Steve Comus' Blog

    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. 
Non-tox for turkeys
Turkey hunting: keep it simple, if all you want is to bag a wild turkey.

When injecting non-toxic shot into the equation, everything remains straightforward if the distance from hunter to turkey is no more than 35 yards or so. Beyond that distance, everything gets incredibly more complex as the distance increases. 

WATERFOWL STEEL SHOT loads can work fine for turkeys, like Federal’s Black Cloud line. Here is a box of 3-inch 12-gauge with 1 ¼-ounce of #4 shot.

For non-toxic ammo, there are two major groupings: plain steel shot and all the others – the others including shot compositions that range from heavier than lead to 80 or 90 percent of the density of lead.

When it comes to plain steel shot, just about any waterfowling load that features shot sizes #3 through #6 with payloads of 1-1/8 to 1½-ounce can work on turkeys when shot through a gun with a standard modified choke, assuming the distance of the shot is 35 yards or less. Truth is that 20 yards is pretty much held as the idyllic distance for turkeys.

Virtually all turkey-specific loads on the market can work fine – lead or not.

Since the idea in turkey shooting is to put multiple pellets in the head/neck area, the denser the pattern, the better. Hence, a heavy payload of smaller shot at those distances is preferred. There are advantages to using 3 and 3½-inch shells.

For hunters using Bismuth shot, simply opt for a load with 1¼ ounce or more of #6 to #4 shot at 1,200 feet per second or more and shoot it through a traditional full choke for success.

The various loads that feature some form of tungsten shot CAN offer more range and tend to be the choices of truly dedicated hunters who do their homework, pattern loads through specific gun/choke combinations and practice their field shooting skills year-round. Loads with 1¼ to 2-ounces of tungsten-based shot at 1,200 to 1,400 feet per second can work fine.

When shooting really heavy-duty rhino-roller loads from a sitting position, there can be some tooth rattling when the gun goes off. Bloody noses and fat lips can be an adjunct to a successful turkey hunt. I prefer the lighter loads – more fun, less pain.

Regardless the gun/load, it is extremely important to pattern that combination to see whether the pattern is dense enough to hit the head/neck area consistently and to determine that the gun is shooting where the hunter is looking.

Could be that a choke slightly tighter is better, maybe not. Could be that one shot size up or down is better, or not. The only way to know for certain is to shoot several shots of any load being considered and see what the holes in paper indicate.

If 35 yards is to be the long shot, then pattern at 35 yards (closer shots will have denser patterns, so no need to worry about them if the 35-yard target shows a winning combination).

By doing that, when a big Tom does come to the call, wait until he is inside your effective range before taking the shot. That is, if all you really want to do is bag a wild turkey.

Benelli 828U Over/Under
Every once in a while, a gun is introduced that cries out for discussion. The new Benelli 828U over/under game gun is one.

Just the outward look of the gun suggests that it is something different. Its designer lines are not traditional. The barrel/receiver lockup system allows for use of an ultra-light receiver, which is very nice for a gun that is intended to be carried in the field all day.


BENELLI 828U NICKEL is a distinctive shotgun, designed for high performance in the field. This is a thoroughbred hunting shotgun.

“For the double-gun purist, Benelli’s newest offering delivers the mandatory point-ability, custom comb and drop adjustments and the kind of ergonomic feel and balance inherent to all fine shotguns,” Benelli reported. “The 828U is at once both contemporary and beautifully practical, from the smooth body and exquisite checkering to the wide, low-profile rib bridge, no side rib and monoblock treatment.”

The 828U features floating crio barrels and crio chokes, weight-reducing carbon fiber rib and high-grade alloy receiver, complimented by walnut stock, and forearm.

Durable steel-on-steel hinges, removable guard and easy-to-remove trigger system make for easy cleanup when the hunt is done.

The 828U comes in nickel-engraved and black anodized models and both sport interchangeable 26-inch or 28-inch barrels.

Drop and cast fine regulation means the gun can be tuned to 40 unique, personal settings in order to get that perfect fit and sight picture. The recoil-taming Progressive Comfort System is integrated into the 828U and helps keep muzzle flip to a minimum.


WHEN BROKEN OPEN, the Benelli 828U shows that fast reloading is easy, and that there is plenty of clearance for the gun to spit out empties when speed is required in hunting situations.

“From the first prototype to the final design, the 828U started and finished as a hunter’s shotgun—the style, weight and comfort which field and sport shooters appreciate is apparent the first time you pick one up,” said Tom Kaleta, VP of Marketing for Benelli USA.

The nickel-engraved version comes in at $2,999 retail, and the black-anodized model at $2,499 retail. The 828U will be available at Benelli authorized dealers in the summer of 2015.


