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Category Archives: gun hunting

Don’t Forget To Breath

Whether we are at the range shooting targets, or in the field hunting, breathing is important. We want our sight, scope or pin to be on its mark when we pull the trigger.

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Education, shooting positions and firearms are all very important to shooters. Breathing is a very important factor as well. We all breathe. From the day we were born we have unconsciously learned to breathe in and out. That natural motion can help or hinder during shooting.

Controlled breathing is a necessity in shooting accuracy. When you breathe in and out your chest rises and falls. This movement can cause your gun barrel or arrow sight to float on its target. Your breathing may cause you to move at the exact moment you pull the trigger to fire.

Sometimes when you are hunting, you get excited and/or the terrain and conditions cause your heart rate to accelerate. Your breathing becomes more rapid and harder to control. If you hold your breath, you may become light headed and your shot may be off target. It is important to practice your breathing techniques as you practice shooting positions at the range.

There are multiple methods of breathing during a shot. The best thing to do is practice them and determine which works best for you. Once you’ve determined your breathing technique, practice it so it becomes instinctive when you are under pressure.

untitled4Exhale & Pause – When you are in shooting position, put your cheek against the stock of the gun. Take in a deep breath. Exhale just a portion of that breath, pause briefly and pull the trigger. The pause should allow you to hold your gun barrel and sights in perfect alignment on the target at the very moment the gun fires.

Inhale & Pause – Relax and practice steady breathing. Double check your shooting position. In your rythm of relaxed breathing, inhale. When your lungs are about half full, pause and pull the trigger. The inhale and pause is similar to the exhale and pause method. Your gun barrel and sights should be in perfect alignment on the target at the exact moment the gun fires.

Full exhale – Make sure you are in proper shooting position. Breathe slowly to relax. Focus on your target. As you breathe naturally, and you are at complete exhale, pause when your lungs are empty and squeeze the trigger.

untitled2Breathe Naturally – Breathing naturally takes the focus completely off of breathing technique. You do not  pause at all. Focus on your form and your target as you breathe naturally and squeeze the trigger. Sometimes being consciously focused on breathing can increase heart rate and breathing patterns. The natural breathing technique takes the focus off and you begin to unconsciously form a habit of correct shot timing.

When you are pausing, remember just that. It is a pause, not a hold. When a shooter holds their breath, their muscles tighten and their heart rate can change. This will dramatically change the accuracy of a shot.

While you are practicing, if you become short of breath, stop. Re-group and practice your natural, relaxed breathing. It is important to steady your breath to decrease the amount of movement your body is making. If you are able, step back. Take a deep breath in. Then exhale and then reacquire your target.

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Geared Up: Cleaning your gun

Most know that cleaning a firearm is a necessity for ownership.  This not only helps prevent malfunction and missfire but can also help bullet path and accuracy.  What most don’t know is that the average gun owner does not clean their firearm correctly which can lead to major headaches down the road 🙂

Here are a few great tips to set you straight

Step 1: Clean barrel and metal parts
Step 1: Clean barrel and metal parts with good commercial solvent.
Step 2: Bore should be cleaned through breech end
Step 2: Bore should be cleaned through breech end where possible.
Step 3: Clean bore until dry patch comes through as clean
Step 3: Clean bore until dry patch comes through as clean as possible.
Step 4: Run oily patch through barrel
Step 4: Run oily patch through barrel.
Step 5: All metal parts should get light coat of oil
Step 5: All metal parts should get light coat of oil.
Step 6: Store in horizontal position
Step 6: Store in horizontal position, or with muzzle pointing down.
Step 7: After storage, run a clean patch through bore
Step 7: After storage, run a clean patch through bore before firing.
Step 8: Remove all excess grease and oil
Step 8: Remove all excess grease and oil.
Click to view pdf of this diagram
With clean gun in hand, enjoy the hunt!

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Sighting in Your Rifle

So you’ve acquired a new hunting rifle. After saving your hard-earned cash and landing permission from your other half, the gun rests in your hot little hands. It looks great, feels great… it probably smells great… but more importantly does it shoot great? Now its time to hit the range and get this baby sighted in.

Truth is the same holds true for rifles we’ve had for many years. Chances are they don’t require the full-meal-deal, but sighting in, confirming that our equipment is in good working order, or realigning sights is something we should do on a regular basis.

