Of Ducks, Doves And Dolphins

Author shows a nice Mexican duck he took on the Benelli/Sitka Gear trip.

What does it really mean to be a hunter? Before I answer that age-old question, allow me to recount a time recently when ducks, doves and dolphins all played roles in the timeless saga that began eons ago when the first humans made their debut on Planet Earth.

The next time some huntin’ buddy brags about how well his dog does with birds, just ask guardedly whether that canine can measure-up to a pod of dolphins. No doubt, you’ll get a double-take.

Yet that’s the way it was for Josh Ward and me while duck hunting an inlet in the Sea of Cortez south of Ciudad Obregon in Mexico this past fall. Josh had helped organize the trip for Benelli USA and Sitka Gear.

We were situated behind a makeshift blind of cutoff tree branches, literally at water’s edge. It was a windless bluebird day, clear skies and not much waterfowl action. There were lots of ducks, but they decided to raft-up 150 to 200 yards away – out of range for our 20-gauge Benelli Ethos semi-autos. Great guns, but more about them later.

It’s one thing to watch distant floating birds when there also are some flying overhead for an occasional shot, but that wasn’t the scene that morning. ALL of the birds were floating on the water and out of range.

Then, suddenly across the small inlet, we spotted a dorsal fin above the calm water, moving slowly. Then there were two – perhaps as many as four at a time. It was a pod of dolphins on patrol, apparently chasing bait balls and chowing down.

Dolphins herded ducks during the expedition to the Sea of Cortez.

They were cruising the bay, slowly and methodically crisscrossing the water in the process. Didn’t take long for us to talk about other things and forget about the dolphins. Occasionally, we would look back at the rafting ducks in the distance.

After a half-hour or so, when Josh looked at the resting ducks, he noticed that they were a little closer than they had been before. That was an encouraging sign, but we had not yet put two and two together as to why the ducks were slowly paddling our direction.

The next time we checked the floating ducks, they were even closer, and behind them were a couple of fins sticking up out of the water, slowly going back and forth. Soon, it became clear that the dolphins were actually herding the ducks toward us.

Whether the dolphins had any real plan to do what they were doing will forever be a puzzlement. But, the fact is that they were definitely herding the birds in our direction.

We chuckled, imagining what fun it could be if the dolphins herded the ducks within range. Yet, the longer we watched, the more the birds kept swimming toward our decoys and us.

Josh Ward swings on ducks with Benelli Ethos 20-gauge shotgun from makeshift blind at in a bay on the edge of the Sea of Cortez.

When the leading edge of the big group of ducks swam within range, Josh and I stood up, the birds began to fly and Josh tripled – three shots, three ducks falling out of the air, splashing dead on the water.

The dolphins remained in the area for a while but disappeared as silently as they had come into view earlier that day. Their job was done, and a good job it was.

The remainder of the trip was outstanding, but absent an aberration as outlandish as dolphins herding ducks.

Headquarters for the expedition was Gabino’s Outdoor Adventures Mexico, an operation run for decades by the personable Frank “Gabino” Ruiz.

Gabino is rightfully proud of his hunting operation that includes everything from deer and wild sheep to doves, ducks, quail and even fishing. Attention to detail is the way of life for Gabino and his staff – top notch in every respect.

The hunting party consisted of Tim Joseph from Benelli USA, Ryan Bassman from Sitka Gear, Josh Ward with Blue Heron Communications (hi Gary) and writers Diana Rupp of Sports Afield, Joe Arterburn of Outdoor Life, Skip Knowles of Wildfowl and the author. Great group.

 Alternately over the three-day expedition, we would go to the cactus and mesquite-covered desert outside town and do some hot-barrel dove shooting, or we would go to inlets from the Sea of Cortez or freshwater ponds nearby and get in some more action, but for ducks rather than doves.

The area boasts 16 different duck species (like 2 million ducks in the area) during the late fall/early winter. These include pintail; gadwall; green, blue and cinnamon teal; black ducks; canvasbacks, Pacific black brant (they come late in the season), widgeon, and redheads. Both mourning and white-winged doves are plentiful.

A common denominator for the various hunting scenarios was the Benelli Ethos 20-gauge semi-auto shotgun. Cases of shells went through each gun without a hiccup – no malfunctions, just a bang every time the trigger was hit. And it was as though the guns had feather-seeking devices built-in because birds dropped with uncanny regularity.

The same 20-gauge Benelli Ethos semi-auto used for ducks did the trick for white-winged doves on the trip.

The Ethos semi-auto might be considered the sports car of the Benelli fleet of shotguns. It is light (weighing-in at just under six pounds), responsive and quick to the target. Unlike heavier guns, the Ethos does not require deliberate effort to use effectively. Rather, it is simply a matter of thinking the shot and gun does the rest as an extension of the mind through the hand and to the eye.

For travelling wingshooters, it also is about as handy as one could imagine. It breaks down easily and quickly, which means a short, handy carrying case for those long trips to and through airports, in and out of vehicles, etc.

And there is no perceivable disadvantage to using the 20 rather than the 12-gauge gun for most wingshooting.

