It’s been 38 years since I killed my first duck. A one-legged hen mallard, if you’re at all interested. The gun? A 1952 Winchester Model 24 16-gauge; my father’s first shotgun, a gift to him from his father, on my Pop’s 12th birthday.
Since that afternoon almost four decades ago, I’ve had the opportunity to hunt and harvest a variety of waterfowl with a wide variety of shotguns. Twelve-gauge. Sixteen. Twenty. Twenty-eight. Even the little .410, this particular piece an old Harrington and Richardson single shot hammer gun with which, incidentally, I killed my first wild game, a fox squirrel, in 1972, has seen a bit of field time in the marsh over the years.
But it’s only been recently that I embarked on quite a different adventure in terms of ’fowling shotguns — the muzzleloader. I’m no stranger to blackpowder weaponry. For 30 years now, I’ve toted a muzzleloading rifle into the fall woods in search of whitetails. In October, I carry a beautiful little Pedersoli .32-caliber long rifle into the timber for squirrels. And in November, it’s an old-school 12-bore side-by-side — again, a creation of Davide Pedersoli — that gets called to duty for cottontails and the occasional rooster pheasant. Never, and despite all the years and all the miles chasing waterfowl, a muzzleloading shotgun for ducks, bu that changed in the fall of 2012.
November, and I’d traveled to Tony Vandemore’s Habitat Flats (habitatflats.com) in Sumner, Missouri — a waterfowler’s wonderland located in the north central portion of the Show Me State, and a shining example of what habitat management can provide the hunter willing to invest the time, effort and elbow grease. For this trip, I’d packed my latest scientific experiment — a 21st Century version of my old-time favorite side-by-side, a Davide Pedersoli 12-gauge muzzleloading hammer gun. Similar to my original blackpowder double, this new ’fowling piece differed in that she was fitted with interchangeable choke tubes; modified and full in the case of this outing. A percussion gun — NOTE: A single-shot flintlock version, the Pedersoli Mortimer, is available, and is currently on my to-do list — the Pedersoli was fitted, thanks to the kind folks at Kick-EEZ, with a slip-on recoil pad that not only worked wonderfully, but didn’t change the aesthetics of the elegant old SxS much, if at all.
As for the load I’d be shooting, range time over the course of two sunny days in October had shown me just the right recipe, I hoped, for success. First, 80 grains of Pyrodex SELECT synthetic black powder. This was followed by a shortened multi-metal wad — Item Number TPS41 — courtesy of Ballistic Products, into which was dumped a digitally measured 1 1/8-ounce charge of Hevi-Shot (Environ-Metal) No. 6 shot. All of this was held in place by a very thin cardboard overshot disk. Primary ignition would be supplied by two No. 11 percussion caps, the manufacturer of which was the German company, RWS. A little more expensive, yes, but I’ve had excellent results with the RWS percussion caps over the years on both inline and cap-lock rifles. Multiple pattern targets revealed the Pedersoli, with the modified and full chokes in place, to be a more than adequate 30-yard piece. I had my work cut out for me.
Over the course of an afternoon’s hunt with Vandemore and crew, I shouldered the Pedersoli five separate times, discharging the piece twice on two occasions and a single shot on three. Seven shots, and a solitary drake mallard hit the water; poor shooting by many accounts, but in retrospect, I’ve had similar days filled with like accuracy trauma when using a modern semi-automatic 12-bore, so I do take that into consideration.
Overall, I found the muzzleloader to handle quite smartly, even in the relative confines of the box blind. Ignition was sure, and discharge immediate with no hangfires, misfires, or fire control issues of any type. Reloading was quick, thanks in part to prior preparation and easy-to-access placement of follow-up charges. On the two occasions I did fire both barrels, both loads left the tubes as promptly upon the trigger pull as if the Pedersoli were a modern hammerless piece filled with 21st Century smokeless shotshells. And finally, clean up was a simple 15-minute affair — pull and scrub the barrels; remove, clean, lube and replace the choke tubes; wipe the hammers; remove and polish the nipples; and shine the whole thing from muzzle to stock.
Blackpowder firearms have added a new dimension to my big-game, small-game, and upland-bird hunting over the past years. Now, these muzzleloading shotguns have enhanced my waterfowling experiences in a similar manner, and, I believe, for the better. Would I do it again? Absolutely, even with a 1-for-7 showing behind the gun.