Unfortunately many of us try to kill two birds with one stone. We visit the range infrequently and attempt to sight in and practice shooting all at the same time. It’s important to remember, sighting is very different from regular shooting practice. The process of sighting in involves aligning the scope (or other sights) with the firearm when using a specific bullet and load. Shooting practice involves discharging and often experimenting with different positions to allow our bodies to grow accustomed to the form and function of shooting.

k_wilson_sighting_in2Believe it or not, many of us don’t sight in properly. It never ceases to amaze me how many hunters pick up their guns once or twice a year, assume it’s shooting straight and hit the woods without a second thought. As a professional outfitter I see it all the time. In fact, I’ve seen guests take it personally when, after arrival in camp, I ask them to take a few practice shots – just to make sure their gun is properly sighted in. As though I’m insinuating that they haven’t prepared for their hunt, once in a while I get a hunter who thinks I’m a control freak. Then the truth comes out. After a few shots it becomes obvious; better than half are inevitably in need of scope adjustments. Every one swears that they were shooting one-inch groups at home, but now their rifle requires major scope adjustments. In their defense, a multitude of things can happen to guns in transit. Blunt trauma to cases or directly to the scope itself can throw it way out of whack; hence the need to sight it.

To be honest many of us are guilty of not maintaining our rifle and scope. If you shoot regularly that’s one thing; you’re constantly checking it and tweaking the scope when necessary. In reality, most of us don’t. By in large, recreational hunters pick up their guns a few times each year. Whether you’re tuning a brand new rifle or confirming the accuracy of an old one, here are a few tips for sighting in:

1) Bore sight your rifle before shooting
k_wilson_sighting_in3This first step applies mostly to rifles and scopes that have a new marriage. The first time a scope is mounted to a rifle the gunsmith will usually use a bore sighting tool. This tool is used to approximately align the crosshairs of the scope with the rifle barrel. Unfortunately some folks erroneously rely on bore sighting alone to zero their gun. Remember bore sighting can be precise but most often it only approximates accuracy. If, when you visit the range, you discover that you’re not even hitting the paper at all, consider rough bore sighting your gun. Practical with bolt-action rifles, by removing the bolt, you can stand behind the gun, look through the barrel and center the target. Then without adjusting the gun, look through the scope and make the necessary adjustments to bring the crosshairs in alignment with the target. This should get you hitting the paper in no time, then you can move on to shooting.

2) Shoot from a stable platform and rest
To reliably confirm the accuracy of your rifle and scope, you must shoot from a rest. I’m not sure I should say this or not, but I will. To illustrate the naivety of some, I’ve actually witnessed guys trying to sight in their rifles at the range by shooting freehand from a standing position. Needless to say these are the guys that get frustrated because they’re not hitting anything.

Remember, when we’re sighting in our rifles we’re not testing our shooting skill, but rather the accuracy of the gun, scope and bullet being used. Our goal should be to eliminate or at least minimize human error and allow the equipment to do its thing. With this in mind, a stable shooting bench or table is always recommended. Most shooting ranges are furnished with suitable tables or benches and adjustable stools. If you’re using a portable bench, make sure it is resting level on solid ground. Likewise, it’s imperative to use a shooting rest. In my opinion a vice can be that much better. I really like MTM Case-Gard products (www.mtmcase-gard.com). They make a variety of shooting supplies that are both affordable and practical. Few of us exhibit perfect shooting form. By understanding the biomechanics involved with aiming, breathing, squeezing the trigger and following through we can better acknowledge how to eliminate torsion while shooting from a rest. By cradling the rifle fore-end on a rest or in a vice, we can align our sights with the downrange target and maintain that alignment for a long period of time. Then, by gently squeezing the trigger to discharge, we minimize our human influence thereby allowing the firearm to perform more or less on its own.

3) Begin at close range, then move out to 100 yards and further
I’ve heard much discussion about the standard 100 yard shot and arguably for most bore-sighted rifles, sighting in at that distance is fine. But talk to the pros and most will agree that you should begin at 25 yards if you want to do it right. Making adjustments at close range is easier than at longer distances. At 25 yards you’ll find it easier to acquire your target; it simply appears larger and is easier to center the crosshairs at this short distance. Inaccuracies are simpler to rectify and adjustments can be made quickly at that distance. Remember, inaccuracies are exaggerated that much more at greater downrange distances.

