REPEATING shotguns are cheap, serviceable, deadly, and therefore popular, in spite of their inherent ugliness. They are less objectionable at the traps than anywhere else. In duck shooting over decoys, where powerful charges are not needed, the 12-gauge pump gun gives a good account of itself. The only 10-gauge repeater on our market scarcely deserves mention, as it is too light to handle any duck loads that are strong enough to bring out the superiority of a ten over smaller bores. In upland shooting, a repeater is clumsier to carry than a neat double-barrel of equal power and has the marked disadvantage of only one choke for all ranges.
Self-loading shotguns—generally called " automatics "—are still in the awkward period of development. This much can be said for them: that they are positive self-ejectors, with single trigger, at a moderate price. From a mechanical standpoint their chief defect is a lurking uncertainty of functioning. At the time of this writing, such arms are only made in 12-gauge, with forearm so excessively deep as to throw the handhold too low for good instinctive pointing. It would be better to cut down the gun to 16 or 20-gauge, with lines proportionally refined, and stock it so that both of the shooter's hands will come up naturally in line when he aims.
There are other reasons for restricting the self-loader to small and graceful proportions. Nobody of good taste can tolerate a gun that looks like a crooked club and handles like one. Moreover, there is an ethical objection to rapid-fire arms that would be silenced if smaller gauges of narrow killing pattern were adopted. It is claimed that they are unsportsmanlike: that they tempt one to ruthless and indiscriminate slaughter. Automatic shotguns are outlawed in Pennsylvania and throughout Canada, on the same principle that forbids the use of swivel guns on waterfowl and dynamite on fish.
We may note certain inconsistencies in such legislation. If the self-loader is an unsportsmanlike weapon, then so is the pump gun; for there is little, if any, difference in their destructiveness, when used by skilled and unscrupulous hands.
It is not the gun, but the gunner, who is to blame. Our passenger pigeons were not exterminated with breech-loaders, nor our buffalo with self-loading rifles. And, to-day, far more game is slaughtered, in season and out of season, with single-loading " nigger guns 99 than with all the automatics in America. It is stated that about 500,000 new shotguns are sold every year in the United States, of which not less than 350,000 sell for $5, or less. Who uses those cheap guns? As a rule, they are in the hands of pot-hunters who sneak about, at all times of the year, murdering every edible animal that they can find, on the ground or any way they can get them. This irresponsible class of men and boys are too shiftless to keep a complicated gun in working order, even if they could muster the price. The only measures that can be counted upon to protect the wild life of this country are uniform game laws, decently paid wardens, national breeding grounds, and prohibition of the sale or import of dead game.
Regarding small bore automatic shotguns, I agree heartily with the views expressed by Mr. Askins, in a recent magazine: "It is not to be doubted that many conscientious hunters are prevented from using a magazine shotgun by the feeling that it is an unsportsmanlike arm; that it gives the marksman an undue advantage, is unnecessarily deadly. Such men would take most kindly to a 20-gauge with its closer choke, narrowed killing circle, and lessened charge of shot. In the opinion of these marksmen the reduced chances of killing with a single load would be exactly balanced by the reserve of fire." I may add that, on the score of sportsmanship, there is the same refined pleasure in getting results with light guns that we feel in landing big fish with delicate tackle. But nobody wants a 20-gauge repeater unless it is built throughout on 20-gauge lines.
Up to the present time, everyone who insists upon graceful contours, " live " balance, due proportions of gun to charge, fine materials throughout, and skilful hand finish, has no choice but a double gun. In double-barrel shotguns we can get—what we cannot get in rifles—anything we want, turned out by either of half-a-dozen American factories.
The best barrels, irrespective of price, are those made of fluid-compressed steel, either Krupp or Whitworth. Next in quality come the various " nitro " steels of high grade, for which each gun-maker seems to have his own pet name. They are homogeneous metals, of high tensile strength, that are drilled from short rods, then rolled and drawn, while hot, to the required length and rough-bore. Barrels of this sort are not only stronger than Damascus: they are of closer texture, they take a finer polish, and hence do not pit or lead so easily with smokeless powder. Besides, they are easier to make, and therefore cheaper. In the old days, Damascus was preferred because it was a certain guarantee of quality, as compared with the inferior plain steel of the period. Damascus is made from alternate layers of iron and steel, twisted together into a spiral, heated and hammered flat, welded around a mandrel, forged into shape, bored to gauge, and then browned by a rusting process so as to bring out the figure or " curl99 of the metals. Such a barrel is so tough that it would bulge, rather than burst; but it is soft enough to be dented easily, and its iron portion is eaten into by the acid gases of smokeless powder.
Aside from the quality of metal and wood, a well-made gun is distinguished from a cheap one chiefly by the following points.
1. The frame is comparatively light. Gun frames are milled from the solid block. If this job is skimped, a lot of superfluous metal is left at the breech, making the gun needlessly heavy and ill-balanced.
&. The working parts are of tough and homo-144 geneous steel, hard enough to stand long wear. They are finished by master craftsmen and have an unmistakably thoroughbred look, if we may apply such a term to inanimate material. In a cheap gun we find such abomination as " malleable casting." It is soft or brittle stuff, and every part grates on its bearings. Inside of a gun beauty is proof of utility, every time.