Rob Roberts has a little advice for some duck hunters — don’t forget your gun.
“We have hunters who will spend a lot of money for a place to hunt, send their dogs to training for months, have nice equipment and then when they get ready to hunt they grab a gun that Dad used 20 years ago,” said Roberts, owner of Rob Roberts Custom Gun Works in Batesville.
Too often, Roberts said, the most important hunting accessory is the one taken for granted.
“One of the biggest mistakes that most duck hunters make is believing that their gun is indestructible,” Roberts said. “Most guns can be used hard, but do need to be cleaned and oiled to last and the other is that they shoot straight. Most shotguns do not.”
Over the years, Roberts has seen all kinds of issues with guns. For him, the bottom line is trying to make the hunting experience better.
“We do many things to improve the shotgun’s performance,” Roberts said. “The most important thing to improve is the pattern. If you have great patterns, you will limit faster and actually save money because of less ammo.”
The pattern, or grouping of shot at a given yardage, is basically affected by the size of the choke tube in the business end of the barrel. Other parts, like the forcing cone between the chamber and the bore of the barrel, can be adapted as well to affect shot patterns.
These are the areas in which Roberts operates.
“What we do a tremendous amount of to improve a customer’s shotgun for patterns is lengthening and polishing the forcing cones, the test pattern on our computerized patterning machine and choke tubes,” Roberts said. “When we are finished the customer can see the patterns and know that they are getting the right load/choke combination that works the best in their particular gun.”
Many factory choke tube holes and some after-market installations are not in line with the shotgun barrel and the misalignment can lead to inaccurate shooting. Roberts and other custom gun makers try to head this off.
“Once again, there are lots of gimmicks out there when it comes to choke tubes,” he said.
Roberts uses a one-inch, parallel section as the final constriction in the choke tube, which allows the shot pattern to hold longer. Gun makers often use the analogy of the garden hose — put your thumb over the end and you will spray water further with more force.
Roberts’ customization takes some of the guesswork out of deciding which chokes to use.
“The less that you worry about what chokes to use, the more you concentrate on shooting the target,” he said. “Our chokes can be used for lead, steel, hevi-shot, etcetera.”
Another gun modification is porting, putting rows of vents in the barrel to exhaust gases externally.
Roberts said porting keeps the muzzle jump down and takes recoil off the head and neck area, especially the cheek, though some doubt its usefulness.
“There are lots of companies, including factory-style porting that has given porting a bad name because, quite frankly, theirs does not work,” he said. “In order for porting to work it needs to be on the top 45 quadrant of the barrel and a single row so that you are getting the full benefit of the barrel being pushed down as the blast goes off. Kind of like a top fuel dragster’s exhaust comes up at similar angle to keep the car pushed down as it heads down the track.”
Just make sure your buddies have hearing protection if your gun has barrel porting.
“Porting has a downside if you hunt pits,” Roberts said. “The noise level does increase and even though the shooter does not hear any difference, your hunting buddy will if you swing in front of him on the shot.”
For those with money to spend there is one other top option for hunters, the pricey option of a custom gun.
“Not everyone can afford a complete custom gun,” Roberts said. “The custom guns are awesome because you are getting every luxury available to fit every need.”
For those on more of a budget, Roberts recommends choke tube constrictions and barrel porting and is willing to advise customers which combinations of ammunition and adaptations will best suit their needs.
“For the folks, that do not want or cannot afford all the luxuries of a custom gun, I suggest them to get their gun to shoot at its utmost patterns by doing barrel work and getting the right choke constrictions and loads,” he said.