Ask five people their idea of what makes a good camp gun and you’re likely to get at least five different answers! Well, my personal idea of a camp gun is something that’s rugged enough to withstand harsh conditions, can withstand long periods of exposure to the elements or periods sitting idle in a closet or vehicle trunk. It also must be simple to use and inexpensive enough that I won’t feel bad if it gets banged up, scratched or rusted. A camp gun is a tool to me, its something that’s going to get used, not babied. It also has to be compact and handy enough to easily pack, carry, or store in a vehicle trunk, behind the seat of a truck, or out of the way in a cabin somewhere. That leads me to the topic of this latest review of New England Firearms’ 12 gauge Pardner shotgun, suitably modified for camp and trail use.
NEF has been making simple, reliable single shot shotguns for a long time now, first under the Harrington & Richardson name, then as New England Firearms, and now as H&R 1871. H&R still uses the NEF brand name for their basic models with the H&R label being reserved for their higher end offerings, although all H&R products are modestly priced. H&R 1871 is currently a subsidy of Marlin Firearms.
At the core of the H&R/NEF line is a simple break open single shot known in its shotgun form as the Pardner. This shotgun is an exposed hammer type with an automatic ejector. In basic trim, it has a 28 inch blued barrel with bead sight, a case hardened receiver and hardwood stocks. I’ve used a number of these guns over the years and fond them to be rugged and simple firearms. The fact that there are few moving parts means that there is very little that can go wrong. These guns see a lot of use as youth models and as first shotguns for hunters due to their inexpensive price tag. They are under $100 U.S. and often as low as $80 at the larger retail stores. Best of all is a simple manual of arms. It’s a good trainer, but they often end up getting put in the back of the closet as shooters advance and move on to more sophisticated pumps, semis, over and unders, etc. Well, maybe it’s time to either break out that old Pardner or pick up a new one and add it the inventory…
Camp Gun Creation
My NEF was a gun such as that described above. It was a friend’s nephew’s gun that had sat idle for a number of years and eventually fell into my hands as part of a trade. Frankly, I didn’t think I really had a use for it either as I had a number of pump shotguns that saw regular use. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a Choate Machine and Tool catalog that I had a vision….
Choate Machine and Tool (hereafter referred to simply as Choate) is a long time manufacturer of synthetic stocks for the firearms industry. I’ve used their products in the past and handled them on a number of firearms. I had just ordered a buttstock for a Mossberg 590A1 from them and received their catalog with my order. While perusing it, I saw that they listed stocks for the H&R/NEF shotguns. They carry conventional styled buttstocks and fore ends, a thumbhole stock with a hollow compartment in the butt called the Survivor, and a trimmer thumbhole model called the Tamer. They also have an optional fore end with a hollow compartment for more storage space.
Now, I had seen that NEF markets a .410 shotgun called the Tamer with a synthetic fore end and stock, and had even given it some consideration as a camp gun. I’d never owned a .410 before, though, and was a bit unsure of its capabilities. So, I never moved on my curiosity. After seeing the Choate catalog, I realized that they apparently made the stocks for NEF and they made them not only for the .410’s but for 12 and 20 gauge models as well. Hmmm…..
So after a quick phone order and a short wait, I had in my hands a Tamer stock for my 12 gauge Pardner along with a conventionally styled synthetic fore end. I had briefly considered the Survivor buttstock and hollow fore end, but decided to pass on that idea. While those items have the potential for you to store survival equipment or other odds in ends in them, they appeared bulkier and that wasn’t the role I foresaw for my NEF.
The Tamer stock is a pretty streamlined unit. While a thumbhole design, it is also skeletonized and fairly compact. It has a short length of pull (13 inch) and a modest drop to it. As an added bonus, it has a 3 round shell holder in the skeletonized portion of the butt, which makes use of otherwise wasted space. The shell holder comes as a separate piece so if you didn’t want to use it for some reason you could just leave it off. The fore end is a simple synthetic piece with a narrow profile.
Mounting the stock to the shotgun was fairly easy, although having to work within the confines of the skeletonized portion of the buttstock to screw in the mounting screw was more awkward than it should have been. Still, the installation was pretty straightforward and was accomplished with a minimum of cursing and bruised knuckles. Looking at the gun with the new stock installed, I immediately realized there was a problem. Handling the gun confirmed it. The barrel was just way too long for this stock configuration. I’m sure it would have worked, but it looked awkward and felt a little awkward as well. It was too front heavy and just didn’t fit in with the foreseen role as a handy, easy to pack and carry camp gun. So out came our friend Mr. Hacksaw!
To comply with local and federal gun laws I cut the barrel back to a modest 18 inches in length. You could probably go 20 inches and still have a pretty well balanced piece, but I wanted to trim the size down as much as possible. I had a large brass bead mounted on the end of this stubby tube and my creation was complete! If NEF calls their .410 the Tamer, then its 12 gauge bigger brother has got to be the Uber Tamer.