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As you make your fine adjustments to your scope, be aware of the increments and don’t overdo it. For example, with my Leupold VXIII, one click = 1/4 inch adjustment. So, if my shots were hitting consistently two inches to the left of center, I would likely need to dial the adjustment eight clicks in that direction, then shoot another round of bullets. Some folks disagree, but in my opinion it is better to make subtle adjustments, then shoot to confirm that you are working toward the zero mark. As long as there are no fliers, a series of three shots is typically representative of where the gun is shooting. Although with today’s scopes I don’t believe it is as crucial, I still like to give it a firm tap to seat the crosshairs after each adjustment.

When your rifle and scope are in sync at 25 yards, move to 100 yards. Most big game rifle and bullet combinations that are sighted in a couple inches high at 100 yards will shoot a hair low at 25 yards – with most deer hunters this is considered ideal (e.g., I like my 300 Win Mag to be 2″ high at 100 yards). Once your rifle is sighted in, try shooting at 200, 300 and 400 yards to better learn how your rifle, scope and ammunition perform at greater distances.

4) Use the same ammunition that you plan to hunt with
Not all ammunition performs the same. Be sure to sight in your rifle with the load that you plan to hunt with. Ballistics of variable bullet weights and designs (not to mention manufacturers) will perform differently. For instance, Winchester Ammunition’s 150 grain Supreme Elite XP3 (www.winchester.com) will inevitably perform differently than Remington’s 180 grain Core-Lokt, PSP (www.remington.com) shot out of my 300 Winchester Magnum.

If you reload your own ammunition, then you’re likely acquainted with factors affecting bullet performance. Working the right load may take some trial and error, but the same applies – always sight in with the bullet and load you intend to hunt with.

5) Record and reference each shot
Sighting in can be as labor-intensive as you make it. As a rule, several items are required and several more make the job that much easier. As an absolute necessity, we require a table or bench, a shooting rest, our rifle, ammunition and a target. Beyond these basics, the job is much easier with a spotting scope, tripod, and additional targets along with a marker.

As you begin shooting, be sure to analyze and record each shot. I like to use a Bushnell Elite 15-45x 60 mm spotting scope (www.bushnell.com) mounted on a solid tripod. At 45 power magnification, I can see every detail on the downrange target. My scope allows me to closely assess where I hit in relation to where I aimed. Further, many shooters like to keep a matching target on the bench while they are shooting. By checking their shot, then marking it on the target beside them, they can better track their progressions to confirm any scope adjustments and accuracy. This eliminates much of the guessing about which shot was which.

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Firearm Safety

by Marti Davis

Marti-Davis

Safety, safety, safety

Firearm safety must always be our number one priority. Always remember to treat every gun as if it is loaded. That means always pointing the gun in a safe direction. Make sure you’re using the proper ammunition for the firearm. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire.

When you’re hunting from an elevated stand, never climb with the firearm. Use a rope to raise and lower the unloaded gun after you’re safely strapped in to your stand. You can never be too careful or safe when it comes to handling and hunting with firearms.

Marti-Davis-rifle

Know right from wrong

Before you do any kind of hunting with a gun, you must familiarize yourself with the state’s game laws and regulations. Even if you’re a seasoned hunter, you need to refresh your memory and check for any changes in the regulations that might affect your hunt. If you know and follow the regulations, when you do have an encounter with a conservation agent, you won’t have anything to worry about.

And while we’re on the subject of conservation agents, if you happen to get stopped by an agent, be courteous. It will take only a few minutes for the agent to check and see if you have the proper licenses and tags. Conservation agents have a job to do, and this is just a small part of it.

Cleaning and Maintenance

While some firearms take more cleaning and maintenance than others, you should take proper care of all firearms. If you do, they will last for many years, with the possibility of being handed down from generation to generation.

I like to use a combination cleaner-lubricant-protectant, such as Break Free CLP. A quick wipe-down at the end of a day afield is sufficient, unless you’ve been out hunting in rain or snow, or in extremely dusty or brushy conditions. In that case you probably need to break down the firearm to a certain extent. Remember to follow all manufacturer’s instructions on breakdown and reassembly. Never skip any steps the manufacturer recommends.

I also like to use a bore snake for a quick pass-through on my barrels. I use a little of the Break Free CLP on the snake and pull it through two or three times. It’s a great time saver for those quick, after-hunt wipe-downs between the thorough cleanings that require breaking down the gun.

