Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Stoeger Condor

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I'd purchased a new shotgun while out of town in San Antonio. As some of you may already know, last year marks the first time in my adult life that I've gone hunting. It started out dove hunting with a coworker, and worked its way into duck hunting and finally a white-tail deer hunt.

While I did have a shotgun of my own for the hunts last year, it is not exactly suited for the purpose. I call this shotgun the EBS (or Evil Black Shotgun), and it's outfitted for a specific purpose: self defense. Sure, it can take a dove (and has, several times), but with no choke and an 18" barrel, it's outfitted for taking down two-legged critters at close range. Those of you who saw my last post will have read about my new shooter Jennifer firing one, with a photo as testament to the event. You will also see it (though somewhat obscured by a posterized inkblot effect) in my "Obamicon" post early on in the blog. I suppose it does need its own post, and I'll have to remember that for the future. However, today we'll be taking a look at my new shotgun.

So, for about the past year I've been wanting to get a proper bird-hunting shotgun. My previous job, as it were, left me very little money to put towards any purchases of significant price. In such a predicament, I made do with what I had and hunted dove with the EBS, or borrowed a shotgun for duck. Once I procured a decent-paying job, the possibilities opened up.

I had a several options jostling around in my skull, and slowly I began to narrow them down. While a pump-action shotgun is certainly economical and a very suitable weapon, I already have a pump-action and I'd prefer something more elegant.

I also crossed out semi-auto guns from my list for a couple of reasons. From my limited hunting experience, semi-auto shotguns are the biggest pain when it comes to stoppages or failures. Aside from short-shucking on pump-action guns (which is really a user error), every failure I've seen in the field (light strikes, hard jams, etc) have all been on semi-auto guns. I've also come to learn that if I don't hit the bird with the first two shots, I'm not going to hit it with the third. Capacity is nice on a defense gun, but I've decided two is all I need for taking out feathered critters.

This narrowed my search down to two options: Over-and-Under (OU) or Side-by-Side (SxS) double-barreled shotguns. Now, we've forayed into an area of the firearms industry that still leaves me wondering.

A little background on me first. I do not consider myself a cheap person. I appreciate quality and fine craftsmanship. I do, however, believe in the right tool for the right job. When that job is dirty, I don't wear my nice, new, expensive clothes to do it. Life is a balance of trade-offs, and luxury is never on my list of needs.

With that said, I'm going to talk about the double-barreled shotgun market - specifically why I don't understand the near-ubiquity of high-dollar guns. I have no problem with finely-crafted firearms and those who buy them. What I do not understand is why it is commonly percieved that a double-barreled shotgun is no good unless it's approaching $1000 or more on the price tag. I know it wasn't always this way. My dad has a 1930's production Stevens 16ga SxS shotgun that he bought when he was a teenager, and teenagers living on farms don't have piles of money to spend on shotguns.

Seriously, a break-open shotgun is the simplest you can get when it comes to a firearm. Why do we not have utilitarian double-barreled shotguns readily available from every manufacturer? In fact, none of the major manufacturers make inexpensive shotguns. Remington imports them from a Russian manufacturer called Baikal, but from my experience you're not going to find them at any major retailer, or even on the Remington website itself without some serious googling. As I said a couple posts ago, it's as if Remington is ashamed to put its name behind these guns.

Anyhow, there's a few options I've found when it comes to a utilitarian double-barreled shotgun, and none of are manufactured in the USA. I decided on an O/U, as that configuration seems to be better-suited for dual duty with skeet and bird hunting. My budget was set at $500 or less.

As mentioned above, Remington imports its Spartan series of guns from Baikal in Russia. I decided to avoid them partially on principle because Remington seems reluctant to put its name behind them, and partially because I wouldn't know where to buy one anyway.

Yildiz shotguns are imported from Turkey, and it appears that Academy Sports & Outdoors is the sole importer of these guns. I've heard relatively good reviews about them. I decided against these guns mostly because there is no dedicated firearms importing company associated with the brand, but rather a large retail box store.

TriStar Sporting Arms, from what I can tell, are also manufactured in Turkey, but do have a dedicated importing company, located in Kansas City, Missouri. I've seen them in a couple different retailers, but seem to be lower quality design and manufacture than I'm comfortable with. Also, the models I see in stores that run in the $300-$400 range seem to be absent from the website, similar to Remington's Spartan offerings.

The final option is Stoeger Industries. Stoeger is actually owned by Benelli, which is an encouraging fact in itself. Also a plus is that it has a nicely put-together website where you can find all the specifics of the guns that you see in the store. Also refreshing is that the company seems very up-front about its offerrings. Searching the website, you will find the specifics of each gun, with highlights on what each series does and does not include. The guns are manufactured in Brazil. I read many reviews on the gun, and they seemed to be mostly positive. The only naysayers I really came across were guys who insisted the guns weren't up to par for serious amounts of skeet shooting - as in the tens of thousands of rounds. Since I'm not buying this gun for competition shooting, I'm OK with that.

