When I was about 10 years old, my father introduced me to quail and rabbit hunting on my grandmother’s farm north of Carl Junction.
On a calm, sunny November morning, we released two flocks of quail and multiple single, double, and triple quail at point-blank range. As a young and budding rookie, I was lucky enough to drop a bird with my H&R single shot 16 gauge shotgun. Oddly enough, my father missed several consecutive shots with his Winchester 12-gauge pump-action shotgun.
With temperatures in the mid 20s, the quail held firm, providing ample opportunity for optimal mid-range harvest shots.
Ralph Costley, a World War II US Army veteran and a skilled wing shooter in his day, often loaded his shotgun so fast on approaching quail that he had to wait for the birds to fly away several meters to avoid blowing them to pieces.
Tight shot patterns tend to destroy upland game at close range.
But that morning, my father couldn’t do anything squatting. With each failed attempt, he grew more and more frustrated.
“I wonder if my shells have buckshot in them,” Dad joked, knowing they did. We followed him to his mother’s barn so he could test the patterns of the granules at different distances on the grayish weathered pine siding.
After three or four shots and examining the pattern of each, my father concluded that his 2 3/4-inch Remington Peters cartridges in No. 8 lead shot were not defective. He attributed his long series of failures to having a bad day. Dad said the shells threw off good patterns, but not as good as the loads he fired during previous seasons.
All these years later, I’ve decided that when it comes to granule patterns, good isn’t good enough. Marginally adequate granule patterns just don’t cut it. Choke constriction, manufacturer, projectile length, pellet size, shot type, and powder grams all affect patterns. To achieve the best pattern, it is essential to design your shotgun in varied ranges with different brands and load settings.
Most hunters would not consider going big game without zeroing their range. On the other hand, many do not give the same consideration to the pattern of a shotgun, especially for small game and mountain game. For several years, I was counted among the many.
Why didn’t I get used to modeling shotgun loads decades ago before hunting rabbits, squirrels, quail and pheasants? I would certainly have put more meat in the freezer.
I’m embarrassed to admit that the first time I modeled a shotgun loadout was for spring turkey hunting. I discovered the load that best fits my Mossberg 835 12 gauge pump action shotgun. Featuring a .695 constriction HS Strutt Undertaker full choke tube screwed into the muzzle, the best performing load to date is Winchester Double X (formerly Supreme) shells in a 3 1/2-inch magnum with 2 ounces of copper No. 6. plated lead shot. Remington Nitro in No.5 3-inch lead shot is in second place.
Every time I’ve pulled the trigger on junior and mature gobblers out to 40 yards it has resulted in bang flops with no escape.
Are there other brands and load combinations that work better in my shotgun? Maybe, but why fix what isn’t broken?
Of course, there are extended loads of turkeys on the market that go well beyond 40 yards. I’m not interested in shooting a longbeard in the next county. To each his own.
An ideal time to craft a shotgun is in the off-season, when you’re not in a hurry. If you need it during the season, that’s fine; it’s better late than never.
Basic pattern materials are a roll of paper at least 36 inches wide; half sheet of plywood; a staple gun; a 15-inch string to draw a 30-inch circle, the recommended diameter for an effective shotgun pattern; and a felt tip marker. Or to simplify the process: a standard sheet of copy paper marked in the center with a marker or crayon dot one or two inches in diameter.
Because a variety of loads from multiple manufacturers can show marked differences in patterns, it is best to photograph as many brands as possible to achieve the desired patterns.
Missouri pigeon season kicked off Thursday with a variety of fall and winter small game and highland hunting seasons to follow. It’s still not too late for charging patterns.
Keith Costley lives in Baxter Springs, Kansas, and is an avid fisherman and hunter.