And don’t forget that new guns need thorough cleaning when you first get them. Most come packed with a coating of heavy grease.

When it comes to maintenance on your firearms, I highly recommend that you find a reputable gunsmith in your area to take care of any malfunctioning firearms. For safety’s sake, never shoot any gun that is not in perfect working order. When in doubt, consult your gunsmith.

Sighting in or Patterning

Before going afield, you must take the time to sight in your rifle or pattern your shotgun. Even if you’re going out with the same deer rifle you’ve used for several years, take the time to make sure your gun is still zeroed in. Even the smallest of bumps can sometimes knock sights or scopes off zero.

With shotguns, make sure to pattern them to see which load works best with which choke. Once you get that figured out, make sure to use the same load each time you hunt with that shotgun and choke.

To be an ethical and responsible hunter, you have to know your own and your firearm’s limitations before you step out in the field. As ethical hunters, we always want to make the quickest and most humane kill shots we can.

Marti-patterning

Transporting your firearms

Transporting can be as simple as using a sling to throw the gun over your shoulder, making it easier to carry in the field.

In a vehicle, I highly recommend a case of some sort when transporting firearms, whether it’s a simple zip-up, soft-sided case or a padded, hard-shell transport case. For one thing, a case protects the gun—for another, in some states it is the law. This is another area where it’s necessary to know the regulations and laws in the state you are hunting—or even just traveling through. Some states also require firearms to be cased when transporting them on all-terrain vehicles in the field.

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Follow-through

When throwing a ball, you must follow through to complete the action. The same applies to shooting a rifle or shotgun. Once you make the shot, you must follow through. If you’re shooting a bolt-action or pump-style rifle, follow-through includes working the action and chambering a fresh round. Be ready to make a follow-up shot if necessary. The same goes for shotguns. After you complete the shot, get another shot shell into the chamber and be prepared to make a quick follow-up shot. Of course if you’re using an autoloader, the gun does this for you. Just stay on the gun and be ready in case you need to take another shot.

Storage

After the hunt, be sure to unload and store your firearms properly. As I mentioned when discussing cleaning and maintenance, wipe down or clean your firearms prior to storage. Always make sure to store all guns beyond the reach of children or anyone else you don’t want having access to them. Always store ammunition separately from all firearms.

Marti-and-Barb-afield-copy

These safety rules need to become second nature, yet always in the forefront while you are working with firearms, especially while hunting.

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Marti Davis

Marti Davis is a staff member for Browning Trail Cameras, WoolX and Mossy Oak.
She is an authority on most types of hunting in North America, and very active in
mentoring the next generation of young hunters.

 

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The Truth About Shotgun Ammo

Article by Phil Bourjaily

Our tests at a high-tech ballistic research laboratory may change the way you buy loads and guns…and even how you hunt.

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Shotgun columnist Bob Brister spent six months shooting at 16-foot-long homemade targets mounted on a trailer hitched to a station wagon that his wife drove past. Brister conducted this novel experiment to understand the effect of shot stringing at crossing game birds.

While it had long been known that a swarm of shot lengthened as it flew downrange, no one agreed on what it meant. Brister’s patterns, which sometimes splattered the length of his 16-foot-long targets, indicated that if you shot at a bluebill streaking past your decoys, up to 30 percent of the pattern might arrive too late to hit the bird.

A lot has changed since 1976. There are new questions about shot gunning to answer and, fortunately, new ways to answer them.

testrange
I don’t own an $80,000 high-speed camera, but Federal Cartridge Co. has one in its underground test range (above). They also have a computerized shotgun pattern analyzer, a walk-in cooler full of ballistic gelatin, and a factory full of shotshells to test. Federal granted my request to spend a couple of days there in April to test shotgun loads. I had countless questions, but was able to answer these six.

Some things I thought I knew turned out to be wrong. Others were right. And several changed the way I think about shotshells.

1. Is a 3 1/2-Inch 12-Gauge More Effective Than a 3-Inch 12-Gauge?

 shotshells1

I’ve always believed the brutal recoil of a 31⁄2-inch 12-gauge magnum negates any ballistic advantage over the standard 3-inch magnum. I have always suspected, too, that cramming what amounts to a 10-gauge load into a 12-gauge barrel produced poor, ragged patterns and longer shot strings that made the extra pain even less worthwhile.

