The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How I Got Started in Shotguns

An Unmatched Browning Pair
Lightning Sporting Clays Edition (12 gauge) and Model 12 (28 gauge)

We lived on a farm in Northern São Paulo state, Brazil, and money was then a very rare commodity, and factory ammo was expensive and difficult to come by, therefore reloading was not only an option but almost a necessity. My father would gather some of our decades long farm employees and his trusted hunt companions and reload several boxes of 28 gauge shells. The process was quite labor intensive, as was much of the farming activities in Brazil at the time. The first step was to use a punch and a hammer and cut felt and cardboard wads. Each shell required one felt and three cardboard wads, and each wad required at least one hammer blow, so there was probably as much noise in making a shell as in discharging it.

The next step was to de-prime and then re-prime the shells, and that also took some hammering, at least to remove the old primer. Then gun powder was poured in the hull. I remember clearly that we used “Pólvora Química Tupã” (Tupã Chemical Powder) and you may guess any connection or coincidence between that powder and my dog’s name. Tupã is the god of thunder for one of the major Brazilian Indian nations and is a very appropriate name for gun powder. Tupã powder came in a small light blue plastic bottle (100 grams or 3.5 ounces per bottle) with white lettering and the caricature of hunter stepping over a knocked out jaguar while holding its tail in one hand and having a large bowie knife in his belt.

And finally came the shot, an overshot wad and the hull received a roll crimp in a small hand powered tool.

When I was finally allowed to hunt by myself I used a small 310 (8 mm) rim fire shotgun (a single shot, exposed hammer CBC) to hunt doves, pigeons, and tinamous or using their proper names Juriti (Leptotila varreaux), Azulega (Columba cayennensis) and Inhanbú-chitã (Cryptellus parvirostris). I must confess that I was never an accomplished wing shooter during my early years and that I would stalk those birds just as I stalked big game in Africa many decades later. Locate the prey by sight or sound and sneak close enough for the diminutive load of number 11 shot to be effective. The 310 shell is about the same size as a .32 S&W Long revolver cartridge so there is not much payload there to play with.

While the seed of the blood sport was present in my hunt so was the basic instinct of the predator, and not one of those birds were ever spoiled, unless you consider bad cooking as spoiling good game birds.

I also used that 310 as an effective replacement for a fishing rod, and I didn’t even need line and hook. As you may have guessed by now I deeply enjoy hunting, the chase and the outsmarting of the prey, but it I am still working on refining my taste for fishing. The Rosário creek that cuts the farm I was raised in, at one point makes a pronounced “S” shaped curve where at an outer part of the curve the slow waters form a shallow beach. Touching the shallow waters there was a pig sty and the bagres (Bagre spp.), a kind of Brazilian catfish, would come to feed on pig manure. I would stay out of sight, under some shade tree with other kids, and when the foot long fish would come in the shallows waters I just had to shoot at it and one of us would wade in to retrieve our prize.

By late afternoon we would gather our daily bag of fish and fowl, find some discarded kitchen oil can - there were some rectangular peanut oil cans that made wonderful fry pans when opened properly - and hide among the banana trees where we would make a small fire from the huge dry leaves and cook and consume our wonderful harvest without having to share it with grown-ups.

Big game hunting is challenging and rewarding and I am blessed to have the opportunity to do it, but I can’t get no better enjoyment than scouting the woods and meadows for small game with a small gauge shotgun, be it for tinamou in Brazil or cotton tail rabbit in Michigan.

And talking about small gauge shotguns, as I grew up and wanted to hunt larger animals I graduated from the 310 to an old Rossi 28 gauge side-by-side shotgun with external hammers. Although technically a small gauge shotgun when I first started using the 28 I felt like I was ready for lion and elephant. The hulls were much bigger than the tiny 310 rim fire shells.

But if my father would allow me to use his old shotgun (he never really let me play with his nice Beretta double gun, also a 28 gauge), ammunition was my problem.

Factory ammo prices and availability had not improved any, and just like my father I had to resort to reloading or in my case, hand loading. Most of my father equipment was misplaced or lost when we moved to town, and I didn’t have the helpers or the patience to reload the aging paper hulls. So I bought some full brass shotgun shells, primers, shot and gun powder, which could be Elephant FFFg black powder or whatever smokeless powder was available or the lowest price one. Wads were made from old newspaper or even toilette paper, again whatever was handy.

My reloading, or better saying hand loading gear, was as simple as you can imagine. A pocket knife or a big nail to pull out fired primers, a pencil or other piece of wood to sit the over powder wad and a candle to seal the finished shell with some paraffin.

When I started to hunt capivara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris), or capybara as said in Spanish and English, I became very displeased with the performance of TTT shot, similar to No. 4 buckshot, and the largest shot then available in Brazil, and decided to use slugs. Although we could generally find some cast slugs, IDEAL brand, I saw no reason to pay hard cash for them, and the normal shooting distances inside a swamp or surrounding bush being short as they are; pinpoint accuracy was not really an issue. So, I just fished for some lead sinkers of about the proper diameter in the fishing box and loaded it in my shells instead of shot. The heavier oval sinkers performed much better than the round ones and these bullets stopped more than one capybara with definitive authority.

By the beginning of high school I finally had a “man’s gun” having taking possession of one of my father’s 12 gauge trap guns. I was back to a single shot but the 12 gauge was the most powerful firearm that could be legally owned in Brazil. What more could I ask? But bigger gun or not, the ammunition situation didn’t change and I continued with my proven hand loads, just bought new 12 gauge brass shells and looked for larger sinkers.

Not until after I got married I shot a couple rounds of trap and some friends allowed me to use their reloading presses to make some proper shells, plastics hulls and wads and 11/8 ounces of 7½ shot. If I remember one thing in particular is that those shells kicked much harder than the calves we had in the corral, but I was then a grown man, had a daughter, and had to handle a heavy trap load no matter what. By this time I was living with my new family in a big city and didn’t have much opportunity to hunt or shoot a shotgun and for several years I used pistols for much of my shooting, a lot of fun plinking and some less than serious competition.

But as the saying goes, the world is round, and in due time I went back to the 28 gauge. I had a Beretta 686 and a Remington 1100, both of which I traded for side-by-side shotguns, a Browining BSS 20 gauge and an AyA 4/53 16 gauge, but the 28 gauges are back. I have my dad's cherished Beretta 409 side-by-side, that doesn't get shot too much as it is too precious, and a great shooting Browning Model 12, that is asking to go to Uruguay on a perdiz (Notura maculosa) hunting.

By the way, I no longer hand load my 28 gauge shells, I used a MEC 9000 press instead.

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