Merry Christmas to me

After our trip to Hawaii my family agreed we wouldn’t buy Christmas gifts for each other.

We never said anything about not buying presents for ourselves, though.

Wednesday afternoon I headed to Michael Murphy and Sons near Augusta to get a new shotgun. All season I’d struggled a bit with  my well-worn Beretta Extrema. While I used to routinely drop two ducks from a passing flock this season I’d struggled to consistently get one.

It had to be the gun, right? No way could it have been my shooting skills. I’d never really liked the Beretta’s feel, which to me was thick and slow to move.

So at Murphy’s we laid seven possibilities on a table and Marc Murphy told me the mechanical pros and cons of each 12 gauge while I repeatedly snapped them to my shoulder and swung the barrels on imaginary pheasants and ducks.

The new Benelli shotgun doubled on two rooster pheasants that flushed at the same time. It later missed a much easier shot.

My final pick was a Benelli M2.  I gave up the option of using 3 1/2-inch shells but gained a gun that’s lighter and naturally points where I’m looking. I left the old Beretta as a trade, paid the difference and left the shop anxious to get the new gun afield.

My chance came 30 miles west of Hutchinson Friday afternoon when Hank and I headed into some waist-high grass on a friend’s  farm. From a tiny patch of cover two roosters flushed. Two shots and two birds down in the thin ice on a shallow pond. Hank fetched both with ease.

He pushed up a nice covey of quail at a nearby overgrown small pond. My first shot downed a nice male and my second failed on a bird that was probably out of range. Hank pushed up five more hens from the cover and a rooster left out of range.

Spot #3 was heavy cover along a creek across the road from a field of milo stubble.  Hank trailed up two hens (which are illegal to shoot) on our first pass. He worked and worked the scent of a running bird on the creek’s other side. We finally had the pheasant  pushed to a bend in the creek and the rooster flushed about 10 yards from me, angling right to left, my favorite shot.

And I missed him clean – twice! Oh well, two pheasants in less than two hours of hunting, an hour from home, with a 11-year-old dog is pretty good this year.

But the miss nagged on me  all the way to the truck.

Picking a dirt clod sticking above the snow I fired a test round from 25  yards. The gun’s pattern of shot pellets was about 22-inches wide with the modified choke. As I left for home I vowed I’d put in a more open improved cylinder choke before my next upland bird hunt.

The modified pattern was just too tight for me to hit that close rooster. The miss just couldn’t have been my fault, right?