For me, the really critical factor in high volume shooting is fatigue. Fatigue is much more a limiting factor than recoil or anything else. A light gun delays the time when fatigue sets in. With heavier guns, it is not uncommon for fatigue to be significant enough that the gun literally cannot be swung to the targets.

Benelli’s Tim Joseph shows a nice brace of white-winged doves taken with the Ethos 20-gauge semi-auto.

Even though recoil from a gun that fits well is not the primary gremlin, it still is a factor in high volume shooting. Hence, the Ethos has some features that make it logical for such use.

First, the fact that it is an inertia semi-auto spreads the recoil impulse out enough to take away any sharp sting. And, the inertia system shoots cleanly, which also can be a big factor in some international wingshooting expeditions. In some areas, the ammunition available burns dirty, so it is important that the gun not be hampered by some grit here and there. That alone is worth the price of admission. An easy locking system results in the bolt locking, even when eased forward.

The Ethos also has what Benelli calls its Progressive Comfort® recoil reduction system.

The Progressive Comfort recoil reduction system incorporates three sets of patented interlocking flexible buffers that absorb recoil at different stages, dependent on the strength of the shotshell’s load. These three sets of fingers each has a different elasticity, and the load used determines which sets of fingers are utilized for maximum recoil reduction. The first set of fingers is very flexible for light loads, the second set a bit stiffer for field loads, and the third set is optimized for heavy magnum loads.

Although it is not something that most folks think about much, the beveled loading port, redesigned carrier and new two-part carrier latch allow shell to glide into the magazine. This combination comes into its own during hot-barrel dove action. This translates into both easy and quick loading. One thing about semi-autos compared to break-open doubles (over/unders or side-by-sides) is that keeping a steady stream of shells going into the gun is simpler and quicker with a semi-auto. Not a big thing, but nice.

Diana Rupp shows some of the nice ducks she took on the same trip. Air boats were used to take hunters to and from seaside blinds.

Benelli cryogenically treats barrels and choke tubes to increase pattern density. For some shooters, this might sound like sales hype, because one notices the difference more when lots of shots are fired than when fewer are. For serious competition guns, and for high volume game guns, it helps deliver more consistent patterns and it also helps maintain the same point of impact, regardless how hot the barrel gets. Nice.

The Ethos’ easy to change high-visibility fiber optic sight system offers the option of three colors (red, green, yellow) and requires no tools to switch. I didn’t avail myself of this feature on the hunt because for me the color, or no color, really wasn’t a factor. For some shooters, however, it is, and for them, this is a nice touch.

Another nice thing was that it didn’t matter whether we were using the light dove loads or the heavier duck loads, the Ethos cycled them all with aplomb and without a hiccup.

So, whether it was blasting ducks with a dolphin assist or hammering doves in the desert, the Ethos proved its mettle in Mexico.

Although the 20-gauge models were used exclusively on this hunt, the Ethos now is available in 12, 20 and 28-gauge. Specifications include:

ETHOS Shotgun

Gauges: 12-Gauge, 20-Gauge, 28-Gauge
Chambered for: 2-3/4″ and 3″

The ETHOS is an elegant semi-automatic shotgun that is the culmination of Benelli’s latest innovations, refinements and design superiority, all centered around the core—Inertia Driven® System.

  • Progressive Comfort recoil reduction system
  • Beautifully figured AA-Grade walnut stock
  • Cycles the lightest loads, even 7/8 ounce
  • Improved ergonomics
  • Two-part carrier latch for quick and easy loading
  • Now available in 12, 20 and 28-gauge



ETHOS Shotgun – Engraved Nickel-Plated Receiver 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ and 3″

 10462 28″ AA-Grade Satin Walnut, Engraved 49.5″ 6.7 lbs. $2,099
 10461 26″ AA-Grade Satin Walnut, Engraved 47.5″ 6.6 lbs. $2,099

ETHOS Shotgun – Anodized Receiver 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ and 3″

 10452 28″ AA-Grade Satin Walnut, Anodized 49.5″ 6.7 lbs. $1,999
 10451 26″ AA-Grade Satin Walnut, Anodized 47.5″ 6.6 lbs. $1,999

ETHOS Shotgun – Engraved Nickel-Plated Receiver 20-Gauge 2-3/4″ and 3″

 10471 26″ AA Grade Satin Walnut, Engraved Nickel 47.5″ 5.6 lbs. $2,199
 10472 28″ AA Grade Satin Walnut, Engraved Nickel 49.5″ 5.7 lbs. $2,199

ETHOS Shotgun – Engraved Nickel-Plated Receiver 28-Gauge 2-3/4″ and 3″

 10480 26″ AA Grade Satin Walnut, Engraved Nickel 47″ 5.3 lbs. $2,199
The hunting party was treated to music by a mariachi band.

Yes, it was a splendid expedition. Great guns, great folks, great outfitter and superb numbers and quality of birds. The real “added value,” though, was the opportunity to watch dolphins herd ducks. Regardless how much time one spends outdoors in nature, there is always something new, something interesting and something exciting to behold. These are the treasures that enrich hunters for life and things that non-hunters can never even imagine. Trophy hunting? You bet! Trophy is a state of mind and a deeply personal realization that for some short period of time somewhere in the world, the hunter is both a witness to and a part of nature itself. That’s what it really means to be a hunter.–Steve Comus

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