Steve Comus – GUN TALK

    Steve Comus is a former Guns and Hunting Editor at WON. Before joining the staff at Western Outdoors more than a quarter-century ago he had a complete career as a frontline journalist with the L.A. afternoon daily Herald-Examiner, including quite a bit of foreign correspondence and years of investigative assignments.

    Since he took a break from WON, he has written articles for most of the major publications in the shooting sports industry, authored a couple of books and published a couple of others, spent a while as editor of Gun World magazine and is currently director of publications for Safari Club International.

     His writings focus on guns and shooting and all of the things that affect them, as well. 
Dickinson Plantation Side-By-Side scores well!
Pheasant hunting with a side-by-side shotgun is about as classic as one can get. So, that’s what I did on a trip to Nebraska this fall.

The gun: Dickinson’s 12-gauge Plantation side plate model with 28-inch barrels, straight grip and delicious

color case hardening on the metal. We’re talking beautifully shiny, 28-inch deep luster blued barrels with thin screw-in chokes and Schnabel forend. Both forend and straight grip feature hand-cut 24 lines per inch checkering.

dickinsonplantationDICKINSON PLANTATION 12-gauge side-by-side shotgun handles like a dream and carries well on upland bird hunt. Color casehardened metal parts, including the sideplates, and carved teardrops on each side of the stock just fore of the grip are really nice aesthetic touches. Hand-cut checkering on the stock and forend are both functional and graceful. The gun came with ejectors that kicked both shells out, landing within a couple of inches of each other — nicely tuned.

Both stock and forend are made from premier grade Turkish walnut and metal parts are hand-engraved in an English scroll (25 percent coverage). By any measure, this is one heck of a handsome shotgun. A hunter could get style points by just carrying it around the field. But that’s not what was in store for this particular shotgun.

In addition to pheasants, chukar partridge and bobwhite quail were on the hunt agenda, and the Dickinson engaged them all with the style and grace of a classic. What a lot of fun!

Since the hunt called for hunting over a combination of pointers and flushers, I opted for cylinder in the right barrel and improved cylinder in the left. A pre-hunt trip to the patterning board showed that the choking was very slightly tight for each level, which meant that the combination used should be about perfect.

By the time the hunt was over, it was confirmed to be the perfect combination for the circumstances encountered. The dogs didn’t flush the birds far out, but there were some shots that weren’t close, either.

The gun comes with five choke tubes, wrench and a box to carry them in. Other chokes are modified, improved modified and full. Chambers are 3-inch, but all I used were 2¾-inch shells. Should the hunter want to take this model waterfowling or use it where non-toxic shot is required, the more open choke tubes (cylinder, improved cylinder and modified) can handle steel shot.

THE AUTHOR SHOWS a pheasant he took with the Dickinson Plantation shotgun. The gun worked great on pheasants, chukar partridge and quail.

Of particular note is the single non-selectable trigger (Plantation models are available with selectable and non-selectable triggers). The trigger system is mechanical as opposed to inertia. For this specific gun, that translated into a clean, crisp 5¾-pound pull for each barrel (really nice when the trigger breaks the same for both barrels).

For me, the comb on the stock delivered patterns that were ever so slightly high (like 60 percent above line of sight). For game birds like pheasants, chukar and quail, this is perfect

The gun weighs 8¼ pounds, which is about where a double 12-gauge should be. It carried extremely well, as we covered several miles of mixed cover fields over a couple of days. Balance of the gun is such that it goes to the target quickly and instinctively, and also carries nicely in the process. There were a few occasions when it was necessary to swing significantly to get the birds, and the Plantation proved that it could swing as smoothly as it pointed quickly. Very nice.

Some of those dynamics I ascribe to the 28-inch barrels. I don’t know specifically why, but for 12-gauge side-by-sides, 28-inch barrels on upland hunts seem to be magic. Nothing wrong with 26- or 30-inch double tubes, but there is just something about 28.

The secret to shooting this particular shotgun was to go fully instinctive by watching the birds rise from the cover and then just instinctively pointing at them and allowing the gun to go off at the right time. Whenever I did that, there were puffs of feathers and birds fell limp from the air. The dogs seemed to appreciate easy retrieves.

