By Lee Mason
When I was 12, maybe 13 years old, it came time to get my own gun. My dad asked me what I wanted and suddenly I had some things to consider. A powerful bolt-action deer rifle would be cool. After all, I’d shot my dad’s Savage 110 .270 and to adolescent me it felt like wielding Thor’s hammer. I liked my dad’s old Winchester 94 30-30, but figured I didn’t need my own, I could just borrow his. I had dove hunted with grandma’s single-shot Stevens 12 gauge and it left something to be desired when trying to bring down a bird that could bank harder than an F-16. That’s when my thoughts started wandering to shotguns and my dad brought up the point that you could hunt almost anything with a shotgun. You can pop #8s at doves and quail, #4s at squirrels or turkey. You can blast #4 Buck at coyotes. You can even fling 00 Buck or those big rifled slugs at deer and wild hogs. Dad told me a 20 gauge could do but with a 12 gauge and the right shells you could bring down just about anything. My very first gun would a 12-gauge shotgun.
Like I mentioned, grandma’s old Stevens single shot, despite its inherent reliability and tote-ability left a lot to be desired. It kicked like a mule, had lost its bead sight decades ago and gave you one opportunity to put pellets on target… and if you’ve ever hunted dove over a Texas sunflower field you know one shell isn’t going to cut it. I needed a repeater.
My dad had a Remington 11-87 which he let me use occasionally in lieu of the Stevens. For whatever reason that 11-87 was very finicky. You’d better clean it after shooting it or it might hang-up on you. Also, it didn’t always like lightweight dove loads, sometimes it’d short-cycle and jam. Autos are fine and dandy but ever since then I never could get over my trust issues with them. I needed a pump.
We went to Bass Pro Shop and handled several shotguns and a few rifles just for fun. I remember handling a rifle chambered in 300 WSM (the WSMs had just come out at the time). The salesman talked it up like it was the second coming of the 30-06. I’m glad we didn’t buy into the hype because all those WSMs and WSSMs sure went the way of the Dodo bird. Then we went to Academy Sports. Their prices were a lot better and then I saw what I’d been searching for.
In the case was a woodland camo painted Mossberg 500. I was already big for my age, so the 28” barrel and full-size stock weren’t a big deal, plus I’d grow into them. I liked the safety on the tang right under your thumb instead of on the trigger guard like on a Remington. That display gun was the last in-stock, so they gave us a deal: $189 plus tax.
I put that Mossberg to use during dove season and slayed quite a few and survived a run-in with the game warden who ticketed 13-year-old me for not having a plug in the tube (always check)! Although not a fine over-under or lightning fast auto the 500 did well in the dove fields.
A few years later I got the chance to hunt pheasant in the Texas panhandle near Pampa. Using #4 and #5 high brass loads I was able to bag several and let me tell you, pheasant is one mighty fine tasting bird!
In late winter and early spring one of my favorite activities is chasing wild hogs on east Texas public land. Despite the good numbers of pigs, it is by no means an easy hunt, with various restrictions and no baiting allowed. Some of the lands are close to towns or near houses. As such the firearms are often restricted to shotguns with slugs or buckshot to reduce the chance of an errant high-velocity rifle bullet finding its way into someone’s living room from afar. I had plans to get a slug barrel for that Mossberg but hadn’t yet, so I loaded up with 3-inch Magnum #00 Buck.
I went to a WMA in northeast Texas where I’d had success before. Setting up along a well-worn hog trail adjacent to a few big oak trees, I sat on the ground and poured some hot coffee from my thermos expecting a long wait. Not 30 minutes had gone by when I heard crunching back in the oaks beyond my sight. It sounded like a large sounder of pigs were having an acorn feeding frenzy! Figuring they’d be distracted, I picked up and circled left around the trees to get a glimpse. About 75 yards away I could make out pigs milling amongst the oaks, too far for a clear shot with a bead-sighted 12 gauge, so I slowly closed in to about 20-25 yards and waited for one of the larger pigs to stand broadside. Small pigs scurried around blocking potential shot opportunities for what seemed like eternity. My arms started getting tired from holding up the big shotgun when suddenly I had a clear line to a better sized hog. BOOM…BOOM! I let one of those 3-inch shells burst, racked the slide and launched another 15 pellets at the hit hog to try and anchor it, but it disappeared amongst the mayhem of what had to be 20 hogs running for cover. I wound up finding the big sow dead as bacon about 50 yards away, piled up from several solid pellet hits through the vitals. Upon quartering her out I found pellets lodged behind the far-side shoulder. None had penetrated completely. That remains the first and only hog I’ve taken with buckshot. Although buckshot proved its lethality, I consider some luck involved as penetration wasn’t great, there was no blood trail and I only stumbled upon the pig by searching in the general direction they all ran. That shotgun had proven its versatility.
As the years passed, I acquired several other shotguns of various gauges and action types and could begin to appreciate tailoring a gun to the hunt rather than needing one gun that could do it all. My go-to squirrel gun for familiar woods became an H&R single-shot .410. I like that I can carry 25 of those little shells amongst my pants pockets without lugging a shell bag. For unfamiliar woods where circumstances are less known I tote an old Stevens 311 20g side-by-side. The bigger shells give me longer range and I have a quick follow-up shot if need be. For hogs on public land I wound up getting that slug barrel after all, a 20-inch smooth-bore with rifle sights, and have it mounted on a Western Auto 12g I acquired in a trade. For doves I have a very light and handy Mossberg Maverick 20g that wields a lot better than its 12g cousin while swinging on birds. I would like a good combat shotgun though, and I think my very first gun would fill that bill nicely!
Lee Mason is the owner and craftsman at Mason Leather and has been leatherworking since 2011 and hunting since he could carry a rifle.