Make your first shot count.

That's good advice that I absolutely never follow.

And sometimes that proves more painful than others.

Like all duck hunters, I consider myself to be pretty nimble with a scattergun. I can make most birds within reasonable range explode in a puff of feathers - but only with my second and third shots.

My first shots are about as accurate as Aaron Brooks' passes.

I know the reason why; it's because I sit there in the blind watching the birds work, hitting them with a feed call, or a comeback call when they get suspicious, they circle, and circle and circle ... and then finally they lock their wings (is there a prettier sight on earth?) and commit to their doom.

While all this is going on, my heart is about to leap from my chest, and my hands, numb and wet from the chilly dampness, are about as steady as a wino on his third day of detox.

Like a young boy playing hide-and-seek, I can hardly keep from wetting my pants.

Finally, the birds arrive within range, and I jump up and blast off a quick round at them.

But I might as well shoot that shot into my shell bucket because I seldom hit anything with it. Occasionally one of the birds will keel over and plummet into the spread, but I'm certain a necropsy would prove those poor souls died of a heart attack rather than my well-placed shot.

After my first-shot miss, however, I instantly realize my opportunity is about to get away, so I slow down, take a deep breath, place my cheek against the stock, pick out a bird, swing through it, and fire.

And they fall almost every time.

I then pick out another fleeing bird, and repeat the process, and it works again.

Why I can't do this on my first shot, I'll never know. But I just can't.

And that can be a problem considering my choice of weapons. I shoot a Winchester 12-gauge that looks like it's been run over by a truck. If Wayne LaPierre ever saw this gun, he'd sue me for neglect.

It's got more rust spots than a '60s-era Chrysler, and its guts are worn and gritty.

It is, in short, a duck gun.

I've used it numerous times - with it unloaded and the action open - as a walking stick, and it's even doubled as a pirogue paddle.

Inglorious, I know, but hey, I view it as a tool not a trophy.

And I just love the way the old gun shoots. It fits me well, and it throws a beautiful pattern.

But its years of ill-treatment are beginning to show. The gun has a tendency to jam on the first shot, and given my noted failures with first shots, that can be a real problem.

Especially on days when the ducks just aren't flying.

Two years ago, I had just such a day while hunting alone on a lease near Caernarvon.

The skies were high and blue, and the winds were nil. Besides that, there weren't many birds in the area to begin with. I should have been at work or at home painting the shed, but instead I spent three fruitless hours in the duck blind.

I decided that at 9:30 I'd call it a hunt, and head for my truck.

The magic hour came, and I was just about to gather my stuff when I heard an unmistakable quack in the air behind me. I wheeled around to see a mallard hen and two drakes - with their giant green heads glistening in the sunshine - looking keenly at my decoy spread.

I couldn't believe my good fortune. The Caernarvon area loads up with gray ducks, teal and occasional widgeon and pintails, but you've got about as much chance of seeing a Mexican tree duck as a mallard.

And these birds were wanting to come into my spread.

I let the small flock pass over my head, and then hit them with a soft greeting call. They took about as much coaxing as a love-struck groom on his wedding night.

All three locked their wings while turning and losing altitude. They were coasting perfectly into the landing area I had left in the middle of my spread.

I picked out one of the drakes, begged my heart to settle down, and jumped up, my boots sinking in the wet grass as I rose.

Without much thinking about it, I fired the first shot. All three birds relieved themselves, and flapped like barnyard chickens trying to gain flight.

I pressed my cheek against the stock, stared down the barrel, picked out one of the drakes, swung through him and pulled the trigger.

Nothing.

The exiting shell had jammed the action, and the gun wouldn't be ready to fire again until after a few-minutes' work.

I watched helplessly as my two drake mallards followed their love interest toward Lake Lery.

Now that I think about it again, it hurts just as bad as it did that day.

Maybe it's time to get a new shotgun.

If you're in the market as well, here are some options to consider before you head to your local gun store.

Benelli

At the 135th NRA Annual Meetings, Benelli was presented The Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence Award for the new Benelli SuperNova as 2006 Shotgun of the Year.

The Academy honors companies, products and individuals who best represent excellence within the shooting industry. Voting Academy members include key industry leaders representing every level of the shooting sports business.

The Benelli SuperNova with ComforTech is the softest kicking pump-action shotgun in the world. Whether you're shooting 2 3/4-inch target loads or 3 1/2-inch magnums, the ComforTech stock reduces recoil up to 48 percent over the competition's pump shotguns.

The SuperNova's new modular design concept makes it quickly convertible into a wide range of special purpose guns. From field to slug to turkey to tactical, the three different stocks and six different barrel configurations make the SuperNova one shotgun that can not only do it all - it can do it better.

"Our marketing and design efforts to bring the recoil-reducing features of the Super Black Eagle II to the pump-gun market have been realized," said Benelli Product Manager Jason Evans. "A consumer now has the option to economically acquire a SuperNova pump-action shotgun with the same ComforTech recoil-reducing performance of Benelli's semi-automatic shotguns."