Overall, the Dickinson Plantation side-by-side is a high-performance, classic gun for upland birds, as well as general hunting. It represents a whole lot of bang for the buck.

* * *

Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a WON Guns and Hunting Guns Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

• • • • •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Muzzle brakes might be ugly — but they work
Talk around deer camp earlier this season eventually got around to the subject of muzzle brakes on hunting rifles. Folks seem to love them or hate them, with not many in between.

Detractors note that they are obnoxiously loud and that they are just plain ugly plumbing on the end of the barrel. Okay, no argument there. But when it comes to any equipment, the proper answer is found by weighing the advantages against the disadvantages.

MUZZLE BRAKES CAN help make shooting hunting rifles much more comfortable, actually increase accuracy, and make shooting and hunting more fun overall.

The benefits of muzzle brakes are that they reduce muzzle rise (flip) while they reduce felt recoil (some also reduce actual recoil). When properly in­stalled, they do not adversely affect accuracy, but often can improve it (the dynamics are complicated, but they can).

Also, with good muzzle brakes, it is possible to watch the hit on the animal, which provides vital information about whether it was a good hit. Finally, for longer shots, muzzle brakes provide what I call “audioflage,” which is like camou­flaging the sound of the shot. By spreading the expanding gases from the powder when the bullet leaves the barrel, it is more difficult for the animal to know exactly where the shot came from. That can be nice, because it affords a quick follow-up shot, should that be necessary.'

Some people use a muzzle brake during the hunt, but take it off and screw on a “cap” for the rest of the time. Nothing wrong with that, except the point of impact often changes when a muzzle brake is screwed on. Make certain that the rifle is sighted exactly as it will be on the actual hunt. This also applies to bipods. Adding bipods can change the point of impact dramatically.

More than all of the advantages listed above, I like to use muzzle brakes because they make the rifle much more comfortable to shoot. When a rifle is more comfortable, it is easier to shoot more accurately.

And, muzzle brakes can tame rifles enough so that new shooters can learn to shoot without the jarring effects of normal recoil. For example, the felt recoil from a .300 mag with a good muzzle brake feels more like a .30/30 than a mag. Or, a 7mm mag feels more like a .257 Roberts than a mag. A .308 feels much like a .243.

There are many different kinds of muzzle brakes on the market and most seem to work at least okay. Some companies offer them as either standard on some models or as upgrades on other models. Pricing varies, but consider that it is a one-time purchase, even a hundred or two hundred bucks can be a good investment.

Certainly, when using a muzzle brake, it is necessary to wear effective ear protection. For me, that is not a big deal because my hearing is so bad that while hunting, I usually use a set of earmuffs that have the built-in electronics that enhance sound under normal circumstances, but cut off the sound at the shot. That way I can actually hear better with the muffs on during the hunt and don’t have to worry about the noise from the muzzle brake when the shot is taken.

I used to scoff at muzzle brakes until I used one on a .223 prairie rat rifle. Even with the slight recoil of the .223, it is difficult to watch the bullet hit the critter at the shot without a brake.

Traditionally, that meant that I had to have someone else with me as a spotter to tell me if I hit, or where I missed if I missed. That’s not only labor-intensive, but there were a lot of mixed signals.

When I used the .223 with the muzzle brake, I could watch the bullet either hit the prairie rat or I could see where it hit around the rat and then knew exactly how to change the sight picture to make a hit.

Muzzle brakes turned my .460 and .378 Weatherby mags into relative pussy cats and actually fun to shoot. Hence, I shot them more, and the more I shot them, the better I shot them. More recently, I had Weatherby put a muzzle brake on a rifle chambered for the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum. It is incredible to use that rifle, because I can watch the hit on deer. Literally, it makes everything easier after the shot.

A number of years ago, while hunting Coues deer with riflemaker David Miller, Dave took a shot as I watched through the spotting scope. The bullet hit a small branch Dave didn’t see between him and the deer and diverted the bullet. The buck froze in place and looked all around, obviously trying to figure out where the noise from the shot came from before bolting. That gave Dave time to take a quick follow-up shot and bag the deer.

