December Ducks in the Sooner State

A father and son make a post-Christmas trip to target ducks — and field test new Benelli shotguns.

December Ducks in the Sooner State

Elliott Maas and the guide’s Lab, Cash, waiting on waterfowl.

One of the great things about being a parent is there comes a time when your son or daughter begins teaching you about various parts of life. As a father of two intelligent and well-rounded teenage sons, I’m constantly learning from them.

Example: During the past couple years, my oldest son Elliott, who turned 18 in December 2020, has passed along his love for waterfowl hunting. As an avid big game hunter for four decades, I never spent a lot of time in the duck blind, but his love of the sport has certainly lit a fire within me, too.

For Christmas 2020, we decided to make a father/son memory and travel to western Oklahoma in pursuit of ducks. Our Minnesota duck season ended in early November, and I knew even though Elliott spent dozens of days waterfowl hunting during fall 2020 that he’d appreciate the opportunity to travel on a destination duck hunt.

 

Sooner/Sleeper State for Waterfowl

I’ll be honest: As we traveled west from the airport in Oklahoma City to the tiny town of Taloga, it appeared like I didn’t make a wise duck decision. The brushy, red-clay landscape looked ideal for hogs and whitetails, but I feared it was a waterfowl desert. Legend Waterfowl owner Troy Cunningham quickly put my mind at ease: “Don’t worry. I know it doesn’t look like prime duck habitat, but we have a great number of ponds. And the ducks love ‘em.”

Troy explained that Oklahoma is dotted with ponds, or what I call “stock dams,” and they provide water for cattle. Troy and his guides regularly scout the ponds on his leased land to ensure their clients are on ducks.

I was excited to hear that Elliott and I would be sitting over a small spread of decoys, likely a dozen or less, and the ducks should come in close. Elliott is far more talented than I am when it comes to shotgun skill, and I wasn’t looking forward to trying to keep up with him on long-range pass-shooting. I wanted — no, needed! — the birds in my lap with their landing gear down. We went to bed excited for the morning hunt.

Oklahoma is home to a surprising amount of water, much of it in the form of ponds, which the ducks share with cattle.
Oklahoma is home to a surprising amount of water, much of it in the form of ponds, which the ducks share with cattle.

Hiding in the Willows

After a 20-minute drive from camp, Troy’s pickup slowly crawled across a pasture on our way to a pond that one of Troy’s guides had scouted the day before. With help of the truck lights, we tossed a dozen decoys near the willow-lined bank and found ambush spots. Troy then parked his pickup far enough from the pond to avoid spooking ducks and we waited for legal shooting light.

As the shadows disappeared, I could see a good amount of flooded cedar trees; the pond looked like ideal largemouth bass habitat. It was shaped like a boomerang, and we were set up on the lower bend.

I’m always amazed when I sit in a duck slough and birds suddenly appear from nowhere. I understand those days when we kick ducks off the pond when setting up in the dark, and they return soon thereafter. But more often than not, it seems like there isn’t a duck anywhere in the area during set-up time, then they begin arriving at legal shooting light, sometimes a few minutes before. Such was the case on morning No. 1 of our 3-day Oklahoma duck hunt. 

Troy said, “We’re legal,” then began calling. Not 30-seconds later the first ducks descended into our decoys, and fire flashed from the end of Elliott’s semiauto Benelli. Unfortunately, most of the ducks were landing just to our right, well within gun range but too thick for shooting due to tall willow bushes. Twenty minutes later we relocated slightly, but by then the major push of puddle ducks had waned. We continued to have a trickle of action, however, and by late-morning, Elliott was one shy of his limit, and I’d killed a few but missed way more than my share.

The author’s son Elliott was all smiles after his first morning pursuing Sooner State ducks.
The author’s son Elliott was all smiles after his first morning pursuing Sooner State ducks.

After breaking for lunch and taking an early afternoon nap, we headed back out to a different pond known for holding divers. Although we had some shooting at the high-speed flyers, they wouldn’t commit to the decoys and we didn’t add to our bag. The good news, however, was as sunset approached on day No. 2, Troy received a call from guide Dylan Chabino, 20, who found a good number of mallards and other puddle ducks. “Good news, guys,” Troy said. “Dylan is watching a pond loaded with ducks. We know where we’re headed in the mornin’.”

Dylan joined us for dinner that night in camp, and he and Elliott immediately were talking ducks and showing each other pics from their fall waterfowl season. Dylan would be our guide in the morning, and I could tell that Elliott was especially excited to hunt with him. Because the two young men are only two years apart, it would be like two high school buddies heading into the field, not a traditional guide/client dynamic.

 

Let It Rain

Dylan had never hunted this particular pond, so it was interesting for me to listen to him and Elliott dissect the situation and come up with our morning game plan. Shoreline cover was sparse (no willows), but working in our favor was a strong wind, which should help steer ducks into our decoys from a predictable direction. Like the previous morning, we tossed one dozen decoys into the water, only 10-20 feet from shore. We hid near fallen logs and built ground blinds with nearby sticks and grasses. Dylan and Elliott agreed that our “hide” would work as long as we didn’t move until ready to shoot. 

