris rested Kota and waded out to get the bird himself, chambering a load from the box of five Hevi-Shot he’d kept stashed away until this point. By the time he got within range, the mallard was doing a sneak to get away. Boris leveled his gun and let him have it from about 30 yards. At the sound of the gun that bird was launched out of the water and backward about a full yard. “What’s in this stuff?” Boris yelled incredulously back to shore, and we all had to admit it looked like he must have hit the bird with a cannon. You don’t forget stuff like that.

Ralph grinned. “Well, I’m anxious to see how you like the Classic Doubles load,” he said.

The Killing Field
With no wasted time and little fanfare we met HS spokesman Ron Petty and his guests and guides at Black Dog Outfitters lodge, jumped into our camo duds and hit the road by mid-afternoon. We arrived at a pea field that looked like only pea fields can a month after harvest–more a parking lot than a crop field. Yet out in its middle ran a slight ditch filled with dried thistle plants. We set oversize goose shells, duck silhouettes and two robos on the dirt field, stubbled-up the blinds with skin-piercing thistles and dusty pea plant fragments and lay in the ditch awaiting an afternoon flight of ducks. Not much happened for the first 45 minutes.

Then, a flock of mallards came over the tree line from a local roost and all hell broke loose. It was mallards galore. Mike Holley and Ken Johnson with ties to Benelli, had their semi-autos blazing and with six shooters in the ditch all booming out bigger loads I felt like a I’d brought a cap gun into a firefight. But I quickly came up with a solution.

As is usually the case in such multi-gun enclaves, everyone was shooting the “fat” birds first, so that a few close ducks were dropping as everyone shot the same birds in the first volley. I sat up from my blind raised my gun and waited and watched. As soon as the first shots and first birds fell, I’d quickly find a drake mallard–one shot, one drake, the second and third salvos of 3-inch semi-autos would quickly sound and I’d be left with two shells in my gun while everyone else was empty. I’d pick a long bird if it was there and amazingly drop it with my little pop gun. I was liking this Classic Doubles stuff.

On a rare occasion, a bird would make a mistake, coming in late or crossing over us to escape, which also left me with a bird to myself. I was blowing myself away with this Classic Doubles stuff, stoning fast-clip birds at fringe ranges, but I must also confess that the barrel on the Model 12 is full ch
oke and that I’ve shot this same model gun for nearly 40 years. Nonetheless, the load patterned beautifully where higher-pressure designer loads might have blown out their patterns, and the density of the shot was proving itself in convincing kills. Unfortunately the ecstasy had to end once the six of us had tallied our 48 mallards, well before dark.


Silhouettes–and real geese in the air.

Bigger Birds
We were to head to a Canada goose shoot the next morning with the guide, Josh, so four of us took our marching orders at dinner, partnering Mike, Ken, Ralph and I. I had boxes of Classic Doubles 4s Ron had given me which Ralph believed would be fine for the geese. A good test I figured, and that’s what I’d come for.

Upon arrival in the wheat stubble we spent lots of dark time grassing up our layout blinds in an area a couple of hundred yards from the X we would be hunting. We used hard garden rakes to gather the thin material into workable piles before applying it to the blinds. Everyone seemed to understand the importance of the task at hand and the results were impressive.

Young Josh, I learned, likes to hunt mule deer as much as I do, so he immediately had that going for him. Josh favors Real Geese silhouettes for his goose hunting, and we set a U-shaped spread under a light frost according to a puffing breeze that blew. A last minute wind change at first light caused us to move blinds and part of the spread, but the new breeze chased out the frost and the move would pay big dividends early and often.

Again, “fat” was IN as the first volley proved when two lead Canadas received four shots from our anxious group. A couple of other birds fell before the flock made its way out and Josh jumped from his blind yelling, “Beat the ground you f—ing bastards,” as if he’d never succeeded in this game before, which we knew to be far from the truth. You had to love that kind of enthusiasm and we all had a gratifying laugh because we too were happy as Josh and his young dog beat feet to gather birds and flop back into his blind.

I quickly adopted my hold-back rule from the previous day as things fast became fun. I’d come up, hesitate, turn on a remaining bird and drop him using the No. 4 shot. One group of five big honkers came in on the deck and then rose in front of us filling the sky with their bigger-than-life presence. Just as quickly they were down and the sky picture went void, empty. It was a striking contrast.

