Getting acquainted with a new shotgun is a little like making love, a little like making war, and very like making a fool of yourself in public.
Every shotgun is peculiar, as is every shooter, and sometimes they just can't get together. If you are rich and have leisure, no problem. You just take several thousand dollars to England and spend a week or two being fitted with a London-grade gun. No matter how weird your body and odd your stance, they can lay a gun on you that fairly leaps to your shoulder and always points where you look.
The rest of us, of course, buy guns off the rack. Beyond shaving the cheekpad or shortening or lengthening the stock, we have to make do with what the makers in their wisdom offer the average customer.
There are some wonderful guns on the American market: beautiful, finely balanced, slick as grease and priced like the jewels they are.
But it was a burglar who put me in the market for another shotgun, and my price range was set by what the insurance company had allowed me for my old one. That meant I had a little over $100 to spend for one gun that has to serve for everything from doves to ducks, and that of course meant I had to buy a gun somebody else had grown tired of. Add to that my unreasoning that only a 12-gauge pump gun would do and the quest became entirely unreasonable.
For five months I seldom passed up a gun store, but the season was hard upon us before I found a Remington 870 at Clark Bros. in Warrenton that was a little battered and a little rusty but only a little over what I had intended to spend.
It obviously had belonged to somebody with arms as stubby as mine, because it was the only gun I had handled that came close to fitting.
Even with a sling the gun was lighter than my old friend, but it was full choke. I bought it in hopes that the shot patttern would be more open than that - most "full choke" guns pattern closer to modified - but a day on the skeet and trap ranges at the Bull Run Public Shooting Centre showed otherwise.
It is always somewhat embarrassing for me to step up to the line with skeet shooters, because they are there to shoot skeet, while I am there simply to practice shooting at moving targets. The skeeter takes his stance with his expensive scattergun mounted and pointed where he knows the clay pigeon will pass. I stand with the gun below my waist or under my arm with the safety on looking at nothing in particular, and tell the trap boy to launch the targets when he pleases. The idea is to simulate the conditions of field shooting, where the birds do not come at command or from expected quarters at known speeds along expected paths.
With my old gun this would get me maybe 17 hits (out of 25 chances) on a good day. With my full-choker, on the first round, I got three. On the second round, one. On the third round, five. It drove the skeet shooters nuts, and as the afternoon wore on they began to find other things to do when they found themselves listed on a round with me.
"Nothing personl," one of them said, "but I don't kiss women who have syphilis and I don't shoot skeet with people who miss a lot. Neither of them has anything I want to catch."
It was the sixth round before I broke a majority of birds and the eighth before I got to 17. After 200 shots my shoulder was making bean-bag noises and the contact point on my jaw was swollen like early mumps.
But at least, on the eve of opening day, I had found a gun I can live with.