February 19th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, our man afield offers 10 timely treks chosen to provide a happier hunting ground for you and your sweetheart.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY SCOTT HAUGEN

February is here, and with it, excitement and so much to do. Winter projects are wrapping up, spring is around the corner, and love is in the air. The second month of the year graciously provides us with an entire day to honor our special someone, and if you’re looking for something extraordinary to get your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, consider a hunting adventure you’ll remember forever.

The Haugens pose with Tiffany’s massive black bear, taken on a spring hunt in Canada. The day after this, Scott connected on a giant cinnamon phase bear, making for one of the more memorable hunts the couple has shared together.

I’m not talking hard-core hunts in foul weather for trophy class animals, where freezing temperatures and extreme terrain prevail. I’m referring to fun hunts to share where game abounds, the weather is mild, the action fast-paced, the terrain is easily managed and the days afield not overly long. Of course, you need to set aside time for some relaxed sightseeing and romantic dinners, which may come over a campfire, but if you’re together, it’s just that much more special.

Throughout our 26 years of marriage, living in Alaska and overseas, my wife, Tiffany, and I have been fortunate to hunt many places together. Here’s a list of some of the most memorable hunting experiences we have enjoyed together. I believe you will enjoy them as well.

1. BEAR BOUND

Spring is one of the most productive times to hunt black bear in North America. Be it over bait in the states that allow it, or spot-and-stalk-style hunting in the lush, grassy meadows of the Pacific Northwest, there’s no shortage of great bear hunting opportunities.

Idaho allows bear hunting over bait, and color phase bears run high in some areas. Sleeping in and hunting the evening hours will make it feel more like a vacation than a hunt. Spotand-stalk hunts can be had in multiple Canadian provinces, too, where bear densities are mind boggling and the terrain is easy to negotiate. Just be sure to bring mosquito repellent.

Bear meat is some of the best eating wild game out there. Get the hide off fast; remove the fat from the muscle and get the meat quickly cooling, and you’ll be enjoying it for months to come.

2. TURKEY TIME

There’s nothing quite like being in the spring turkey woods: warm days, wild flowers blooming, birds singing and lovesick toms gobbling like crazy. Turkeys can be hunted in every state but Alaska.

One epic turkey hunt for you and your sweetheart is in Hawaii, where the birds thrive. Florida is another wonderful option for a couples hunt. Texas, South Dakota and western Oregon are also great places to hunt turkeys, and see some beautiful sights along the way.

Wherever you go, make sure to hit the state or states where multiple tags are available. If you have the time, driving to and hunting different states can be easy to do, and may offer great side attractions in the form of museums, historical points of interest and, of course, restaurants. Don’t overlook fall turkey hunting, which can be exciting, especially with a dog!

The Haugens have traveled to many countries, experiencing memorable hunts along the way. Here, the couple is in Zimbabwe, where Tiffany took her first waterbuck. After the hunt, they toured Victoria Falls.

3. HOG HEAVEN

Ask my wife what her most memorable hunt was, and she’ll likely reply hunting hogs in Florida. Our whole family was along on this unforgettable trip, and atop a monster truck-like swamp buggy, we pounded bacon with ARs, shotguns and rifles. It was a thrilling way to hunt, and an effective way to put a dent in the overpopulation of pigs on the land we hunted. It also yielded a couple coolers full of some of our favorite wild game to eat.

Texas has high pig populations, and baiting and spot-and-stalk approaches can be employed there. Sitting in a blind over bait offers a level of addicting anticipation that needs to be experienced to be appreciated.

California has great, year-round hunting for wild hogs. Spring and fall are favorite times, as the pigs are actively feeding and the weather is very comfortable. Of course, California swine often resides near vineyards, making it easy to find something to do in the evening together as well.
4. QUACK ATTACK

Be it an early-season teal hunt, a midseason outing for local birds or a late-season adventure for migratory fowl, spending time in the duck blind together is relaxing. Of course, the earlier it is in the season, the more comfortable the weather will be. Then again, late-season, high-volume hunts in the cold can offer unmatched shooting action that can keep you warm.

With a dozen decoys, a call and some basic gear, getting equipped for hunting waterfowl is easy.

If you don’t have access to good public lands, gaining permission to hunt on private property is much easier than getting the green light to hunt deer or elk. Don’t overlook your goose hunting options either, for these can offer great action around the country, be it for Canadas or snows.

Thanks to comfortable weather, easy terrain and lots of animals, pronghorn hunting is considered by many to be the perfect couples hunt. On this adventure, the Haugens were joined by their older son, Braxton.

 

Not only can hogs be hunted many ways, their numbers are high and on the table they’re among the best of the best. Here, Tiffany is all smiles with a hog she took with an AR, one of many pigs her and her husband would take on this trip.

