By Mark Fike
I think most hunters have faced frustration after pulling the trigger on their shotgun “knowing” they were on target but the bird did not fall. Simply going to the store and purchasing a case of shells does not mean you will bring home supper no matter how great a shot you are.
I have learned this lesson personally a few times and I am very determined not to repeat that painful lesson this season. Part of my problem, and I suspect other’s problem, is we can be tight with our money without realizing we are wasting our money by not taking the proper preseason steps to ensure our shotguns are ready and able to humanely put down our quarry.
Take for instance a field goose hunt I was invited to with a friend. The guide is well known on the east coast and he specializes in calling geese to field setups. In fact, his team is so good I think they could call a goose out of a freezer to the spread of decoys.
I was pretty upbeat about the opportunity and decided to go well prepared. I purchased some expensive waterfowl loads in 3.5 inch size to ensure my birds fell dead as a nail when I pulled the trigger. I did not want to waste any ammo on this trip and I wanted no cripples.
The morning of the hunt was toe snapping cold with a harsh wind cutting across the field. In crediting the guide, I will say that he and his team not only scouted the geese well, but they found an overgrown fencerow in bright sunlight that was somewhat sheltered from the wind for us to hunker down in layout blinds during our hunt.
When the first flock of geese curled around in response to the guide’s calls and went feet down, the call for “Guns Up” came. I lurched to a sitting position, put my bead on the goose in front of me and pulled the trigger. I watched in such stunned amazement as the bird flew by unscathed as if he had Kevlar on. I did not even shoot again until the next flock came through.
I got the same results with shots at the second flock, except that round of birds got the full three-shot salvo fired at them from my gun. My host looked at me sideways as I am normally known to drill my targets easily. I started getting asked what kind of shells I was using to which I replied adding that they cost a pretty penny.
A lot of good the high dollar shells were doing when I could not hit a bird with them!
About halfway through the morning I took the lull in the action and swapped out my choke for a different one. The next flock of birds came through and I was back in good shooting form. While I think the choke I was using to actually kill the birds was not the ideal choke, it did improve my hit and kill ratio magnificently.
When I got home I set up a big cardboard box and grudgingly fired my expensive ammo at it at 30 yards with both chokes. The first choke I was using had huge empty spots in the pattern that were so big I thought I just missed the target at first. In fact, I shot again at the same target with similar results.
However, the second target I shot with the different choke yielded much better results. I could clearly see the difference in my pattern and no bird was going to fly through without getting put in my truck for a ride home.
I took the exercise one step further and pulled out a 2 ¾ version of the same basic goose load by the same company and shot a target. The pattern was extremely tight at the same distance and even more deadly than the 3 ½ inch round! Go figure!
I learned a valuable lesson that day after paying a few hundred dollars to go hunt. I should spend $10-$15 on shells to pattern the gun so I could go home with some meat.
Dove, September teal and resident goose season is upon us. Waterfowl season will be here very soon too. Take the time to pattern your shotgun and you might just be amazed at what you find.
When patterning your gun, use a big box to staple a clean target to and use the loads you plan on using in the field. Change out your chokes for several of the shells to find out which one works the best. Last, be sure to test at various ranges to see what happens to your pattern as you move further away.