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.