5. PRONGHORN HITS

The perfect couples hunt for big game has to be pronghorn. The weather is nice, animals are plentiful, you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to start the day, and if you blow an opportunity on a buck, you’ll soon be commencing a stalk on another.

While some states only offer pronghorn tags through a lottery system, others have over-the-counter options. Parts of Wyoming offer overthe-counter tags for nonresidents, for both buck and doe, making it the top state for such a hunt. Consider putting a bipod on the rifle, or at the very least, use shooting sticks, and practice out to 300 yards, as shots can be long in this open country of the West. These hunts are big hits among couples and families.
6. VARMINT MASTER

Varmint hunting offers high-volume, fast-paced shooting action to couples eager to head afield. Be it prairie dogs in the spring, summer, early fall, or ground squirrels farther West, there is a lot of great shooting to be had.

Prairie dogs occupy many of the Rocky Mountain states and open plains, and the fact they do so much property damage means finding a place to hunt isn’t that difficult. The last prairie dog town my wife and I hunted in Montana, stretched for more than 7 miles and was over a mile wide. Needless to say, we experienced a lot of shooting.

In eastern Oregon and northern California, Belding’s ground squirrels abound, and firing more than a thousand rounds per person, per day, is common in some of the alfalfa fields overrun by these varmints.
7. PLEASANT PHEASANT

While the season for wild pheasants has come to a close, there are numerous bird preserves that offer outstanding hunting opportunities around the country, even in Alaska. In most states, preserves are open through March, and reopen again in August or September.

Not only are these high-percentage hunts, but the accommodations can be as fancy as you want to get, which can be appealing to couples. Then again, you can find affordable operations, allowing more bangs for your bucks in the form of pheasant, chukar, quail and occasionally more exotic species.
8. DOVE LOVE

My wife and I gone dove hunting together for nearly two decades. Early in the September season, when the weather is hot, we enjoy floating rivers and hunting birds off gravel bars. Later in the season, we move to fields and travel routes connecting feeding and roosting areas.

While early-season hunts are warm and comfortable, many states have extended their seasons into October, and the shooting for migratory doves in large flocks can be exceptional. These are some of the best eating birds out there.
9. WHITETAIL QUEST

One of the country’s best deer hunts to experience with your sweetheart is for whitetails. Blacktail deer hunting is physically demanding, often taking place in wet, brushy country. Mule deer habitat can be rugged and the weather less than hospitable. But when it comes to whitetails, North America’s most hunted big game animal, the options are many.

Since whitetails occupy so much river bottom and farmland habitats, the terrain is easy to negotiate. They can be hunted from late summer into winter, and with high densities, seeing deer is almost guaranteed and the chances of punching a tag are high. Whitetails can often be hunted from ground blinds, making it comfortable for both of you when temperatures drop. If looking to put meat in the freezer, there are some good over-the-counter options, and easy-to-draw tags in many states.

Author Scott Haugen and his wife, Tiffany, take in a stunning sunset after having doubled on Merriam’s turkeys in Wyoming. There are some great turkey hunts for couples to enjoy around the country.

10. ADVENTURES ABROAD

Don’t overlook the joy of traveling abroad to hunt with your loved one. This is also a great opportunity to combine a hunt with a vacation.

New Zealand is tops when it comes to hunting prized red stag, and more, and the people and the country are simply wonderful. Australia also offers some good deer hunting in its southern and western states.

Africa is a place that offers a lot, both in terms of species to hunt and sites to see. Plains game hunts are affordable, with kudu and gemsbok topping the wish list of many hunters.

This Valentine’s Day, consider giving your spouse a hunt as a way to say “I love you!” With this gift you’ll both be able to spend time in the field together, and travel through some great parts of North America, even the world. ASJ

Editor’s note: Scott Haugen is a fulltime freelance writer of 20 years. He recently began a booking service geared to help others enjoy hunting and fishing adventures around the world. Learn more at scotthaugen.com. 

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February 8th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

Benelli’s Montefeltro has made the journey from European novelty to the world’s most respected repeating upland shotgun. 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY BRAD FITZPATRICK

 

In 1911, as John Browning was finalizing his semiautomatic pistol stateside, Teresa Benelli was helping her six sons invest in a small automotive repair shop in Urbino, Italy. The brothers did well with their business and eventually began building motorcycles, selling their bikes in the U.S. through Montgomery Ward catalogs. By 1967, the brand had earned enough capital to allow Giovanni Benelli to design and market semiautomatic shotguns, a byproduct of his love of hunting. Little did he know that the gun that bore his name would reinvent the shotgun market in much the same way that Browning’s 1911 forever changed pistol design.

The Montefeltro has a reputation for harsh recoil, but it isn’t abusive. The author fired this field gun – which wore a black plastic butt plate – more than 500 times on this day in Argentina, and although his shoulder was sore it wasn’t enough to keep him from heading to the field at first light the following day.

