May 19, 2020
The ducks were following the script, pumping their wings straight into the prairie winds and working right into the slough we huddled along. We were hunting like college kids, with no duck blind, simply standing in the waist-deep freezing water, crouching in the reeds and cattails just deep enough to not be seen. It is that dance you do between hiding deeply enough and at the same time needing to be able to clear enough vegetation off to shoot.
In our hands were the new Renegauge semiautos by Savage, a gun that wouldn’t go to market for three more months, trimmed out in Mossy Oak Shadowgrass, perfect for the cover we were in. We were eager to get into the birds, it being the first real duck hunt of the year for most of us.
The slough ran north-south, a couple hundred yards of waterfowl habitat perfection. We’d scattered the decoys on the north end, then hid downstream from them about 40 yards. They came as singles, doubles, triples and groups of five, and we brought down gadwall, wigeon, teal, redheads, and the odd mallard.
It was the perfect pace for a duck hunt, steady action and not over too-quickly (yes there is such a thing if you are nuts about ducks) and that’s the beauty of this country, the species you shoot. It’s a beautiful region, which I had not expected. This part of the prairie potholes region (PPR) is not flat cornfields. Rolling hills and ridges, still verdant in early October, reach around and cradle hundreds of small lakes and wetlands in the area around Bismarck. And about every one of those ponds and sloughs in mid-October can fill with ducks. Every waterfowler should make a pilgrimage to the PPR at some point in their career.
For a mag editor, it’s awfully nice when the stuff we are testing works, and we were tickled to death the guns ran and shot well. Wonderful balance and feel and “shootability.” The new Savage has square-jawed good looks in the receiver, like some of the Brownings and older Berettas we love.
The most noticeable thing right away is the fluted barrel. We’ve all seen fluted barrels on rifles but never thought of a shotgun built that way. At the presentation at the lodge, the engineer had us hold one, just a barrel, by its end and wave it around a bit like a sword to see if we could see a difference between the fluted one and a standard steel pipe in terms of how it wielded, (standard barrels are also available in this gun). I did not expect to feel a difference, but waving the melonite-coated fluted barrel, it was wand-like compared to the stock steel pipe and noticeably lighter-feeling.
It looks stronger, but it’s probably appearance; the idea of fluted barrels being truly stiffer is not proven, as is the idea it creates more surface area for cooling.
An interesting gun. American made, and you just get the feel it will run and run. The chrome-polished one-piece bolt carrier construction is a work of art in itself. What sets the Renegauge apart is a dual-valve gas system called D.R.I.V. (Dual Regulating Inline Valve), which takes only the amount of gas it needs to run the action and dissipates the rest forward. So lower recoil is not just your imagination. Also it’s not the lightest 3”-only gun at 7.9 pounds, and that also reduces felt recoil. A rod buffer in the stock also helps. And that stock is adjustable not just for drop and cast, but for length-of-pull.
But the biggest thing Savage is emphasizing is the gun will eat anything. Back at camp busting clays, we stuffed light skeet loads alternating with heavy duck loads and it gobbled them up under the cold NoDak skies.
“We have been fine-tuning the system throughout the development of Renegauge, and have been impressed with its versatility and dependability. This shotgun can handle anything, and shooters don’t have to adjust a single part of the gas system,” Renegauge Design Engineer John Linscott said.
It’s exciting to see Savage foray into the world of high-quality shotguns, as I have shot their guns since I was an 8 yo. No word on a 20 gauge yet but we are hoping for one down the road. While the 20 gauge has seen a nice resurgence with the advent of better ammo and guns, it is still a small percentage of the market evidently, floating around between 10 and 20 percent, according Savage experts.
Brushing up layoutsin the pre-dawn the next day preceded the sound of wings at sunrise and a thriller field shoot, a nice mix of mallards and huge honkers. The ducks weren’t pretty yet this time of year, still brown mostly, but wonderfully responsive to calls both in the field and over water where we ducked down in the reeds.
The layouts are a terrific test for semi-autos because you are firing from a compromised seated position and it tends to reveal flaws in a gun, whether it is inertia-operated and needs to be held hard against a shoulder, or if it’s a touchier gas gun that is picky about what ammunition it will run. It’s also a good test, of course, because it’s just filthy laying there in the mud and grain and chaff and the guns get full of all that gunk. I’m pleased to report the Savages handled it all in stride, and something about the weight and balance of these gas guns make them fun to shoot.
The hunt was a memorable start to the season, not always lights-out limits but pleasant with the pre-winter weather and North Dakota is actually quite lovely when it doesn’t feel like the arctic.
We like the name Renegauge as well, clever, and just may have a little crush going on this All-American shotgun. Not cheap at around $1,500, but we just have the feeling this gun doesn’t have any quit in it, and it made believers out of loads of wigeon, teal and gadwall.
I set the team at Savage up with what should be a memorable snow goose hunt with my good friend Jordan Moll, one of the truest natural born goose killers I know. Should be a barn burner. I look forward to their report.
A close friend recently bought his teenager a new-used Benelli SBE3 for his sixteenth birthday, and I thought, “with all the guns I have been through, it’s pretty neat that kid got the last gun he will ever need for his first one, and one day he will pass it on.”
It looks like Savage is building guns on that level—this could be the last shotgun you need to buy, and it’s one soft-kicking auto.