Due to the steady rain and heavy cloud cover, we didn’t experience action the moment legal hunting time arrived. And that was just fine with me because I need decent light to make decent shots.

The first ducks — mallards — to visit the pond hovered in the wind over the decoys in textbook fashion. Even I hit one! Elliott was quick to mention that these greenheads were not only brilliantly colored, but big-bodied, too. He hadn’t shot many greenheads back home in Minnesota during 2020, so I could see the thrill in his eyes as a rusty-colored Lab named Cash retrieved our birds.

Two highlights come to mind from that morning hunt. The first was when a four pack of greenheads bobbed in the high winds and then dropped toward the decoys. Guns fired and not a single bird escaped. You know your teenage son is having a good time when you hear him yell, “Let’s go!” as he celebrates the result.

The second was when two birds appeared straight overhead but didn’t look like they’d drop lower, and Elliott picked out drake from hen and dropped his best-ever pintail. While he’d tagged a handful of pintails in Minnesota during the past couple seasons, none of them had the chocolate-brown-colored markings like this one. I knew Elliott was proud of that bird because he immediately put down his Benelli and spent a few minutes taking pics of the fresh bird in hand.

By the time the action slowed, Elliott had shot his limit, I tagged a few and Dylan had also killed a handful. More ducks were trying to land as we were taking group photos, so even though we didn’t “limit out,” Elliott and I were very satisfied with the morning hunt.

The author and his son endured high winds and persistent rain on morning No. 2 and were rewarded with steady action on brilliantly colored greenheads and other puddle ducks.
The author and his son endured high winds and persistent rain on morning No. 2 and were rewarded with steady action on brilliantly colored greenheads and other puddle ducks.
Guide Dylan Chabino (right) shows the author how to retrieve deep-water decoys with a fishing rod rigged with a treble hook.
Guide Dylan Chabino (right) shows the author how to retrieve deep-water decoys with a fishing rod rigged with a treble hook.

Burning Ammo

We concluded our Oklahoma experience by visiting the pond known for divers on the final morning of our hunt. The good news is a lot of divers arrived shortly after legal shooting light; the bad news is only a few of them decoyed in low, which meant my chance of hitting them wasn’t good. Elliott and Dylan held their own, but I was simply burning ammo. Unlike our puddle duck hunt from morning No. 2,  the divers on morning No. 3 came in big packs, which was super exciting at the time, but once the daybreak push was over, it was over. No matter; we still had a great time hunting and hanging out with Dylan.

As we traveled home to Minnesota on the plane, I noticed Elliott editing pics on his phone from our trip. He had shot well and harvested some beautiful birds. I was happy to kill a few, but the highlight of the trip for me was simply sharing his excitement. It certainly won’t be our last out-of-state duck hunt. In fact, he has already started talking about which duck species is next on his wish list.

“What do you think about sea ducks, Dad? Off the coast of Maine.”

“See what you can find out online,” I said, smiling. “But I think you’ll have to give me a few shooting lessons first.”

The Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 with BE.S.T. is designed for waterfowlers who demand a tough finish that will combat rust and corrosion.
The Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 with BE.S.T. is designed for waterfowlers who demand a tough finish that will combat rust and corrosion.

Sidebar: Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 With BE.S.T. Finish Technology

When it comes to duck camp debates, there’s no shortage of shotgun topics sure to get the opinions flying faster than a diver riding a tailwind. Gas- vs. inertia-driven semiautos? Full vs. modified chokes? One topic, however, everyone can agree on is rust and corrosion on shotguns must be avoided at all costs.

Proper and regular cleaning is the key to preventing such shotgun problems, but anyone who’s spent a considerable time in the duck blind knows that tender-loving care of firearms isn’t always possible in the field, or even in hunting camp. With this in mind, it only makes sense to begin the fight against rust and corrosion by starting with a gun that features the latest advancements in finish protection.

During our December 2020 duck hunt in Oklahoma, my son and I carried Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 semiauto shotguns featuring the new BE.S.T. finish technology. You can visit Benelli’s website to learn everything the company has to say about its innovative and proprietary BE.S.T., or Benelli Surface Treatment.

I’m not an engineer, so I don’t pretend to understand the science behind BE.S.T., or the process of how it’s applied. From the company’s website: “To apply the BE.S.T. finish, Benelli developed a hybrid PVD/PECVD machine that uses diamond-like carbon particles applied with a high-vacuum plasma nanotechnology. Benelli can apply the finish at low temperatures, protecting the mechanical integrity of the steel. The process is environmentally friendly and produces no hazardous chemical by-product while delivering a layer of high-hardness for superior abrasion and corrosion resistance.”

The areas treated with BE.S.T. on a Super Black Eagle 3 include the barrel, barrel extension, bolt, bolt handle, extended choke, safety, stud, trigger and trigger pin. 

