When I've written previously about Wendell Diller, the subject primarily has been the "long gun" he developed -- a 7-foot-long shotgun that fires without sound, or very little sound.
An inventor, Wendell, 68, of Oakdale, came up with the long gun idea out of necessity. The crow hunting spots he hunted north of the Twin Cities for so many years increasingly became dotted with homes, and he needed a way to shoot at one of his favorite targets without disturbing the peace.
Since then, he has employed the gun primarily for urban shooting, sometimes of geese, sometimes, when loaded with special slugs, at deer.
More quietly -- quieter even than his long gun -- Wendell's been working the past 10 years or so on an invention that just now is coming to market. Announced last week by Winchester at the SHOT -- Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade -- Show in Las Vegas, Wendell's shotshell tracer soon will be available in Winchester AA Tracker 8-shot target loads.
Over the past year or so, Winchester reached an exclusive licensing agreement with Wendell to build for mass production, and market, the special shells. The best news for shooters: Twenty-five-shell boxes will sell for only $1 more than similar Winchester shells without tracers.
Development of the special tracer -- which also acts as the shell's wad -- is a major breakthrough that will allow shotgunners for the first time to see whether they're on target, and if not, see placement of their shot relative to the target.
"There have been many attempts to develop tracers for shotguns, but most involved pyrotechnics similar to tracers used in the military," said Wendell, who holds four patents on the wad. "The problem was they came with the possibility of starting fires, and they were expensive."
For now, the tracers will be available only in 8-shot target loads.
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In the most flattering sense possible, Wendell has been a bit of a gun nut since childhood. Growing up in Oregon the son of a minister, he once considered also becoming a man of the cloth.
"When I was a kid, I started out with guns and ammunition by designing and building my own reloading equipment," Wendell said. "I can remember my mom saying, 'Wendell, you'll never amount to anything because all you do is play.' Which was true -- and it's still true. I like to play with stuff and figure it out."
Wendell moved to the Twin Cities in 1976 and today works for Magnepan, which builds and markets mid- to high-end speakers of the kind favored by audiophiles. Thus his fascination (recall the quiet gun) with sound and how to amplify it, as well as minimize it.
Wendell's hunting car, as I've mentioned in previous reports, is a 1978 Plymouth Volare wagon with a slant-6 under the hood.
Try to find one of these babies with a 4-speed on the floor, as his has (he's replaced the original tranny). Better yet, try to find one that still purrs when its odometer has rolled past 435,000 (he rebuilt the engine once).
The Volare's body, Wendell will concede, is nothing to write home about. Painted with Wal-Mart spray cans, it shows its age. Yet rust is minimal, mostly because every year Wendell crawls underneath the old girl to undercoat her with a sealant concoction he's developed.
"The Volare will probably outlast me," Wendell said.
Regularly, Wendell and I take his car while hunting late-season geese in the backwaters of various Twin Cities area rivers. To accomplish this, we wear waders while walking atop thin ice alongside Wendell's old canoe, onto which, on one side, a stabilizing outrigger is affixed.
When, as planned, we break through the ice, we can climb into the canoe knowing it won't tip, thanks to the outrigger.
We then paddle to our hunting area.
This year, on the last day of the Wisconsin goose season, Wendell's wife, Galina (she's from Russia; they met on the Internet), came along, flopping amidships in the canoe atop our decoys and other gear after the ice gave way.
We didn't kill any geese that day. But the food was great: Galina brought a small charcoal grill and fried pancakes containing enough fruit, grains and other ingredients to weather a Siberianesque storm, if need be.
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One morning last week, Wendell and I met at Metro Gun Club in Blaine to shoot some of the new tracer shotshells.
The shells worked as advertised, flying with discharged pellet loads up to about 40 yards.
"They'll be great for beginners and experienced shooters alike," Wendell said.
In simplest terms, Wendell said, the wad, upon leaving a shotgun muzzle, spins like an arrow's fletching, allowing it to fly straight while capturing one-eighth of the shell's 1 1/8-ounce load.
"At 40 yards, the wad will separate from the shot, because the shot is more efficient," Wendell said. "But 40 yards is plenty for shooters to see where they're aiming."
The new tracer shells are expected to be in retail stores within a few months.