One note, however, about muzzle brakes. The higher pressure the powder gas is at the muzzle, the more effective the brake will be. For example, the brake works stunningly well on my .460 Weatherby, but muzzle brakes on .458 Lott and .458 Winchester Magnum rifles don’t work as effectively simply because of the difference in pressure at the muzzle. They still work, but just not as effectively.

So, in my book, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages when it comes to muzzle brakes. They may not be totally necessary, but they certainly are nice. Something to think abou.

* * *

Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a WON Guns and Hunting Guns Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

• • • • •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Dickinson Sideplate Plantation Over/Under
A handsome shotgun!

Over time, we have been looking at the various models in the extensive Dickinson line and this time the subject is the Plantation Model over/under with sideplates and action that are color case hardened. Handsome shotgun, indeed.

The Plantation series is several cuts above the average in ways both large and small. For this effort, however, we checked out a rather specialized specimen – a .410 bore with 26-inch barrels, 3-inch chambers and choked full and full. This model features a single selective trigger system that is mechanical. This is proper because the .410 doesn’t deliver enough recoil for the internal inertia weights of an inertia trigger system to reset between shots.

COLOR CASE HARDENING gives the Plantation .410 a distinctive look and adds to the overall visual appeal of this well-performing gun.

When it comes to a hunting .410, that’s about as good as it gets. It combines a light (7 pounds even) and responsive gun with a pattern dense enough at all normal shotgunning distances to get the job done. For those who want an even lighter .410 over/under, Dickinson also offers a Hunter Light model that weighs 6 1/2 pounds.

Typically, the shot payload for .410 is 1/2-ounce for 2½-inch shells and 11/16-ounce for 3-inch shells. For doves, the 2½-inch shells with No. 7½or No. 8 shot work fine. When it comes to steel shot loads for the .410, a common combination is 3-inch shell, 3/8-ounce of No. 6 shot.

First, I took the .410 to the patterning board to see what kinds of patterns it shot, as well as where it shot them. My patterns looked similar to the pattern on the patterning target supplied with the gun – just a hair above 50/50 (which means it shoots right where you look) and dead-on left to right. Within the pattern, pellets were evenly distributed and the patterns from the top and bottom barrels fully overlapped, which means that the two barrels are perfectly regulated – something that is found only in better doubles.

The patterning board suggested a tight pattern, so I kept that in mind for a quick trip to the sporting clays range to do some pre-hunt checking out of the handling dynamics, etc. I am pleased to announce that all went well and when I did my job, clays were crunched at distances to 35 or 40 yards. What I did learn on the sporting course, however, was that the tight choking allowed almost no forgiveness. I was either on-target or missed totally – no chippers, for example.

With that info, I headed to the open desert for some early season doving. Any question about whether this is a valid hunting shotgun was answered quickly as a beautiful white-winged dove jetted just above the high bush line from right to left at almost exactly 20 yards. Although that is a bit closer than most shots at doves in the open desert, it was an almost perfect skeet shot from post 4. I visually focused like a laser on the bird as I mounted the gun, swung to it and just through it as the bottom barrel reported a loud “pop.”

CUT CHEKERING, COMBINED with an accent drop point in the stock, coupled with jeweling of the monoblock result in a gun that looks as good as it shoots. That’s nice.

A small cloud of feathers floated in the air as the bird dropped directly to the ground with an audible “thump,” stone dead on impact. A quick check of the bird showed that it took basically the whole load of No. 7 1/2 shot from the 2 1/2-inch shell.

Most of the remainder of shots that day were in the 30- to 40-yard range and when I hit the birds, they came right down. The most effective shooting style was to mount the gun while coming from behind and then torching off the round just as the muzzles went a tiny distance in front of the beak.

When the gun is lively and responsive, this is easy and effective. It should be fun to see how the gun works on quail. My guess is it will do just fine. Also, this would be a great rig for pheasants and chukar over pointers on hunting preserves. One thing is certain. It is a great bet for those who don’t want to lug a boat anchor around the hunting fields all day.

