In 1988, it was a Model 11-87. Later, a Mossberg 935. Today, Remington's VersaMax. Four decades, and the guns have come and gone like the '75 Gran Torino wagon with faux wood panels high school classmate, Vinnie Hanzes, used to drive to Friday night football games.
They've all been fine guns — effective, efficient, and each outstanding in her own right. But none have meant as much as the Model 24. None have possessed the class. The aesthetics. The pure unadulterated beauty one seldom finds in today's modern meldings of plastic and metal.
And certainly none are capable of conjuring up the memories the Winchester can. Of dark mornings. The swept-wing silhouettes of wood ducks weaving through the flooded pin oaks. Mallards and blue-wings. And my Old Man perched atop that huge muskrat house, a smoldering Camel stuck in his lips.
His eyes focused to the east because, "the ducks always come from Braceville Swamp in the afternoon, son."
I'm not alone in reminiscing of those days — and that shotgun — gone by. Hardcore waterfowlers share the similar memories. And while the guns themselves may differ, the thoughts are the same. The time capabilities of the guns are no different. So we asked these men, devoted and dedicated to the art of the 'fowler, just which one for them was The One.
More than a shotgun; a catalyst. That which started them down that long and occasionally rocky road to the present. To today.
These are the great guns of great men, who have committed themselves to preserving each and every nuance that is traditional waterfowling. And who better to tell their stories than they — with a little informal introduction.
Haydel's Game Calls | 51
Together with his late father, Eli, Rod Haydel has built a call-making legacy based in Bossier City, Louisiana, the reputation of which spans the nation. He's always — and I do mean always — happy to talk about the sport he loves so dearly, duck hunting.
"Over the years, I've shot a lot of different guns. Some have been sponsorships from gun companies. But back when I was a kid, dad had a (Winchester) Super X1, a trap model. I just fell in love with it, but he got rid of it. Later, I was reading a series of articles on older guns, and that particular model came up.
I found one with a straight improved cylinder and bought it. That was 25 years ago. Off and on, I shoot other guns, but none have felt as good in my hands as that one. Man, I could shoot it.
Over the years, I've bought and sold probably 25 versions of that shotgun. I've had full chokes and improved cylinders, and I do have a Super X1 with a straight full choke that I shoot later in the year, if the shots get longer.
I use Winchester Xpert 2¾" No. 6 steel. She's just walnut and blued, with no screw-in choke tubes, and I have all the confidence in that shotgun in most hunting situations.
Gun fit, as you know, is everything, and that gun just fits me right. It has a little shorter stock on it than was original; I bought it that way."
Buck Gardner Calls | 65
World Champion duck caller. Champion of Champions. And a true southern gentleman. That's Mr. Buck, who always spins a good yarn, and always has a kind word and a hello. Buck is truly one of the legends in the waterfowling world.
"It wasn't my first gun, but it was the first shotgun I ever really bought and hunted off and on with over the years. Still do. A Remington 870 Wingmaster. She fits me really well — still does — and never fails to go BANG when I pull the trigger.
I've used that 870 for right at 50 years, and she's never been treated with the respect she deserves. I bought it brand new from Surplus City in South Haven, Mississippi, for $59.99. Dr. Chubby Andrews sat in the store that day.
He was one of the country's foremost waterfowl taxidermists, and the hunting partner of Nash Buckingham. But I didn't know him from Adam. 'Boy,' he told me, 'you can't spend $59.99 and get anything better than that gun right there.' Truthfully, I wanted an A5 'cause my daddy had one, but it was $100 more.
I've used it as a boat paddle. I've dumped it in the water, poured the water out, shucked the shells out, and it shoots.
It's not a fancy gun, by any means, but if someone told me I had only one gun to take somewhere, that 870 would be the one I'd take with me. I hunted with it the first time my wife went with me. Killed three greenheads out of the first flock that decoyed. I just love that old gun."
Bill Saunders Calls & Gear | 42
Bill Saunders is the Pacific Northwest's Sean Mann. A calling champion, outfitter, and dedicated walleye fisherman, Saunders weaves a most entertaining story about his favorite shotgun, and personal road to waterfowling ruin.
"The best gun I've ever shot is the (Winchester) Super X3. My first gun was a Fox 16-gauge double, but I wanted an auto-loader, so dad got me one: a Smith & Wesson copy of Remington's Model 1100. I traded it for 16 Carry-Lite 747 goose decoys, and bought an 870 Wingmaster I've shot forever.
Why the trade?
I was 14 or 15, and watched some guys kill geese. I mean they drove into the field, set up decoys, shot into two flocks, and all limited out. It didn't take 30 minutes total. It was the most efficient hunt I'd ever seen.
Those guys had 747s, and I wanted to be them. Everyone duck hunted back then, but goose hunters? They were the (real deal). That was the beginning of the end for me; I was hooked. I was drawing pictures of goose spreads in class when I should have been studying.
But that 870? I killed everything with that damn gun. Then I got another with a 21" barrel, which made it nice in the goose pit. I can guarantee you I can take it apart in the bottom of a pit in the dark, and put it back together by feel."