Although the name Benelli was stamped on the very first gun to leave the Urbino factory in ’67, the real genius behind the gun was an Italian designer named Bruno Civolani. Civolani’s system was different than the gas systems that were becoming popular in the States. One of the hallmarks of the Benelli design was that it was so simple and basic that it rarely broke and, as shotgun enthusiasts quickly learned, it required less frequent cleaning and could go hundreds of thousands of rounds before a failure.

That design was the Inertia Driven System, and it had three basic components: a rotating bolt face, a bolt body and an inertia spring. As recoil pushes the gun rearward, the bolt stays in place for an instant and the inertia spring compresses, eventually developing enough energy to unlock the bolt face. The bolt body is then forced rearward, extracting and ejecting the spent casing. The recoil spring shoves the bolt back forward and slams the bolt body back into place after picking up the next shell. The final step in the process is for the rotating bolt head to lock into battery for the next shot.

 

Waiting on birds in Argentina. The wait was rarely longer than 30 seconds, so this Montefeltro took a beating, and that’s just one day. In addition, it cycled dirty shells and busted hard primers without any issues.

BENELLI WAS ALREADY BIG IN EUROPE before American hunters and shooters started noticing a few of these slim, sleek Italian autoloaders showing up in duck blinds and upland fields. One of those early guns was named the Montefeltro in honor of the Duke of Montefeltro and his family who lived in the region of Urbino. Benelli’s Montefeltro had some similar features to popular American guns at the time, but there were a few obvious differences.

For starters, the forearm was trim and slim, very different than American gas guns that housed pistons and gas systems under the barrel. The Montefeltro was also lighter by as much as a pound, a result of the simplicity of the Inertia Driven System, as well as an intentional design feature – gas guns tend to work better the heavier they are, and inertia guns are quite the opposite. The Benelli was a gun that could easily be carried all day long, and upland hunters liked this.

There were a few other nuances found on the Montefeltro that are different than traditional gas guns. For one thing, the bolt was much lighter. Whereas it was a chore to pull the bolt rearward on a gas gun, the Montefeltro, by contrast, could be racked with a single finger and a slap of the wrist. Another difference – one that I have seen baffle first-time Benelli shooters – is that simply pulling the bolt rearward doesn’t automatically feed a shell from the magazine tube into the chamber.

There’s a very, very good reason for this, though. If you jam a Montefeltro down on the ground, you can actually open the bolt, and if a shell happened to feed during that process, you would be suddenly carrying a shotgun with a chambered shell and not be aware of that fact, which is dangerous. New Benelli shooters have to get used to the idea of depressing the shell release lever and then racking the bolt. It takes some time, but I’m so familiar with my Montefeltro that the order of operations on a traditional gas gun has begun to feel foreign.

This Idaho partridge fell to the Montefeltro with a 1-ounce load of size 6 shot. The Benelli is light enough for allday carry even in this steep country.

The Montefeltro was – and is – a beautiful gun. The curves of its long action, stylized receiver and trim profile were once considered revolutionary, but have now become a blueprint followed by other makers. The rib is quite flat, but the Benelli is so light and well balanced that it is quick to the shoulder and fits a wide range of shooters. Wingshooters liked that, and they also liked the Montefeltro’s scant weight. If you are a serious bird hunter – the kind that climbs mountains in search of Huns and chukars, or who wades through alders and grapevines for a shot at a ruffed grouse – that difference in weight makes, well, a difference.

Serious bird hunters began carrying Montes, and soon something else became very apparent about these guns. Since the Inertia Driven System doesn’t rely on gas to be vented through the gun (these gases are pushed out of the barrel for less fouling), these guns could go for thousands of rounds between cleanings and would fire a wide array of loads without the need for modification or adjustment. Want to break a few clays or walk-up a covey of quail or two? You can use light loads without any problem. Want to follow that up with a hunt for hard-flying roosters or large ducks? Fine, your Benelli will eat those loads as well without indigestion.

The Montefeltro is available as a combo gun with two satin walnut stocks—perfect for a young shooter who is still growing.

Not all semiauto shotguns are available in left-handed versions, but the Montefeltro is. With so many options with regard to stock design and length, as well as action, it’s little wonder that so many shooters like the Montefeltro.

The basic Montefeltro has an anodized receiver and blued barrel and comes with a very nice satin walnut stock or durable black synthetic, and there’s also a Silver version
with AA-grade walnut and a nickel-plated engraved receiver. The trigger assembly drops out and the trigger guard is big enough that I can easily shoot my gun when wearing rather large leather gloves. Crio choke tubes are included, so named because Benelli cryogenically treats both their barrels and chokes to relieve stress on the steel, smooth surfaces, and, as a result, produce more consistent patterns. Additionally, the Montefeltro comes in a left-handed version for southpaws and a compact version for anyone with short arms. With so many options and features, it’s little wonder this gun has won over a legion of shooters in the United States and elsewhere.