As you already know, I went with the Stoeger Condor. More specifically, I purchased the A-grade Condor in 12ga with 28" barrels. This model includes Improved and Modified screw-in choke tubes (one of each) installed. Sighting is done with a single brass bead.

For the $350 price tag, you get a low-frills, but well put-together gun.

The first thing I noticed when I assembled the gun was how very tight it was. Initially, it takes quite a bit of effort to open and close. I gave it a little gun oil, and it loosened up a bit, and I imagine it will become easier with use. Better tight than loose is how I see it. All the surfaces mate up beautifully.

The A-grade models lack ejectors, but rather come with an extractor instead. This means that after firing and opening the action, the shells are pulled out from the barrels far enough to be pulled by hand rather than automatically popping out.

This grade also uses a single-trigger mechanism that I've never seen before. When I first got the gun home and assembled, I tested the trigger in dry fire. The first pin fired just fine, but the trigger wouldn't set to fire the second barrel. Worried that I'd bought a defective gun from a store 100 miles away from home, I hit Google to see if anyone had experienced the same problem. Sure enough - yes. Apparently, the trigger mechanism uses the recoil from the first shot to set the trigger for the second. Weird, but as long as it works, I'm OK with it. Incidentally, you can get the trigger to set for the second barrel in dry fire by cycling the safety.

The Stoeger came along for my range session with Jennifer from the last post, and functioned just fine. I patterned it at 15 yards (see photo above, taken by the lovely Jennifer), and the loads I brought along look perfect for dove.

I'm quite satisfied with my purchase and the performance of the gun so far. If you're looking for an enexpensive O/U for basic shotgunning, I'd call this one a winner. Once I get some trigger time into the gun, I'll post another review on my experience.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Shooter Range Report

As promised, I've got a new shooter range report from this past Saturday.

Jennifer is a coworker of my girlfriend, and hadn't fired a gun since her preteen years. She has a nice little Browning Semi-Auto .22 Short given to her by her father when she was 12, and wanted to get back into shooting. My girlfriend referred her to me (apparently the tales of my gun-nuttiness reach far and wide), and we set up a range date. She had an interest in shooting different guns, so we planned on taking a selection of different guns for her to try out.

We met beforehand to go over safety rules and the operation of the different weapons. Unfortunately, she had managed to misplace a retaining spring for her Browning while assembling it at home, so it stayed behind for this trip.

The plan was to make a quick stop by Cabela's on the way to the range, on the off chance they actually had ammo, and failing that hit up Wal-Mart in Lockhart as a last-ditch effort to keep my 9mm stock from completely evaporating. Then, go to the range and have some barbecue in Lockhart afterward.

So we get to Cabela's, and the place is hoppin'. We find ourselves waiting for people to step out of the way to check the shelves. I get to the 9mm shelf and see the usual overpriced carry ammo but nothing else. Lo and behold, Jennifer spots some stacked 50-round boxes 9mm on the shelf behind me.


It's Winchester, but a box I've never seen before. Upon closer inspection, it's marked as 9mm NATO. It looks like the Iraq stand-down put some excess 9mm stock on the market, and Winchester is selling it. We grabbed 6 boxes to add to the back of my rotation and also some 9x18 Silver Bear stuff for the PA-63. Still no luck on finding Estate #4B 12ga, though.

As Jennifer had never been to Cabelas, We took a bit of time so I could show her some of the scenery and the fish tanks, then headed out. By this time it was already 11:30, so we decided to head to town first and have lunch at Black's. Delicious.

We arrived at the range, she filled out the requisite first-timer paperwork, and got ready for some fun. The pistol bays were both a little busy, so we started off on the rifle range with the gun most similar to her Browning - the Marlin Model 60.

We went through the fundamentals of posture, sighting, and trigger control shooting 10" paper plates at 50 yards. She did quite well and we went through several magazines of .22LR.

Since I don't have an intermediate caliber rifle (yet), we stepped up to the next rifle - the Mosin-Nagant 91/30. Like every new shooter with a powerful gun, she got to learn about flinch. We worked on consistency and relaxing, and she put 2 magazines through the rifle before she was done with it - much longer than most new shooters will go with that gun.

By now, the pistol bays had mostly cleared out, so we headed over for some work in the moving/shooting and shotgunning bay. While waiting for the last shooter to clear out, we did a little bit of work with the Marlin again, this time at 25 yards. We used Dirty Bird targets, which give much better visual feedback on shots. Once we got the bay to ourselves and could move to handguns, we started out with the Walther P22, again shooting at paper plates from about 5 yards. We talked about stance, grip ergonomics, and bringing the sights to the eyes. She had taken the safety lessons to heart, and paid close attention to muzzle control and keeping the finger off the trigger until she was ready to shoot, as you can see below.

Several magazines later, we decided to try out the Hi-Power. She was quite surprised at the difference in report and recoil, but also found the Hi-Power more natural to shoot. We worked on some more Dirty Bird bullseye targets, improving her consistency and technique.

(Now that is a real Texas woman!)