Director of Marketing for Higdon Outdoors | 36
I had the pleasure of working with Kelley Powers years ago on a goose hunting book. The young man impressed me then, and continues to impress me to this day.
A goose calling champion, and now director of marketing for Higdon Outdoors, Powers represents the future of the waterfowling industry.
"The gun I shoot now is a (Benelli) M1 Super 90. Dad got it for me when I was a senior in high school. In fact, I have two of them now — a 3" and 3.5" model. The 3.5" shoulders well, cycles smooth, and is incredibly reliable.
With that gun, once you get into the groove, you know everything about it. I'm hard on guns, but I've never had any major issues with that one. But the first shotgun I remember, the one I killed my first duck with, was a 20-gauge over/under that dad got from the Sears & Roebuck catalog in the mid-80s, I think. Both of my brothers grew up with that gun.
We had it restored — we do gun restoration here at the store — and gave it back to my father, so it's still in the family. I'll occasionally shoot doves with the O/U, but when the weather turns bad, I do like my synthetics. But my son will shoot that O/U for sure."
Field Proven Calls | 34
Native Kentuckian Field Hudnall is as humble as they come, despite having won countless duck and goose calling titles. Together with his brother Clay, Field owns and operates Field Proven Calls outside Louisville.
"My very first shotgun was a Stevens single-shot .410. It was the first gun my dad gave my brother, the first shotgun I got, and it will be my son's first gun. Lots of squirrels and doves with that little shotgun. But my first duck gun?
That was a Stevens, too — a little 20-gauge double. Dad sawed the stock off so it would fit us, and put a recoil pad on it. He and my godfather took a handsaw to it. It was my brother's first deer gun; he killed his first whitetail with it. I killed my first greenhead with that little gun on the Bear River Reservoir in western Kentucky.
I was eight years old." Field then had to ask his dad, who was sitting right next to him, "Where'd you get that little 20-gauge? Dad says he already had it, but we outgrew it and he sold it to a friend for his son to use. I used the money to buy a (Remington) 11-87.
Today, I'm shooting a Benelli Super Black Eagle. It's the same gun I've used for 18 or 19 years now. But I still remember shooting that Stevens double on doves and getting a terrible headache. A 3" duck load in that gun would rock your world."
Founder of Go-Devil Manufacturing | 60
In 1977, Warren Coco introduced a revolutionary mode of propulsion that took the 'fowling community by storm: the Go-Devil engine. Coco made the inaccessible huntable, thanks to his dedication, determination, and plain ol' elbow grease.
"The shotgun I shot the most was an 870 Wingmaster, a real gun. NOT an Express, but a Wingmaster. The first one was brand new with a vent rib. It was a great gun, and I shot it for years. I shot it so much, the barrel actually got loose. You just couldn't find a better quality (shotgun) than the Wingmaster.
"It was the most dependable, had the fewest problems, and was the most bulletproof. You never had to clean it. I had a friend that had one that was nothing but rust. My first 870 was walnut and blued.
We hunt brackish water, so I had it Teflon coated. That wore off due to the heavy use — the duck limit back then was 10 a day, and we shot some shells — so I finally took the Teflon off and painted it green. She stayed that way 'til she turned up missing, along with a couple other shotguns and some fishing rods.
Today, I have seven or eight 870s. A couple Wingmasters. A (Ducks Unlimited) model. I gave one to my oldest son. My youngest is 24 now, and I gave him one for Christmas.
I asked him what he thought was in that box, and he said a Red Ryder! Then he looked and said 'It's not a Red Ryder! It's a skeet shooter!' I shoot a 10-gauge now, but if I'm in the woods, I'm shooting an 870 pump. It's my favorite gun."
Tim Grounds Championship Calls | 57
This one's simple. If you've ever shot at a Canada goose, even if you didn't kill it, and you don't know the name Tim Grounds — well, sir, you need to spend more time away from the office.
Grounds is, to many, the Godfather of Goose, having won more calling titles than Carter's made Little Liver Pills. Grounds and goose? Synonymous terms, my friend.
"The gun I'll shoot 'til I'm six feet under is a Benelli. That said, I started with an old double barrel 20-gauge. A J.C. Higgins, with a plastic stock and forearm.
I always kept my hunting license under the forearm of that J.C. Higgins. That's what I killed my first duck with. Then I graduated to an 870.
At that time, there were a lot of guys who shot 1100s, but I killed a lot of stuff with that 870. I never thought I'd ever shoot anything different.
I dropped that 870 in Rend Lake while we were hunting one year. I hauled it up with a big magnet the next April when the water was down. I wrapped it in a wet rag so it wouldn't rust, took it home, put three shells in it, and BOOM-BOOM-BOOM!
Today, though, I shoot the Benelli. I've dragged one all over the country, to Argentina, and to Canada. I just can't make it not work right.
The only way I can screw that gun up is to clean it. I like the sight plane. I like how it comes up (to my shoulder). I don't want something I have to baby. I have five of the old ones, the originals."