12 Gauge

Barrel Length: 26" and 28"

Weight: 6.5 and 6.6 lbs.

Finish: AA-Grade satin walnut with anodized or nickel-plated receiver

Crio® Chokes: C, IC, M, IM, F

Sights: Fiber-optic front sight with red insert

Length-of-Pull: 14-3/8"

Drop at Heel: 2-1/8"

Drop at Comb: 1-1/2"

MSRP: $2,499 or $2,999 depending on receiver finish.

For information visit

Throughout history, companies have come out with designs that challenge the traditional parameters of visual perspective. Sometimes they are embraced by the marketplace, sometimes not.

Or, sometimes they create a kind of “cult” following, as has been the experience of Browning’s Cynergy over/under.

Certainly the price point of Benelli’s new model is squarely in the wheelhouse. The challenge for the company will be to get hunters to actually put their mitts on the new gun.

Aesthetics aside, there is no question that this gun handles extremely well and, given the company’s track record, I don’t doubt that they will work fine (haven’t had an opportunity to put one through the paces).

I predict that the 828U will do just fine. There is always room for another good gun.

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

Dickinson shotguns
Every year at the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trades (SHOT) Show, there is something that really stands out. This year it is the Dickinson shotgun line that is one of the most complete, new lines in the business.

Southern California’s own Tim Bailey is associated with this exciting new brand that includes everything from high-performance, affordably priced pumps and semi-autos, all the way through value-packed boxlock over/unders and side-by-side and right on through some of the nicest sidelock shotguns on the market today.

TIM BAILEY SHOWS one of the new Dickinson sidelock shotguns. These are great guns at great prices.

In recent years, there has been an expansion in the number of guns made in Turkey, and Dickinson takes that theme to logical maximum by sourcing guns from different facilities in Turkey, ending up with the best that each facility is able to produce.

For example, the facilities and people it takes to make good pumps and semi-autos are not the same as it takes to turn out working grade and high-grade break-open guns.

For the tactical crowd, there are five pump and five semi-auto models, including combo sets that include a vent rib “hunting” barrel as well as a shorter tactical barrel. This line is called the Commando Tactical.

Most hunting semi-autos are in what Dickinson calls its Gold Series Inertia System guns. These come in a wide variety of finishes and stock materials that range from wood to synthetic.

There are the Gold Series over/unders that feature boxlock actions, some with side plates. Very nice guns at really competitive prices.

Also there is the Elite Series of over/unders with trigger plate actions and the Estate Series of side-by-sides with trigger plate actions. The boxlock models are completed with the Estate Lux and Elite Lux models – still a higher level of pretty.

dicksonsidelockactionDICKINSON SIDELOCK ACTION is a seven-pin action that is a real thoroughbred. Here the sidelock has been removed from the gun and shows the inner workings.

For folks like me, however, there are the guns that really talk – the seven-pin true sidelock shotguns. We’re talking really, really nice here.

Both over/unders and side-by-sides are available with true sidelock actions, and these sidelocks are worth talking about. They are really nice. And, they are available, all the way from just really nice and pretty to downright gorgeous. Like fine engraving? That’s an option, as well.

So what we have here is a gun line that goes all the way from totally utilitarian pumps that retail for a very few hundred dollars, all the way to true sidelock, classic game guns that sell for as much as five figures – and a heck of a value at that.

Oh, I almost forgot. There also is a competition gun series called the Osso Series. These are over/under guns, with sub-models designed specifically for trap, skeet or sporting clays.

All the normal features one would expect, like screw-in chokes, etc. are also included in the various sub-lines of guns that Dickinson offers.

Check them out at the local gun shop. This is a brand that is worth keeping an eye on now and in the future. Regardless which grade or model, these guns are loaded with features that mean they offer really big bang for the buck.

A true carryall
I don’t very often get excited about something as basic as a sling – a device to carry things in the field. A sling is a sling is a sling, right? Not necessarily so.

One thing that decades in the fields, on the mountains and in the woods has taught me is that it is always better to hunt smarter than harder. Hard gets you tired. Smart gets you game. It’s that simple.

THE TENSING SHERPA sling is a really handy thing to have in the field when carrying things is part of the plan.

Usually when I talk about Tenzing products, the subject is some kind of pack. One of the best fanny packs I have used is from that company. So, when they announced a new sling, I took a look. Here’s what they say about it:

“The new Tenzing TZ SS15 Sherpa Sling is the ultimate carryall load sling – a relatively simple idea executed with maximum impact through Tenzing’s brand-defining engineering and attention to detail. The secret? The Sherpa Sling takes heavy loads off the back and arms and distributes them among the stronger muscle groups in the legs, shoulders and core.”

