Duck hunting: The olde time way

by Taylor, John M - The American Hunter, May 1999

Relive the days of classy double-barrels, canvas coats, vintage calls, and greenheads over the decoys.

Few waterfowlers will ever forget their first hunt: the slightly acrid but somehow wonderful smell of burnt powder on crisp autumn air, the rough security ot puttng our small hand into a bigger one belonging to a father, grandfather, or uncle so he could lift us into the blind or help us across a big puddle. We didn't have neoprene waders back then, but the hand-me-down hip boots and canvas coats were raiment fit for a king, no matter that they were cold and lacked the virtues of today's Gore-Tex and Thinsulate wonder parkas.

Those were simpler days. Days of shotguns with hammers. Days of wornsilver side-by-sides and blocky Winchester '97 pumps. Days when we filled the air with duck sounds from old black hard-rubber Olt or high-pitched wooden Reelfoot-style duck calls.

This past January, a group of outdoor writers and shooting-industry folks, all friends from across the years and ardent waterfowlers, gathered in Mississippi for a look back. It afforded us a chance, perhaps, to rekindle and regain some of our youth, or at the very least to hunt in the rugged canvas clothes and with the guns our forefathers and departed friends cherished. This reunion would have remained but a wish were it not for Olin/Winchester and Bismuth Cartridge Company. You see, today's bismuth shotshells-unlike steel loadswill not damage the barrels of old shotguns. So thanks to Bismuth Cartridge for developing these fine nontoxic loads and to Winchester for distributing them nationally. Now we all have the option, once again, of shooting guns that mean so much to so many of us.

Using my father's Winchester Model 1897 was no problem. I had shot hundreds of ducks with it once he got his Browning Auto-5, and quickly got back into the swing with the heirloom pump. But hunting with a hammer gun is different, I discovered. I took along my J. P. Clabrough & Bros. Damascus-barreled hammer model, which had been rigged out with steel chamber sleeves and screw-in chokes by Briley Manufacturing so it can safely shoot modern, smokeless-powder ammunition. It took planning, and many was the time I cocked the hammers, only to slowly release them back to half-cock when the ducks didn't come in. The 11pound gun swings as smooth as a hare's ear, and each time I shouldered it I felt as one with its original owner, whoever he was, as he must have similarly swung it on big green-headed ducks as he anticipated the turn of the 19th century.