For more information, visit benelliusa.com.

Beretta

In 2002, Beretta introduced the original A391 Xtrema. The gun quickly garnered Field & Stream's "Best Gun of the Year Award," Guns & Ammo's "Editor's Awards for Gun of the Year" and American Rifleman's "Bull's Eye Award."

In the relentless pursuit of excellence, the company's engineers have once again set the benchmark for a "do-it-all" shotgun in the form of the new Xtrema2.

This superb auto-loading shotgun was designed and built to reliably function 2 3/4-inch 1-ounce loads through brutal 3 1/2-inch magnum loads - interchangeably if you so desire.

The Xtrema2 has more recoil reduction features than any shotgun on the planet, including:

• Gas operation with recoil reduction that no inertia-operated shotgun can ever match. The Beretta gas system is considered the best in the world. The gas system is completely self-contained with no loose inertia springs or O-rings to lose while field-stripping.

• Elastomer bolt damper to lessen the impact of the bolt and minimize the recoil signature.

• Beretta's Optima-Bore overbored barrel to minimize recoil and optimize pattern efficiency.

• Beretta's competition-proven spring/mass recoil reducer located in the stock grip (included in standard and KO models). This feature minimizes the recoil felt at the shooter's face and shoulder, in addition to improving acquisition of follow-up shots.

• Beretta's Gel-Tek recoil pad to evenly distribute recoil over the entire surface of the pad.

• Kick-Off Reduction System (on optionally equipped models) that utilizes the proven automotive technology of hydraulic dampening.

Altogether, the Xtrema2 reduces recoil 44 percent more than its closest rival.

For more information, visit berettausa.com.

Browning

Blend the most technologically-advanced over-and-under available with the lines of a traditional shotgun, and you have the new Browning Cynergy Classic Series.

Like the original Cynergy, the Cynergy Classics feature the ultra-strong MonoLock Hinge that yields the lowest profile receiver of any 12-gauge over-and-under.

Other innovations include the exclusive Reverse Striker ignition system, featuring mechanical triggers and a rifle-type striker system to improve locktime and reduce overtravel. Impact Ejectors incorporate two springs for positive ejection every time.

This advanced technology is surrounded by a finely finished walnut stock and forearm. The Cynergy Classic follows the Browning tradition of innovation, beauty and a perfect fit every time it comes to the shoulder.

All 12- and 20-gauge Cynergy shotguns feature lightweight, back-bored barrels. These barrels have a bore diameter increased to its maximum specification. This reduces the friction of the shot charge against the barrel wall, resulting in increased shot velocity and reduced recoil. Additionally, because there is less constriction or pressure from the forcing cones on a shot charge, there are fewer deformed pellets, which leads to more uniform patterns than with standard barrels.

Ported barrels are featured on Cynergy Sporting models in 12- and 20-gauge. Barrel porting works in conjunction with the new low-profile receiver to further reduce felt recoil and muzzle jump. These reductions serve to increase shooting comfort and improve the speed and accuracy of follow-up shots.

For more information, visit browning.com.

Charles Daly

Charles Daly has three new grades of over-and-unders, the Model 105, Model 106 and Model 206, to go along with a new side-by-side, the Model 306.

The Model 105 is a great looking over-and-under with some basic features at a remarkable price. Available in 12-gauge only right now, this model has a silver-engraved receiver, Turkish walnut stock, double triggers, extractors and fixed chokes at an MSRP of $399.

The Model 106 is an excellent over-and-under with many more features and in-laid receiver with a MSRP of $549. Available in 12-, 20- and 28-gauges and .410-caliber, this model includes a blued receiver with four gold bird inlays, Turkish walnut stock, single selective trigger, extractors and multi-chokes.

The Model 206 is the company's top-of-the-line over-and-under for 2006. It is absolutely beautiful with an introductory price that is incomparable.

Featuring an elegant silver receiver with select Turkish walnut stock, the Model 206 incorporates a single selective trigger with selective automatic ejectors and multi-choke tubes. It is available in 12-gauge only in both hunting and competition models.

At a starting MSRP of $599, it has to be seen to be believed. Some who have seen it already have commented that the wood alone would be worth the cost of the shotgun.

The Model 306 side-by-side is another great value. Featuring an elegantly engraved blued receiver with Turkish walnut pistol grip buttstock and beavertail forearm, this fine double has a single-selective trigger, extractors and multi-choke tubes.

It is available only in 12-and 20-gauge, and the MSRP is $649.

For more information, visit charlesdaly.com.

Kimber

The Kimber Valier is a light, lively and properly scaled bird gun in both 16- and 20-gauge. Traditionally featured, each has double triggers, fixed IC/M chokes and an English stock with generous 14.75-inch length of pull to a 24 lines-per-inch hand-checkered butt. Barrels join and lock into the receiver in the proven chopper lump system.

The Grade I Valier is stocked with grade-three Turkish walnut, has extractors and a color case receiver. Grade II models move up to grade-four Turkish walnut with strong character. Also, Grade II receivers are finished in a choice of color case, blue or elegant bone charcoal. Automatic ejectors are included.