And, appropriately, the entire gun is scaled to the gauge. That means everything is the right size and shape for a proper .410. Balance is such that the gun is neither barrel nor butt-heavy. Often, .410s are barrel-light, which means they are hard to track and tend to go quickly past the bird. Not so with the svelte Dickinson.

This gun feels really right in the hands. It has a thin pistol grip and forend, with a Schnabel tip on the forend wood.

THE SVELTE DICKINSON .410 not only bagged doves, but was a real performer on the sporting clays range before the hunt.

Well-done point checkering in both pistol grip and forend enhance the purchase, or hold, which is instinctively firm. There are two nice touches on the stock. One is the way the checkering comes fully around the top of the pistol grip where the patterns from both sides meet attractively dead center atop the grip. This is something that is limited to serious guns that are as interested in aesthetics as function.

Another nice touch is the presence of “teardrop” drop points on either side of the stock just aft of the sideplates. The Turkish walnut stock and forend are both done extremely well. The fit of the sideplates in the stock is superb.

This is a handsome shotgun all around, and especially the color case hardening of the metal parts of the action and forend. The ventilated rib atop the top barrel features a single brass bead sight. The rib itself is cross-filed to reduce reflection and there are full side ribs between the barrels. A rubber butt pad completes the ensemble.

It looks like Dickinson has done it again. These folks are paying close attention to all details and the results in the field reflect how effectively this is done. Great gun. Lots of fun.

THE DICKINSON PLANTATION .410 over/under proved its mettle during the early dove season, taking both white-winged and mourning doves. Here, author shows a white-winged dove he took with the Dickinson gun.

• • • • •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Rifle bedding and accuracy go hand in hand
For decades, the race for accuracy in bolt-action rifles has focused on consistency, where the biggest challenge has been bedding the action.

Modern materials and manufacturing processes make it possible to create predictably accurate barrels. Laser-controlled computerized machinery make it possible for the action and barrel to be both square to each other and dimensionally proper in all other respects. Add to that advances in ammunition, which have come with advances in powder, primers and bullets, and everything is looking good.

But, if the action is not held in place securely enough for everything to be exactly the same from shot-to-shot and session-to-session, accuracy suffers. A half-century ago, 1.5 minute-of-angle accuracy in hunting rifles was considered good. Now, it is an inch or under, with some rigs delivering half that.

comus_mossbergvpMOSSBERG’S MVP CHASSIS rifle is intended for accurate long-range shooting. However, it is heavier and bulkier than traditional hunting rifles.

Traditional wood stocks present a number of challenges, not the least of which is their tendency to “move” over time – a kind of delayed warp, if you will. Oddly, some synthetic stocks suffer from creep, due usually to temperature changes.

When that is eliminated via free-floating the barrel, both wood and some synthetic stocks present potential problems in the action bedding itself. Differences in moisture in the air can cause wood to swell, or shrink, which means that what was the right tightness in one situation, is wrong in others.

Granted, these differences are tiny, but they count. The real problem is that when these inconsistencies are encountered together, the result compounds problems – not that one change is going to counteract the other.

Mauser addressed this situation in the latter part of the 19th Century by using a basic form of what is called pillar post bedding in which metal “posts” front and back provided consistent spacing, which meant it was much more difficult to over-tighten and crunch the wood while allowing enough torque so that even if the wood shrunk a bit, the action still was held tightly. This was the first step toward creating a “chassis” to bed the action and hold it securely in-place.

Synthetic stocks came onto the scene, but in many ways they faced the same kind of bedding challenges as did wood. That is until H-S Precision incorporated a bedding block of aluminum into a synthetic stock. With a free-floated barrel, the bedding block assured that the action remained cradled securely. Accuracy improved. This was the second step toward the chassis concept.


PATRIOT HIGHLANDER RIFLE from Mossberg is classic in design. This design could be morphed into a chassis rig with a chassis scaled properly for the purpose.

