Shotguns for the Season
By Steve Meyer
With the waterfowl opener nearing the 100-day countdown mark, some hunters might be considering a new shotgun. The new autoloaders put out by Benelli, Beretta, Browning and Winchester have gained a wide appeal in the waterfowling world, largely due to their ability to resist the harsh elements encountered. Alaska, with some of the worst conditions a waterfowler can enjoy, demands a firearm that can take a lot of abuse. But for some of us, no matter the conditions, the grace, elegance, point-ability and relative compactness of the superposed or over/under (O/U) shotgun is what we hunt with. For a long time the shotguns available in that design were not very resilient to bad conditions and hunters were reluctant to take their beautiful O/U into the duck marshes.
Ceska Zbrojovka, known to American shooters simply as “CZ,” changed all of that with their introduction of a series of field-grade O/U shotguns with qualities making them outstanding harsh-environment shotguns. The series originally included the Canvasback, Mallard, Redhead and Woodcock models. The Canvasback (fixed chokes, single selective trigger) and Mallard (choke tubes, double trigger) featured no auto ejectors and were rather plain. The Redhead and Woodcock hosted single selective triggers and auto ejectors with better wood and distinct receivers. Most important, all have chrome-lined barrels and black, hard-chrome finish on the exterior barrel.
Intrigued with the prospect of duck hunting with an O/U that I didn’t have to clean every couple hours in the field, I acquired a CZ Woodcock in 12-gauge with 28-inch barrels prior to the 2007 season. All of the CZ O/Us are built on a modern boxlock action; the Woodcock sports false sideplates that like the receiver are case-hardened steel. The stocks are of straight-grained Turkish walnut, not fancy but infinitely serviceable. The fit and finish is what you would expect from a gun meant for the field. It isn’t on par with higher grade, much more expensive shotguns but still looks very good. My Woodcock came with a 14.5-inch length of pull that I promptly cut to 13 inches (short arms and bulky clothing). Spending an average of 55 days hunting waterfowl in the saltwater mud of the Cook Inlet tidal sloughs, this shotgun has had virtually every conceivable environmental condition thrown at it. It has been completely submerged in brackish water countless times. It has spent days in driving rain, snow and the salt spray of sea duck hunting. The stocks are prolifically marked with gouges, or as I refer to them, signs of character. The muzzle of the bottom barrel suffered a blow when someone dropped it out of a floatplane while unloading that leaves it out of round but still patterning fine.
After seven seasons the barrels, inside and out, remain pristine. The outward signs of wear show in the scars on the stocks and the lack of case color on the receiver and sideplates. The case hardening has simply worn off, as it will on any firearm that is used hundreds of days in tough conditions. The various visible moving parts of action show typical wear with no malfunctions. The lock works housed under the wood just forward of the pistol grip have some rusting in the springs. In order to get at the inside workings the buttstock must be removed. The bolt holding the buttstock on has a 12mm head and goes through a hole that allows very little room to accept a socket. Using a thin-walled socket solves the problem. A couple of times a season I remove the buttstock and thoroughly clean the inner workings and then coat them with Break Free. The bearing surfaces where the barrels settle into the receiver are coated with RIG gun grease or Brownell’s Action Lube. A bit of this grease on the choke-tube threads prevents them from seizing up as well. The action of my Woodcock, after hundreds of birds, remains tight.
Does it shoot? The stock dimensions on the CZ O/Us provide a drop at comb of 1.5 inches and drop at heel of 2.25 inches. Fairly standard for field guns and for me it shoots where I look as well or better than any of the hundred-plus shoguns I’ve owned. Of course this varies from one shooter to the next, but several good shooters have tried my CZ and all have hit well with it. It digests all manner of lead, steel and tungsten shotshell loads with no extraction or ejection difficulties. The only mechanical issue I’ve had was my own doing. Completely disassembling and cleaning the action before last year’s opener I had incompletely installed a spring in the selector mechanism and after a day’sworth of shooting the gun would only fire one barrel unless I manually selected the second barrel. Not the gun’s fault and easily corrected once I was able to take it apart and see the problem.
Cost is surprisingly affordable for a shotgun of this caliber. The bottom of the line CZ O/Us can be had for under $600; the Redhead, which is their flagship of the O/U line, for under $1,000, and the Woodcock, now deemed the Wingshooter with some cosmetic changes, remains under $1,200. I don’t believe there is a better O/U shotgun for Alaska waterfowl conditions. I enjoy using the 20-gauge and the 28-gauge for decoying waterfowl and thus have added a 20-gauge Redhead and a 28-gauge Woodcock to my hunting battery. Some might say I have more O/U shotguns than should be allowed. I can’t help it, though; I love shooting the superposed gun and most days in the field now find me carrying one CZ O/U or another.
No, CZ doesn’t provide me with guns, it just happens to be an excellent product that is worth a look by any wingshooter contemplating a superposed shotgun.
Steve Meyer is a contributing editor for Hunt Alaska magazine.