By Josh Boyd
Ducks and geese are inherently tough. Unfortunately, most waterfowlers have learned this the hard way. When ducks or geese light into your spread, you must have full confidence in your gun, choke, and load, so that nothing is left to chance.
If you have spent any time in a duck blind, you have more than likely experienced ducks leaving seemingly unscathed, when just moments before they were feet down over the water and committed.
With a volley of gunfire, one would expect to be high-fiving and sending the dog. Only in this scenario, the rapid succession of gunfire is followed by head scratching and discontent.
In times like these, it only takes a matter of seconds for at least one hunter in the party to begin casting doubt on the viability of their choice in shells, or claim that their choke isn’t worth the seventy dollars they spent on it.
This as it may, shouldn’t these concerns have been seen to prior to heading out for the opening morning hunt?
It is true that all shotguns handle choke and load combinations differently. No two loads of varying brands or shot size will pattern the same. Nor will any two chokes throw the same pattern when firing loads from the exact same box of shells.
This is where patterning your shotgun prior to season really shines. No, patterning is not just for being able to brag to your buddies about how far of a distance at which you can shoot ducks this season, due to your new ultra-efficient choke and forty dollar box of shells.
Patterning is about ensuring that your chosen combination of shotgun, choke, and load can deliver a payload that will cleanly dispatch a duck or goose at a reasonable distance.
This brings to mind the next question. What is a reasonable distance? Even with ultra-modern loads, forty yards is typically considered the outside edge of the effective range of most loads.
Can a passing duck be killed at distances outside of forty yards? Yes, it happens regularly. But past forty yards, consistency regarding clean kills plummets, while the rate of crippling skyrockets.
Past forty yards, steel shot rapidly loses down-range kinetic energy. This leads to the peppering of ducks at extended ranges without the penetration to kill consistently. This is why although you might put a dense pattern on paper at 55-60 yards, ducks fly away as if never hit when shots are taken in the field at this range.
Therefore, patterning your shotgun at a maximum range of forty yards is highly advised. At this distance, you will gain a good idea of what your actual shot density looks like at the tail end of your load’s effective range.
Another reason for failed shot attempts on decoying ducks and geese is a less than optimum selection in shot size. Although at close distances, nearly any common size of waterfowl shot will get the job done, you can maximize your efficiency by tailor suiting your shot size selection to the scenario at hand.
When hunting teal, #4 or even #6 can make for a great choice, offering excellent pellet density while not going overkill in size.
If you are hunting wood ducks or other waterfowl of similar size, #3 or #4 tends to be a wise choice.
Mallards and other moderate to large size ducks are hearty and require a sufficient pellet size for a quick, clean kill. This is where #1, #2, or #3 is of value. Some individuals even prefer BB for tough to kill, sizeable ducks.
When hunting geese, BB or BBB is highly advisable. Geese can be difficult to take down cleanly, and will often shrug off a hit from lesser shot sizes.
On hunts where multiple types or species of waterfowl are expected to be encountered during a single outing, #2 – #3 are often the preferred shot sizes of many hunters. Although it might not be a bad idea to throw a handful of BB in your pocket, should goose action turn heavy.
Many waterfowlers choose to go afield with either modified or improved cylinder chokes at the business end of their shotgun. The exact choice of which choke is the flavor of the day usually stems from the circumstances of the hunt.
Modified chokes tend to make an excellent choice when hunting conditions make passing shots likely or when hunting ducks that have shown a tendency in wanting to land toward the outer edge of your decoy spread.
Improved cylinder chokes on the other hand, are typically the favorite of those experiencing in your face action. When ducks are readily decoying at close to moderate range, this tends to be the choke of choice.
Often times, much of a hunter’s decision pertaining to shot and choke selection comes down to personal preference or past experiences. After all, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. However, if any deviation from selections of the past are to take place, it is best to spend fifteen minutes to see how your new pattern fares on paper.
All of the decoys and competition grade calling in the world will be of little value if shooting woes prevent you from putting ducks and geese in the blind.
This winter, make proper choke and shot selections work for you, increasing efficiency and maximizing the enjoyment of your hunt along the way. With a little work on the patterning board, you will be well on your way to securing a limit of ducks and geese before breakfast has had time to get cold.