The end package was pretty much what I envisioned in a good all around camp gun. It’s short with an overall length of 31 3/4 inches, and it’s relatively light weight at just around 4 pounds. Best of all, it’s very handy and simple to operate. The short length of pull is actually a blessing as it’s easy to shoulder the gun even with a heavy winter coat. So, it’s all season friendly as well. The stock is weather resistant and while the bluing and case hardening is nothing special, it’s held up pretty well so far with basic maintenance. Total cost of the is project would be well under $150 even starting with a new gun. You’re looking at $80 for the gun, $50 for stocks, another $20 to have the barrel cut and a bead mounted–depending on how much of the work you can do yourself.
Being a 12 gauge, I feel the Uber Tamer has enough punch to do anything you could ask of a camp gun. With light loads it would do for small game and varmints and with buckshot and slugs, it’ll take down most anything on four or two legs as the need arises. That’s something that I had my doubts about with a .410. The .410 fills a narrow niche, but the 12 gauge covers a wide range of diverse possibilities. You just need to tailor your ammo to your perceived needs. Typically I carry No. 6 game loads and 12 gauge slugs. For the part of Western Pennsylvania where I live, that combination should do for any sort of game or critters that I might have an interest or a need to shoot.
I’ve used this NEF now for a number of years now with very good results. It has seen time at the range for casual testing, rode in the back of my SUV on many an excursion to the woods, and been on hand in the camp or the cabin. Okay, okay, so I’ve dragged it around with me for a while now, but how does it shoot you ask? Well, to be honest, it kicks like a mule! Keep in mind this is a lightweight 12 gauge with a short barrel and a short stock made of hard plastic and with no recoil pad. The butt also has a slight curvature to it reminiscent of some older carbine stocks. That style doesn’t do much to transfer the recoil well in my opinion. A flatter shotgun style butt would have been welcome, as would a recoil pad.
Still, for the gun’s intended role of being always available but shot only occasionally, it isn’t that much of a concern. With game loads, you can usually shoot a few boxes before your shoulder begins to complain. Slugs and buckshot bring about the protests much faster—usually within 5 to 10 rounds. I’m not sure of any realistic scenario where you’d be firing that many rounds through a camp gun in a short period of time, so I find the recoil an acceptable trade-off to the handiness of the gun.
I shoot skeet with this gun at least a couple times of year just to stay in practice. It does surprisingly well at this despite, or perhaps because of, the short barrel. By cutting nearly 10 inches off of the original tube, I’ve removed most vestiges of the original choke so the pattern opens up fairly quickly; not enough to keep it from making solid breaks on clays though, so I suspect that’d be good enough for defensive work and the opportune game getting.
Slug performance was surprising to me. I didn’t have very high hopes of how well I’d do with a short smoothbore barrel and a bead sight. Still, at 50 yards from a standing position I could easily engage a silhouette target and keep 3 rounds within a hand span. I felt was plenty adequate for an 18” smoothbore with a bead sight.
If I were recreating this gun today I might make a couple of possible changes. I’d seriously consider adding a fiber optic sight or possibly even a tritium sight instead of the plain bead. The plain bead is functional, but having a sight that’s easy to see in low light certainly couldn’t hurt and the cost of either of these for a shotgun isn’t really prohibitive, even for a budget priced field gun. A rust resistant finish would be a bonus, as would a recoil pad! I’d give some thought to sling swivels as well, although I don’t think they’re an absolute requirement on a gun like this. It’s very light to carry and trim enough to slip along the compression straps of an internal frame pack or into a ski or gear pocket on others.
The final thing I would consider if I were to make another Uber Tamer would be to consider the 20 gauge platform instead. I like the 12 gauge for its power and versatility and still think it’s a good choice. But, if I were making this gun for others to use (such as my wife) or didn’t want to deal with the thumping of full power 12 gauge loads, I’d give the 20 gauge a long hard look. You can likely do most of what you can with the 12 gauge for camp gun purposes and spare yourself some black and blue marks in the process!
Speaking of changes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’ve actually recently allowed the Uber Tamer to pass on into new hands in that fine American tradition of preserving the heritage and appeal of reliable firearms that have been with us for more than just a few decades. The Uber Tamer is still going strong as a camp/truck gun for a friend of mine, and I’m now working with another H&R camp gun as this article is being written. The new project revolves around an SB2 Handi Rifle action and a 16 1/2 inch .357 Magnum barrel. I’m likely going to add a 20 gauge barrel to that set up and possible a .223 barrel as well. Once that new projects is fnished, perhaps I’ll do a follow up article on the Uber Camp Gun Mark II.
The Harrington & Richardson/NEF shotguns are one of the real sleepers on the market today in my opinion. I think you’d be hard pressed to find another shotgun as well made and reliable for the money and they have a long track record of reliability and durability. They may not have the visual appeal of a high end double or the bell and whistles of the latest semi-autos, but they’ll provide solid pedestrian service for years and years. With a few inexpensive upgrades they can become even handier still, and end up being a superb camp gun that’s there when you need it.
H&R 1871, LLC
60 Industrial Rowe
Gardner, MA 01440
*CHOATE Machine & Tool, Inc.*
116 Lovers Lane
P.O. Box 218
Bald Knob, AR 72010
Phone: (501) 724-6193
Fax: (501) 724-5873
Toll Free: (800) 972-6390
Website: RifleStock.com <http://www.RifleStock.com>