Your shotgun of choice likely depends on age

Shotgun brand loyalty among hunters varies by region, but also by generation.

During my time in Missouri, for example, the old men in my skeet league shot Winchester 101 over/under 20-gauge shotguns. Field grade 101s weren't good enough for that bunch, though. They all shot Diamond Grade and Pigeon Grade models.

I was in my late 30s and early 40s then. Guys my age all shot Browning Citori over/unders, as they also did in Oklahoma in the late 1990s. Elderly quail hunters prized their Winchester 101s, but hunters my age preferred the Citori. Mike O'Meilia, the waterfowl biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, and Steve DeMaso, the ODWC's upland bird coordinator, taught me how to shoot skeet and to hunt quail. They, and almost everybody else in our skeet league, shot Citoris, but DeMaso committed heresy when he switched to a 20-gauge Benelli Montefeltro.

That also signaled a generational shift because that's about the time (1999-2000) when hunters my age began gravitating toward Benelli semiautomatics. The shift was prevalent among duck hunters who previously favored -- again, depending on age -- Remington or Browning semiautomatics. Older hunters preferred the Browning Auto-5, and younger hunters preferred the Remington 1100 and later the 11-87. The federal mandate to steel shot forced older duck hunters to closet their beloved Belgian Browning Auto-5s because steel shot damaged the soft steel of the Belgian-made barrels, especially those with full chokes.

I entered the Oklahoma Wildlife Department's shotgunning fraternity with a Ruger Red Label 28-gauge. Richard Hatcher, the ODWC's assistant director, traded me a field grade Winchester 101 12-gauge and some cash for it.

It's funny how some guns just fit right. The Winchester 101 was a very good match for me, but in the presence of all those beautiful Diamond Grade and Pigeon Grade 101s at the United Sportsman's Club, I felt deficient. I wanted something nicer, so I sold my 101 and bought a Nikko Golden Eagle, a Winchester 101 clone.

Actually, the Winchester 101 is a Nikko clone. The same factory in Kodensha, Japan, made both but reserved the choicest walnut for Nikko. The wood-to-metal fit was more precise on the Nikko guns, and the metalwork was fancier. They put a ho-hum scroll engraving on the 101 receiver. Nikko guns had gold eagles on the receivers and deeper, more luminous bluing.

It didn't matter that the Nikko was an improved 101. American hunters didn't want it. When Winchester ended its relationship with Kodensha, it also ended the 101.

In the early 2000s, Winchester resurrected the 101 under license with Fabrique Nationale, the Belgian factory that made the most desirable incarnation of the beloved Browning Auto-5. Browning deeply offended American hunters in 1976 when it licensed Miroku, a Japanese manufacturer, to make the Auto-5, the same factory that made the Browning BPS and the Browning Citori. The Miroku Auto-5 is a better gun than the Belgian, with stronger barrels that can handle the compression of steel shot. They also had interchangeable choke tubes.

American shooters rejected them, too. Even now they refer to Miroku Auto-5s with a racial slur.

Ironically, they also ignored the new and improved Winchester Model 101 because it is not "authentic." It is made in Belgium and not in Japan. However, they embraced the FN-manufactured Winchester Super X2, X3, and X4, even though the Super X-1 was made in Connecticut.

Ironically, nobody criticized Browning for sidelining its vaunted Belgium-made Superposed for the Japan-made Citori.

I got a 1973 Citori with fixed improved cylinder/modified bores a few years ago. It was love at first shot. The early Citori, with its beavertail forend, fits me perfectly. I love the solid feel of the beavertail and the way it cradles in my hand. I much prefer it over my 1967 Superposed Lightning.

Even so, when I shoot skeet and sporting clays, I use my Belgian Winchester Select 101. A friend very nearly talked me out of that gun. We shot a round of skeet together before I was to let it go. I shot a 24 and nixed the deal.

"I knew I should have given you the money before we shot," my friend said with a mixture of disdain and amusement.