Benelli says it torture-tested an assortment of barrels with different finishes to see how each compared to the BE.S.T. treatment. “A blued barrel was subjected to four hours in a salt fog test (ASTM B117), resulting in rust accumulation over the entire barrel. The barrel coated with the BE.S.T. treatment underwent 200 hours in the same conditions with no signs of rust or corrosion. In fact, BE.S.T-treated barrels have been exposed to saltwater for more than three consecutive months with no sign of rust or corrosion. To test for abrasion resistance, Benelli subjected competitive barrels along with a barrel treated with BE.S.T. to rounds of abuse on a steel brush wheel (IL 279). The competitive barrels showed partial to complete removal of the finish while the BE.S.T. treated barrel only experienced polishing.”

A competitor's barrel (top) showing the damage from 48 hours of saltwater exposure, compared to a Benelli BE.S.T.-treated barrel (bottom) after three months of saltwater exposure.
A competitor's barrel (top) showing the damage from 48 hours of saltwater exposure, compared to a Benelli BE.S.T.-treated barrel (bottom) after three months of saltwater exposure.

To learn more about BE.S.T., I reached out to Benelli Director of Product Management George Thompson with a few questions.

 

DM: What determines the areas of a shotgun that can be treated with BE.S.T.? For example, the SBE3 receiver and rib aren’t treated. Why?

Thompson: What areas we apply BE.S.T. to  is determined by a couple factors. First, is the material — aluminum or plastic won’t rust, so they really don’t need BE.S.T. Second, is can BE.S.T. be properly applied.

You mention the rib, which actually opens up the story a little bit. Allow me to explain. Standard ribs are attached by soldering or brazing, which is not a “perfectly” sealed method. BE.S.T. must be applied by “line of sight,” meaning if there is not a direct straight path to the surface, BE.S.T. can’t get on it. So with a standard attached rib not being perfectly sealed to the barrel, and BE.S.T. not being able to get in between the rib post and barrel, it means that would be an area which could/would rust over time. This was one of the problems Benelli had to solve through the development of BE.S.T.. We developed a robotic laser welding process to attach posts to the barrel, with a prefect seal. This allows the barrel (and posts, and welding) to be properly coated by BE.S.T.. Then we use a carbon fiber rib (won’t rust, and is super durable/strong) that slides onto the posts, like a dovetail.

  

DM: Can any substances possibly encountered by duck hunters in the field harm BE.S.T.? I’m thinking about fluids such as bug spray and gasoline.

Thompson: Absolutely not. The chemical inertia (corrosion protection) of BE.S.T. is incredibly high and it is impervious to any chemicals a hunter may encounter.

 

DM: After a day of duck hunting in challenging conditions (rain/sleek/snow, saltwater, mud, etc.), what should the hunter do to clean BE.S.T. surfaces?

Thompson: Nothing is required. Any of those substances can be left on treated parts indefinitely with zero harm to the finish. If cleaning is desired, it would be cleaned no different than any other shotgun. It should be noted that, unlike bluing or other finishes, BE.S.T. requires no oil, or anything really to protect the finish.

 

DM: Is BE.S.T. surface treatment possible on camo barrels or only black barrels? 

Thompson: At this time BE.S.T. is available only in a black color. In Europe, Benelli does offer a shiny version in addition to the matte, which is the only one we offer in the USA. I expect that over time more colors/textures will be developed. As it relates to camo, it is possible to camo over BE.S.T. Camo will adhere fine, and BE.S.T. will be unaffected. However, if this is done, then special care must be done to avoid tolerance stacking concerns. All finishes add some level of material; piling finishes on top of each other combined with the tight tolerances Benelli is known for could lead to some fitting issues.

Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 with BE.S.T.
Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 with BE.S.T.

Current Benelli BE.S.T. Offerings

While the collection of Benelli firearms with BE.S.T. finish technology is likely to grow substantially, the current offerings are select models of the Super Black Eagle 3, Ethos and Ethos Cordoba shotguns. (FYI: The SBE3 with BE.S.T. will handle up to 3.5-inch shotshells; the Ethos and Ethos Cordoba with BE.S.T. are designed for 2.75- and 3-inch shells only.)

The Super Black Eagle 3 BE.S.T. is available in 12-gauge configurations with 26- or 28-inch barrels for $2,199. (The standard black synthetic SBE3 that will accept 3.5-inch shells is $1,899. Note: Benelli now offers its SBE3 in 12-gauge versions designed for only 2.75- and 3-inch shells, but these models don’t feature BE.S.T. In addition, Benelli recently announced 20-gauge versions of the SBE3, again without BE.S.T.)

For an extra $300, a duck hunter gets a BE.S.T. finish shotgun that Benelli says is ready to handle anything Mother Nature can throw its way. That’s peace of mind — and so is Benelli’s 25-year warranty on those parts treated with BE.S.T.

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