Editor’s Note: Is it fall yet?

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By Andrew Johnson

I own a couple shotguns, which is more than some people, I guess, and probably not as many as others.

I love guns. I know that doesn’t make me unique or even weird in these parts. In fact, I’d venture to say for once it might make me seem normal. After all, men and women who love the outdoors tend to also hold a certain affinity for firearms, and rightfully so.

But the fact is I only really use one of the shotguns I own. It’s an old Remington 870 Express Mag with a black synthetic stock that I bought when I was fresh out of college for $249.99.

At the time, the price was right, and I was still young and dumb enough to where I didn’t cringe at the thought of what 3.5-inch, 12-gauge loads could do to a man’s shoulder and ear drums.

I’ve now been in a relationship with her for the better part of two decades. Sure, there have been illicit affairs with other shotguns of all makes and gauges along the way, but she’s been through the wars with me.

Desperate times — often the result of severe mental lapses, lack of better judgment and sometimes both — call for desperate measures. Though the ol’ 870 has been my faithful companion on the usual pheasant or waterfowl trip, she’s also acted as a giant Swiss Army knife more times than I care to admit.

I’ve used her as an oar and a push pole, as a shovel to help dig a truck out of a snow drift, as a club to ward off one rather ornery badger and even as a lever jack to get the axle of a duck-boat’s trailer off the riprap and back onto the boat ramp. And those are just a couple of her finer attributes and accomplishments that I can share with you here …

I admit I wasn’t too faithful to her this summer, as she’s been locked up in the gun safe since the spring turkey season. However, I recently moved, which meant it was time to pull all the guns out of the safe, get them to their new home and wipe them down after a ride in the Dakota humidity.

With the ol’ 870, I decided it was finally time to pull off her enhanced fiber-optic jewelry from turkey season and try to remember where I put that darn steel bead in hopes it could find the threads on the end of her barrel one more time.

I smiled when I pulled her out of her case to make her ready for the safe again. She still had the familiar scars of past trips on her dull barrel and matte-black synthetic stock. Some Missouri River mud was just where the two of us had left it, solidly ingrained in the forend and stock’s textured grips, the results from an ill-fated Lake Oahe duck hunt where my eyes were matted shut from a sudden rash of pinkeye.

I’ve tried scrubbing the mud off a time or two, but that stuff is now one with the gun, as sometimes it should be. There were even a few strands of badger hair still stuck in the buttstock pad. Or, at least I hope they were badger hairs. Who knows.

I was able to find the bead, which is nothing short of a miracle if you know me and my penchant for misplacing important things, and it took just fine to its old home on the barrel.

After I switched out the extra-full turkey choke for a mod and double-checked her action, just to make sure that familiar shucking sound rang true, I tucked her away back in the safe, knowing I’d see her again soon.

The whole experience might have lasted about 20 minutes, which was 10 minutes longer than it needed to be. But those old, familiar feelings from my love affair with that beat-up ol’ 870 came rushing back and filled me with a fond sense of nostalgia and eager anticipation for this fall.

There are shinier, more reliable guns, and like I mentioned, I’ve even got a couple of those, too. But I know when it’s time to don the orange and load up for pheasants come October I’ll go to the gun safe and only one shotgun is coming out.

Like a comfy pair of old blue jeans, she fits me just right. I love that ol’ 870, and I’m no longer ashamed or embarrassed to admit that fact.

After all, she’s a lot like me — far from perfect, scarred on the inside and out, sometimes fickle and faithful to a fault. Just handling her for a couple minutes told me she’s ready to see what adventures lie ahead in the farther reaches of the Dakotas this fall.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re looking ahead to the upcoming pheasant season with the same level of excitement. That said, I hope you enjoy this digital Pheasant Fever issue of Outdoor Forum. It’s packed with hand-picked feature content from die-hard pheasant hunters that will help prepare you for hunting pheasants this year in the Dakotas.

Along those same lines, please take time to check out the advertisers in the following pages who help make Outdoor Forum possible. They’re just as excited for fall as you are, and they can’t wait to point you in the right direction when pheasant season finally arrives.

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