Bourjaily: Why I am a Girlie-Man

It's a bad bird year around here, so people I know have been traveling for their pheasants. A friend of mine just came back from northwest Iowa, impressed by the numbers of birds but bemused at his reception by the locals. "They called me a girlie- man hunter because I shoot a 12 gauge," Cody reported. "They said real men shoot 20 gauges."

Me, I own guns of other gauges, but the half dozen I actually take out of the cabinet to hunt and shoot with are all 12s. Admittedly, one of the reasons I only shoot 12s is simple-minded: I don't want to get to the field only to find I've brought the wrong gauge ammunition.

Of course, all my ammunition would fit all my guns if I shot only 16s or only 20s, but I don't. No other gauge comes close to being as versatile as the 12. Mine range from a double weighing less than most 20 gauges to a near 9-pound target gun with 32 inch barrels, and I shoot loads from 3/ 4 of an ounce (targets) up to 1 3/ 4 ounces (turkeys) out of them. The big bore of the 12 gauge helps it pattern well with a wide variety of payloads. If you shoot steel shot, it takes a hull the size of a 12 gauge's to hold enough of the light pellets to kill a duck or a goose. And, as much fun as light, skinny small bores are to handle, I believe it's easier to shoot well with a gun that's a little more substantial and hand-filling.

All of the above seem like logical reasons to shoot 12s to me. Still, the idea persists among some hunters that small gauge guns are somehow more sporting and more manly because they give the birds "a chance" (A chance to fly off and die crippled maybe). Me, I will stick to my 12 gauges. Just today I had a shot at a rooster with a 25 mph north wind under his tail. By the time I got the gun up he was 35-40 yards out and quartering away. If I had brought a small gauge gun like the 28 my partner was shooting, I don't know what would have happened, but when I shot my 12 gauge at the rooster, it crashed to the ground dead. If that makes me a girlie-man, I'm okay with it.