There is little doubt America has taken a liking to a certain family of bearded duck hunters. In fact, big, bushy beards have become so synonymous with this beloved family that for the first time in waterfowling history, scraggly, camo-clad men are being accused of being "trendy," and women are swooning. And while I more than appreciate what the Duck Commanders have done to promote the joys of hunting, and what they've done for my dating life, I take a little bit of pride knowing I was a fan before this bandwagon got rolling. The average viewer of the hit reality TV show may wish to spend a day building duck calls or attending one of the great family dinners surrounded by the antics of Willie, Jase and the ball of fun that is Uncle Si, but my Duck Commander dream was created the first time I saw Phil chew an old cigar, tumble a doe in a moss-covered swamp and call in greenheads as if he knew them by name in the original "Duckmen" video series.
Though the viewing public probably wouldn't take as kindly to those old VHS videos as they do the current show, it's from those humble, grainy beginnings that the Robertson legacy is built. It's why you can now get the Duck Commander logo etched on just about everything from T-shirts to shotguns. It's also the only reason I still own a VCR.
Mossberg is the latest company to realize the appeal of the Robertson boys and has introduced a specialty line of firearms with Duck Commander-style accoutrements. Among them is the 835 Ulti-Mag Duck Commander edition with Mathews Recoil Reduction. While the base for this pump-action workhorse is not new to consumers—it was the first 3 1/2-inch pump shotgun to hit the market back in the late 1980s—it's been given several pieces of waterfowling flare that will appeal to the duck hunter and wears the family's stamp of approval.
The 835 is a 12-gauge pump overbored to 10-gauge dimensions and allows the use of 2 3/4-, 3- or 3 1/2-inch shells without the need for modification. While today its 3 1/2-inch capability may not sound impressive, in 1988 it was revolutionary. The 10-gauge overboring reduces pellet deformation, according to Mossberg, though I have yet to put fired pellets through a microscope for comparison. To soften the recoil of heavy-hitting magnum loads, Mossberg drills ports high in the 28-inch barrel, a simple fix that not only reduces muzzle climb, but also, at least to my eyes, is visually appealing.
In 2013 the company teamed up with the archery gurus at Mathews SoloCam to design a harmonic-dampening system in the synthetic stock, which includes two interchangeable combs (high and low). Mossberg claims the Harmonic Damper Technology will accomplish the same feat on its pump-action shotguns as it does on Mathews' high-end compound bows, namely reducing vibration and felt recoil by as much as 20 percent. Now, having shot both low-brass dove loads and shoulder-thumping 3-inch No. 2 duck loads through the 835 Duck Commander, I can say reduction in felt recoil was not enough to notice in action, but enough to bring my after-shot attention to the fact that I was able to stay on target extremely well between shots, dropping a pair of wood ducks. Without any other factors at play, I will give credit to the innovative system and barrel porting. (An 835 Duck Commander version without the Mathews system is also available.)
The 835 receiver, an aluminum alloy that helps keep weight down to a manageable 7 3/4 pounds, along with the barrel and synthetic stock are dipped in Realtree's newest waterfowl camo, Max-5, which disappears in a cornfield as good as it does in the Louisiana swamp. Mossberg replaces the standard front brass bead with a highly visible dual-color, fiber-optic sight from TruGlo. Dual action bars and extractors account for reliable cycling, and though the fore-end does have some wiggle, I never experienced a jam or malfunction through 50-plus rounds of various loads.
So, despite the hype and trendy appeal of America's favorite duck hunters, this is still an 835, one of the most tested and reliable pump-action shotguns ever developed, and that should be reason enough to pick up one. The fact that it comes complete with a Willie Robertson-style American flag bandanna is simply a bonus. Just don't wear it in a duck blind.
Type: pump-action shotgun
Barrel: 28"; vent rib, ported, threaded for Accu-Mag choke tubes
Sights: TruGlo Tru-Bead dual-color fiber-optic front
Safety: two-position, tang-mounted
Trigger: 7.5-lb. pull weight
Stock: synthetic, Realtree Max-5 finish; Mathews Recoil Reduction; LOP 14 1/2"; drop at heel 2" (low comb), 3/4" (high comb); drop at comb 1 1/4" (low comb), 3/4" (high comb)
Metal Finish: Realtree Max-5
Overall Length: 48.75"
Weight: 7.75 lbs.
Accessories: 3 Accu-Mag choke tubes (IC, M, F); low and high comb; sling; American flag bandanna