THE DOVE FIELDS OF ARGENTINA test a shotgun as brutally as any other place on earth, and among the many lodges that cater to dove hunters, those belonging to the David Denies group are perhaps the finest of all. Denies offers a variety of excursions throughout South America, everything from hunting roaring red stag to fly fishing in some of the world’s most incredible waters to duck hunts with 50-bird limits. But the David Denies brand specializes in dove hunts, and in a land where birds are shot daily by the thousands, I doubt if any outfitter can put you in fields where you will pull the trigger more frequently.

The Montefeltro accounted for these Kentucky doves on the opening morning of season. Benelli’s autoloader is certainly one of the most versatile upland guns you can own, perfect for clay shooting, doves, pheasants, rabbits, and more.

We were hunting Cordoba Lodge, and on our first day in camp we headed to a cutover dove field into which the birds were streaming by the thousands. I doubt that more than 30 seconds passed without a shot opportunity, and since our guns hadn’t arrived yet, we were given the lodge guns. These were, as you might imagine, Benelli Montefeltros. It was the exact same 20-gauge autoloader I carried at home for quail, rabbits, grouse and chukars, but this Argentinian gun had seen tens of thousands of rounds more than my own Monte.

The gun performed flawlessly, coming quickly to the shoulder and crumpling birds that were passing left-toright, incomers, and doves that presented high overhead shots. As fast as I could shoot we reloaded, and by day’s end we had put better than 500 rounds through the gun – a light afternoon by Argentina standards. At the lodge, over a steak and wine (what else in Argentina?), I asked the lodge owner how many rounds the Benelli had gone through. He squinted, tilted his head to the sky, and did some math.

“Probably … 150,000. A hundred thousand, at least.”

I may never press the trigger on my Monte that many times, but it’s good to know that the gun can handle that kind of abuse. But that longevity is only one reason that people buy the Montefeltro. The other is that if you hunt hard, it’s one of the best shotgun options you can own.

The synthetic stock version is perfect for anyone who plans to take their gun through the briars or into flooded timber and who doesn’t want to damage that fine walnut stock.

The Silver version is truly a magnificent firearm with a nickel-plated receiver and AA-grade walnut. MSRP on this gun runs above $1,700, but the quality of this gun justifies the cost.

AMERICA ALSO OFFERS TREMENDOUS wingshooting opportunities on public lands throughout the west. The only caveat is that you’ll have to climb and hike – a lot. In this country, if you’re averaging a bird a mile, that’s pretty spectacular, and the average is probably more like one bird every 5 miles. But for those who love this kind of open range hunting, there’s nothing that can compare.

Idaho’s Tom Loy, famous for his line of superb Gordon setters, introduced me to chukar hunting. The first gun I brought along was a 7½-pound over/under, which was a terrible choice. For one thing, it was too heavy, a real burden when you’re hiking in steep country. For another, I needed that extra shot.

This past year I hunted with Tom again, but I’ve since learned that there are upland guns built for this kind of task and the Montefeltro is one of them. My 20-gauge Monte weighs a hair over 5½ pounds and it carries very well. That’s a good thing, because Tom knows some of the best places to hunt birds in Idaho but you’ll have to walk. We covered a moderate distance on our last hunt, perhaps 5 or 6 miles, and we really had great success, harvesting five Huns and a pair of California quail. The Montefeltro accounted for about half those birds, but my back wasn’t aching when I was finished. The only strain was from a heavy game bag.

I have carried my Benelli to the field in search of a variety of different upland species across the United States, and it has never failed me. But before you run out and buy a Montefeltro, there are a few things that you should know. For starters, gas guns recoil less. I don’t think it’s a lot less, and if you aren’t shooting hundreds of rounds a day, I doubt you would notice. The Montefeltro’s other quirk is that the bolt head must be dropped with enough force to rotate and lock it. Ease it forward and you’ll hear that dreaded “Benelli click.” With a few days’ practice you will quickly learn how to handle the Benelli so that this doesn’t happen, but I still occasionally forget and miss a shot.

The author shooting doves in Argentina with a well-worn Montefeltro. Guns rented by Argentinian dove lodges see more abuse than most any other shotgun, and Montefeltros are one of the handful of weapons you’ll see in regular use here.

Those foibles are minor compared to the Benelli Montefeltro’s many, many strong points. It’s little wonder that this svelte little Italian gun with its ingeniously simple operating system has spawned so many copies, with more and more inertia guns hitting the market each year. But there’s only one Montefeltro, and it’s hard to beat the original.  ASJ

Contact: Benelliusa.com

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