That means:

“The Sherpa Sling is designed to comfortably tote light or heavy loads, as well as any difficult or awkward-to-carry item. Sure, it makes a great bow, crossbow or rifle sling, but the TZ SS15 Sherpa Sling comes into its own when carrying the hunter’s tree stands, climbing ladders, coolers, decoy bags and more. Around the homestead, it’s the perfect tool for carrying propane tanks, firewood, hay bales… even laundry baskets. If you can secure the load with rope or any of the three included strap sets, the Sherpa Sling will carry it… easier and a lot more safely. The Tenzing TZ SS15 Sherpa Sling can attach to itself and be worn like a belt until its heavy lifting power is needed. When pressed into duty, the Sherpa Sling can be worn over a single shoulder, or across the body, bandolier-style.”

It is possible to use any number of straps, ropes and connectors to jury-rig the means to carry just about anything. The more awkward the shape/weight of what needs to be carried, the more complex such a rig needs to be.

That’s where the Sherpa Sling makes total sense. It is engineered to hold a really wide variety of loads in ways that make moving whatever it is easier.

The worse the terrain, the more that such rigs become important. For example, when negotiating the mountains, there is nothing more maddening than a shifting load, because the load always shifts exactly when doing so throws you off-balance. Bad news.

The Serpa Sling is among items to be introduced at the annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trades (SHOT) Show that is held in Las Vegas this month.


* 1¼-inch wide primary strap webbing

* 2¾-inch wide x ¼-inch thick non-slip Neoprene shoulder sling covered in Realtree Xtra Spandex

* 8-, 10- and 12-inch Hypalon carrying straps with Velcro closures to secure a variety of loads

* Duraflex hardware

* MSRP: $49.99

* * *

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

.30 caliber cartridge of choice
If hunters couldn’t kibitz about pet cartridges, what would they talk about around the campfire?

I am between deer camps – one here in the West for mule deer and the other in Wisconsin for whitetails. I chose caliber .30 for both.

In the recent deer camp, we were sitting around, chatting about rifles, cartridges etc. Normal discourse in camp, to be sure.

CALIBER .30 CARTRIDGES get the job done. Here, from left, are the .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield and .300 Winchester Magnum. They all shoot the same diameter bullets and the same bullet weights. Main difference is powder charge – bigger means more powder, which means more velocity for the same bullet weight.

Different folks had different ideas about what is best. When asked, I replied that for most hunting anymore, I use rifles chambered for the various .30 caliber rounds. Simplifies life.

On the mule deer hunt, I packed an HS Precision rig chambered for .300 Winchester Magnum, topped with a 6-24x Swarovski scope with TDS reticle. It’s a long-range rig, pure and simple. That’s because I was hunting canyons and open areas where longish shots are common.

That is the real reason for having a .300 mag – distance. Without getting into terribly detailed ballistics, the .300 mag gives a hunter a solid 100 yards more in usable distance when compared to the .30-06 Springfield, for example.

I rarely shoot long on game, but there are times when it is really handy to be able to do it with confidence. So, that’s why I was using a rig that delivers quarter to third-inch groups at 100 yards, and which shoots flat enough to go beyond the effective hunting distance of 400 yards for the ’06 and its .270 Winchester sibling.

For the whitetail hunt in Wisconsin, I am taking a new Ultra Light Arms rig in .308 Winchester, topped with a Leupold 2.5-8x36mm scope. NULA proprietor Melvin Forbes made up the rig for me, and it overlaps bullet holes at 100 yards.

Since I do not need the distance offered by the .300 mag on the farm in Wisconsin, where the longest shot possible is 200 yards, a handy, light little .308 makes total sense. Easier to take up and down from tree stands and easy to use, once in the confines of a tree stand, where sometimes it is handy to shoot from the opposite shoulder, etc.

The last time I hunted in Wisconsin, I used a .30-06 rig. Worked great. And for practical purposes, there is no effective difference on a hunt between an ’06 and .308.

Over the years, I have gone through caliber “phases.” Started out with .31 and .30, went to 7mm, then to .270 and now, back to .30. They all work fine.

It is heartening to see the .308/7.62 NATO make a significant market comeback as a result of the Modern Sporting Rifle ethic. I find myself using it more and more as the years pass. With today’s high tech bullets, it can do just about anything needed between varmints and big dangerous game.

One of these years, it may be the only cartridge family I still use for most hunts –.308 Winchester, .243 Winchester, .260 Remington or 7mm-08 Remington. All fine, short cartridges that fit nicely into light, handy rifles.

* * *

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

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