Both models have gold line cocking indicators, splinter forend with slight Schnabel, articulated front trigger and niter blue triggers, pins and hammers.

Both grades are available with 26- or 28-inch barrels, and the 20-gauge accepts 3-inch magnum shells.

Valier shotguns are wonderfully finished. The compete receiver as well as trigger guard, lever, bolsters, barrel border and forend furniture are hand-engraved in a classic scroll pattern with coverage of 50 percent. Wood is hand-checkered at 24 lines-per-inch, then finished with hand-rubbed oil. Barrels wear Belgian rust blue.

Kimber shotguns are sold directly to consumers or through dealers. Those interested should visit kimberamerica.com.

Mossberg

Built from the rock-solid foundation of the Mossberg 835 pump-action - the original 3 1/2-inch shotgun - the new Mossberg 935 Magnum semi-automatic is an impressive performer to say the least.

Constructed to handle the hardest-hitting 3- and 3 1/2-inch payloads, this is a shotgun that doesn't hold back on features.

Just shoulder the 935, and you immediately appreciate the seamless integration of stock and forearm to receiver - a receiver, it should be noted, that is painstakingly set at a perfect angle to generate instant eye-rib alignment for rapid target acquisition.

You'll appreciate as well the fiber-optic sights on both waterfowl and turkey models when used in low-light conditions and the magazine quick-unload button for when the day is done.

But make no mistake, the 935 is not about collecting compliments mounted on the wall. It's about filling a game bag. With a new self-regulating gas system that vents excess gasses to aid in recoil reduction while eliminating stress on critical operating systems, that's exactly what it's set out to do.

The 935 Magnum is available in a variety of the latest hi-definition camo patterns to blend into your favorite hunting location. Patterns include Mossy Oak New Break-Up and Shadow Grass, Advantage Max-4 and Realtee Hardwoods HD Green, all specially developed to conceal you from prying eyes.

For more information, visit mossberg.com.

Remington

The Remington Model 1100 autoloading shotgun has earned a solid reputation worldwide on the range and in the field for more than four decades, and continues today to be the most-popular autoloader in the marketplace.

Now future generations can count on the same reliability, smooth handling and soft recoil of the Model 1100 in a new, enhanced 2 3/4- and 3-inch version - the Model 1100 G3 in 12- and 20-gauge offerings, delivered in a lockable, hard case.

The performance-driven design of the G3 autoloader makes it capable of handling 2 3/4- and 3-inch shells, and incorporates features that enhance the gas-operating system, reduce wear and improve cleaning of the time-proven Model 1100.

Starting with the solid carbon steel receiver, the G3 wears a Titanium PVD (physical vapor deposition) coating that provides an attractive yet durable finish. All internal operating parts (action bars, action bar sleeve, action spring, locking block, hammer, sear and magazine tube) are honed and feature a nickel-plated, Teflon coating, as do the trigger and extended carrier release.

Other improvements include a pressure compensated barrel that enables the use of light 2 3/4-inch target loads interchangeably with heavier 3-inch magnum loads.

The 12-gauge versions of the G3 have overbored vent rib barrels that utilize the new custom-designed ProBore choke tubes. The 20-gauge versions feature the versatile Rem Choke system on the carbon steel vent rib barrel.

Beyond enhancing the performance, the Model 1100 G3 wears the look of modern elegance with the all new Realwood Semi-Fancy carbon fiber laminate stock featuring high-gloss finish and stylized machine-cut checkering, chrome-finished operating handle, script "R" logo on the grip cap in a contrasting titanium finish, and the receiver is handsomely embellished with stylized engraving.

For more information, visit remington.com.

Rossi

Rossi shotguns are the timeless, single-shot, break-open-breech design updated with the most modern safety features. These shotguns feature a spur hammer, transfer bar action and breech-locking system that prevents the action from opening or closing when the hammer is cocked.

This makes Rossi shotguns perfect for beginners, especially the smaller and lighter youth models, which feature a shortened stock and barrel for younger shooters. Wide, powerful ejectors eliminate lost time removing spent hulls or unfired shells without compromising safety.

Perfect fit, combined with beautiful wood and deeply finished metal, makes these firearms a unique gift for a beginning shooter or a great present for yourself.

For more information, visit rossiusa.com.

SKB

The SKB Field Model is designed to provide the hunter with a well-balanced, fast-shouldering shotgun.

The guns are dimensioned for consistent point and swing control, and are available in 12-, 20- and 28-gauges and .410-caliber.

Just because one might not shoot a field gun as much as a competition gun doesn't mean that it shouldn't perform like one. SKB's Field Model shotguns are packed with serious competition performance features, including lengthened forcing cones that reduce felt recoil and pellet deformation, oversized (back-bored) 12-gauge bores on all 85 series over/unders and Briley choke tubes.

All of these components work together to create a very soft-shooting shotgun that produces extremely uniform and dense patterns.

Field models are available in 585 Silver/Gold, 585 Standard and 505.

For more information, visit skbshotguns.com.