After putting a couple of mags through the PA-63, we took a short break from handguns and moved on to a little bit of shotgun work. Also, I wanted to try out my new Stoeger, and this was a good excuse to do so. I had explained to her the purpose and function of the Knoxx SpecOps stock on the EBS before we left, but it's not really something you can appreciate until you actually try it out. We loaded up some 2 3/4" #4 Buckshot loads for a practical comparison. Jennifer was quite surprised at the tameness of the recoil on the EBS, and that impression was affirmed when she tried out a round with the Stoeger as a comparison.

We moved back to handguns for a while and tried out the Ruger LCP. This is not a gun I go into a range session expecting a new shooter to put more than a magazine through. It seems like most folks don't like it, with the small grip and significant recoil. Personally, I could shoot all day with it, if I could (1) find and (2) afford the ammo for it. For some reason it fits in my hand like it was made for me. I only know one other person who likes shooting the LCP - an occasional shooting buddy from a gun forum. Well, I now know two - Jennifer actually liked working with the LCP.

We did a little more work with the Hi-Power, and then did clean up, gathering a couple of take-home targets. Unfortunately, I forgot to do my normal new-shooter smiley target photo, so I'll just have to make do with a happy trigger time photo instead.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hiatus, inturrupted.

I apologize for the dearth of posts for the past 2 months. After acquiring gainful employment with an awesome company, I've been acclimating to my new work environment and schedule. All of this job searching and orientation has left me with little time for creativity in the way of food, photography, or guns.

More specifically, on the gun front (the biggest focus of this blog), I've been on a tight budget due to prolonged unemployment, not wanting to put myself completely out of money prematurely. Imagine my irritation once I had money again to find that there is no range ammo to be purchased, unless you're shooting 7.62x39, .223, or a more obscure caliber. As I shoot mainly 9mm (and to a lesser extent .380) in my handgunning sessions, I'm out of business.

Wanting to get a range session in a couple of weeks ago, I searched my local big stores (Wal-Mart, Academy, Cabelas) without success. I finally broke down and went to the range with the 2 boxes of 9mm I had remaining. I couldn't bring myself to deplete my stock further, and grudgingly paid the $20 for a single box of Blazer Brass at the range. I rotated it into my stock and used a box of Monarch instead. I also tried some .22LR rounds from the one bulk box I was able to find, in a brand I've never tried and will be writing a review in the next several days.

As you may know from previous posts, 50 rounds is simply not enough to get back up to speed when I haven't put in range time in months. My range therapy didn't go so well that day. To add to my disappointments, my range has implemented a new rule that folks can no longer pick up spent brass. It seems that there were people abusing brass-pick-up policy and culling large amounts of brass they didn't shoot, so now no one is permitted to pick up spent brass. The only way to police your brass now is to put down a blanket/sheet or employ a brass-catcher of some sort. Neither are practical options when it comes to moving and shooting sessions, so I'm screwed out of my brass until I can figure out some other arrangement.

Things aren't all bad, though. I've been out of town for work, and visited a Bass Pro Shops for the first time. My first impression was that the place was exactly like Cabelas, down to the lanterns indicating a checkout lane is open. After walking around the store, I noticed a couple of key differences. First, there is a better selection of goods. As an example, when compared to the Cabelas in Buda, there's about quadruple the number of duck calls availble. Secondly, Bass Pro Shops is cheaper - and from what I can tell, this is pretty much across the board.

As hunting season is coming up, I've decided that it is time for me to purchase a proper bird shotgun. While the EBS will work, it's certainly not purposed for hunting - what with the lack of a choke and having to deal with that silly foot-long plug. So... I'm off to Bass Pro on my way back to Austin to buy a Stoeger Condor. I realize that my choice may disappoint some of you die-hard shotgunners. I honestly cannot understand why the common belief is that an Over/Under shotgun, one of the simplest designs possible, needs to command a price tag of over $1000. Hey, I can certainly understand and appreciate the quality of a finely-crafted firearm. What I can't understand is the reluctance of manufacturers to produce utilitarian-grade O/U shotguns. Were I a competition shotgunner or a prolific hunter, a $1000+ price tag would certainly be understandable. But I'm not. I shoot skeet a few times a year and go bird hunting only a bit more frequently than that.

Remington has actually put its name on a line of inexpensive shotguns and rifles (including an O/U) called Spartan, but it seems almost as if they're ashamed of it. They import them from a Russian manufacturer, and you won't find any detail or pricing info for the line on the Remington website; It took a Google search for me to even find them, as they're not listed in the normal product navigation menus. So... inexpensive O/U shotguns are currently made by a small niche of companies, Remington (who is afraid to really own the line), Yildiz (Turkish guns who seem to only exist at Academy), and Stoeger - which is owned by Benelli. All things taken into consideration, the Stoeger Condor appears to be the best choice for me.

Also in good news, I've got a range session with a coworker of my girlfriend. She's got an old Browning .22 Short that her father gave her when she was a child, and hasn't been shooting since those days. I'll be bringing a sampling of rifles, handguns, and shotguns for her to try as well. I'll have a range report to follow.

And with that, I'm off to go purchase my new Stoeger.