My Hevi-Shot moment, the story of the entire hunt in my mind’s eye, came when a big goose that meant to be leaving crossed over the top of our empty guns at about 45 yards on a downwind tilt. Of course, the Model 12 wasn’t empty and I swung up and caught the bird stoning it in a monumental shot considering the No. 4, 23⁄4 load. The bird was dead in the air. Ralph sounded like a proud daddy when he said, “Nice shot.” Geese were still coming and we tallied number 32 of the big birds and we called it a hunt as Josh picked up the last birds and stood to watch more approach the field (see the lead photo of this story).

A Pothole Set
After gorging on brunch, swapping stories and learning more about the area , our same four storm troopers fell in behind guide Jason and his dog Buddy, no relation to my own Budster waiting faithfully back home.


Ron Petty with his braggin’-rights specs flanked by Gander Mountain’s Kerry Graskewicz and Gary Buescher.

A Pothole Set
After gorging on brunch, swapping stories and learning more about the area , our same four storm troopers fell in behind guide Jason and his dog Buddy, no relation to my own Budster waiting faithfully back home.

The wind had picked up throughout the day, so that it was a minor gale when we reached a sort of cow pasture with a small lake in it. Ducks flushed from it’s lee shores as we approached and we haphazardly spotted duck silhouettes on the shore with a sprinkling of floating dekes in the water. In the middle of it all, we placed our layout blinds, hiding them with trimmings of green weeds that matched the cover. We used one robo in the water to try to center the ducks.

The first flock was a portent of things to come as they pumped hard to get to us, broke in low and then flared as we rose, going up and back fast while being blown sideways at the same time. Ralph and I were on the far right and a had a lot of trouble getting on the birds properly as they quickly moved out in a back-sideways-up motion aided by the gale. Mike and Ken on the left side, however, seemed to have no such problem, stoning birds that seemed impossible from our angle. The calling was extremely effective and we managed to drop 16 ducks from singles and pairs before they really started flying. Some of the birds were carried backward by the wind so fast that when shot, they would drop in the cow pasture on the opposite shore of the lake where if they had been flying, would have been far out of range.

Once the steadier flights started we limited out fairly quickly. Our Hevi-Shot story: Mike, a killing machine on his end with his 3-inch No. 4s and some awesome shooting, despite the ugly conditions.

Starting With Specs
We’d arrived in the dark duck field with five shooters led by outfitter Blaine Burns on our last morning. Silhouettes were the order of the day, both Canada and mallard. Straight out front rode one lonely spinner. We’d again scratched cover from remnant pea vine scraps, tumbleweeds and thistle plants. We weren’t even finished brushing up when the first ducks arrived in the dark over the top of us, hens pleading with loud quacks to get in and join the imposters on the ground (so much for the rumor that ducks don’t quack in Alberta).

The specs came in the first light of the morning after a half-hour of seeing no ducks. Two adult tiger-bellies, not bothered by the robo, on the deck and dead center in the spread. Those two specs that Ron claimed as his double woke things up. The shots that dropped them opened the floodgates to a steady stream of ducks in singles, pairs, trios, small flocks and big, including those 50 mallards strong.

Calling, as it had for ducks this entire trip, again proved quite effective. Hens were so keen to the call that some were literally hovering over the calling blinds in aborted landings as we let the flock behind them get closer. Ron, always good with a quip, was having a good time teasing the rest of us, his specialty, but he was getting it right back.

Soon the wind came up big, blowing dust and chaff across the remnant pea field and carrying birds backward quickly. Shooting was effective, Blaine’s one-
year-old black named Wruk was efficient. Again I deferred to the bigger guns, losing opportunities along the way, but getting choice chances at fat drakes enough times too. Once to punish the quick trigger of the mate next to me I literally lined on a bird from my back and shot the fat drake in front of us before he had a chance. Payback. I got a look out of him as we sat up to reload, and I smiled to let him know how much fun I was having too. Why not? We had 40 ducks in time to pick up and have a shot at an early flight home. A Classic Canadian Hunt.

Our Hevi-Shot story: Ron’s double on specs. I don’t know how he did it from his far end of the setup with HS Classic 6s but never doubt a self-proclaimed game hog with a good load.

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