With the advent of the AR phenomenon, many of the traditional thought patterns in Gundom changed. AR uppers connect directly to aluminum bottoms, which means that there isn’t a traditional stock anywhere in the bedding arena. Rather than try to fix something like bedding gremlins, the modern rifle design merely avoided the subject entirely by making an end run around it.

The next logical progression was the “chassis” rifle in which a barreled bolt action is bedded in a metal (aluminum) chassis. These are the current long-range rigs that are capable of delivering accuracy more consistently than anything before.

For hunters, this may all be interesting, but how does a heavy, long-range tactical rig fit into most hunting scenarios? It doesn’t. However, that doesn’t mean that the chassis concept can’t be incorporated into hunting rifles.

It is only one small step from hunting rifles with pillar posts or full bedding blocks to hunting rifles that are chassis rigs. It is predictable that will come as companies evolve their lines of accurate hunting rifles.

Those companies that pay total attention to all of the necessary details will produce incredibly accurate hunting rifles. When this happens, hunters win. Yes, the future looks brighter all the time.

* * *

Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a WON Guns and Hunting Guns Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Dove decoys an important part of dove hunt
It’s time to start getting ready for the dove opener coming up Sept. 1, and that means now is when it is right to think about various things that may not have been on the “to do” list in previous seasons. Dove decoys for many hunters fall into this category.

Are decoys necessary for dove success? Not really. But they can help and certainly can’t hurt. Hence, when in doubt, why not?

In recent years I have been using decoys more consistently and am convinced that they have helped bring some birds into range that otherwise would not have been close enough to shoot.

DECOYS AREN’T NECESSARY when hunting doves, but they most certainly will bring more doves into your area than without the decoys, which can be as simple as a few simple rubber dove decoys on a fence to a complicated moving decoy setup or portable “tree” where you can put your decoys.

Whether decoys suck doves in from far away is debatable, but I have seen enough of them change their direction when flying a hundred yards or so away and head toward the decoys to be convinced that absent the decoys, they would have keep flying in a straight line that was not going to put those birds in range.

Granted, the object is to locate on a flight line so that the doves naturally fly right over the shooting spot. But even in places where the doves have established a pretty predictable flight path, there are enough of them that go by just out of range to justify at least attempting to decoy them closer.

The nice thing is that it really doesn’t seem to matter much how the decoys are placed. Just make them look a bit natural and all seems to work well. This means putting them in the branches of bushes or trees in spots that look like where birds might be – open enough for the real doves to see them from distance is about the only hard requirement. If they can be placed in a bush or tree in a way that they also can be seen in silhouette from afar, all the better, but that isn’t always possible.

If there is a fence nearby, put a decoy or two on the top wire. If there is a water puddle close by, place the decoy about three or four inches from the waterline. When doves drink, they spend about as much time about that far from the water as they do actually drinking, so it will look natural to them.

Or, enterprising hunters can take the equivalent of an old TV antenna, stick it in the ground and put a decoy on one or two of the cross-members. Only has to be six to 10 feet tall – just something to afford a landing place for the real birds.

FINDING A TREE like this means there are doves nearby in big numbers, as birds that are coming into or leaving a feeding or watering area frequently land in nearby trees to survey the area prior to committing.

I usually like to use three to six decoys, although more would be no problem. I place at least half of the decoys somewhere in an arc that is about half the distance of the longest shot. That means that whenever a bird is committed to the decoy, it is in range.

Then, I also place single decoys in a similar arc at the farthest distance I feel I can consistently hit them hard enough to bag them. That way, even if I see a passerby between the outer decoys and me, it is in range and time to shoot.

Different people see birds differently, so it is difficult to say out of hand when a dove is in range if it is just flying along. For me, if I can make out its bill clearly and see the eye, it’s time to shoot. If I can’t discern individual wing and tail feathers, it is too far.

For Eurasian collared doves, I depend initially on the different shade of gray, but hold off shooting until I can make out its head clearly. Depending on the angle, it is not always possible to see the black on the back of their necks.

Shoot straight and often. And always be safe.

* * *

Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a WON Guns and Hunting Guns Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

Page 1 of 40 First | Previous | Next | Last

Advertise with Western Outdoor News