Test Loads:
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 11⁄4-ounce loads of Black Cloud steel BB shot at 1450 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge, 31⁄2-inch, 11⁄2-ounce loads of Black Cloud steel BB shot at 1500 fps (Modified choke)
Results: Both loads patterned almost identically on a 30-inch circle at 40 yards: The 31⁄2-inch load put 72.6 percent of its shot in the circle, with 77 pellet hits. The 3-inch placed 71.8 percent of its shot in the circle, with 63 hits.

There was no significant difference between the lengths of the shot strings, which averaged 42 inches for the 3-inch and 49 inches for the 31⁄2-inch midway between muzzle and target. Both loads exhibited equal penetration in ballistic gelatin at 30 yards—5 inches—despite the 31⁄2-inch shell’s 50 fps head start in muzzle velocity.

The Takeaway: I expected the 31⁄2 to string out longer and pattern worse than the 3-inch load, but it patterned just as well. The higher pellet count of the 31⁄2-inch resulted in significantly more hits in the circle, but both loads put enough hits on target to kill geese.

However, the improvement in performance comes at a cost of a whopping 50 percent increase in recoil. Even with a gun seated in a massive rest, I could feel the difference, and the muzzle blast was noticeably louder in the test tunnel, too. I shot some of those same 31⁄2-inch shells while trying to shoot a triple on a five-stand range. I could hit the first target always, but recovering from the shot to make the next two was almost impossible.

Is the 31⁄2-inch more effective than the 3-inch? Yes—if you can withstand the recoil. “More” is only better if you can put it on target.

2. Is the .410 a Suitable Gauge for Young, Beginning Hunters?

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The .410 is a ballistic disgrace, and a crippler of game birds. Just ask me and all the other gun writers who have repeated that “fact” over the years. I believe beginning hunters should shoot a 20-gauge, not a .410, despite the higher recoil and extra weight of the 20. A comparison between the two, I was sure, would dramatically show the 20’s superiority.

Test Loads:
– .410 11⁄16-ounce loads of Game-Shok Upland No. 6 shot at 1135 fps (Full choke)
– 20-gauge 7⁄8-ounce loads of Game-Shok Upland No. 6 shot at 1210 fps (Modified choke)
Results: Unlike other gauges, which are patterned at 40 yards, .410s are typically patterned at 25 yards. We picked 30 yards as a compromise distance and to reflect the shorter ranges at which beginners shoot. The Full choke .410 shot 87.8 percent patterns at 30 yards, while the Modified 20 shot 84.6 percent. The higher pellet count and higher velocity of the 20 combined to put more pellets in the 30-inch circle (173) than the .410 (139). Penetration was better, too—3.3 inches vs. 3 inches. The 46-inch-long shot string of the 20-gauge, which was measured at 20 yards, was a full 20 inches shorter than the .410’s shot string.

The Takeaway: The .410 surprised us with great patterns. However, the .410’s shot string, which was 50 percent longer than that of the 20-gauge, revealed a shortcoming: The longer the string, the slower the trailing pellets are traveling, and therefore the less energy they retain. The .410 not only puts fewer pellets on target than the 20-gauge, but the .410’s tail-end pellets won’t hit as hard. Even so, I will give the .410 more respect in the future. I waited until my kids were 11 and 12 and big enough to shoot 20-gauges, but if a child is too small to handle a 20, a .410 can work.

3. Is a 20-gauge as Effective as a 12-Gauge for Doves?

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There’s a faction of smallbore shooters—including some people I hunt with—who condemn the 12-gauge as “unsporting.” As a 12-gauge shooter, I see it as being versatile and ballistically efficient. This test was my chance to crush my detractors with science. One area where 12s and 20s can be compared in an apples-to-apples format is the dove field, where many hunters shoot 1-ounce loads with either gauge, so that became the basis for the test.

Test Loads
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– 20-gauge 1-ounce loads of Game-Shok Upland No. 71⁄2 shot at 1165 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge 1-ounce loads of Game-Shok Upland No. 71⁄2 shot at 1235 fps (Modified choke)
Results: The 12-gauge delivered a 50.7 percent pattern with 202 pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. The 20 did just 39.6 percent with 149 pellets inside the circle. The 12 achieved slightly deeper penetration (2.875 inches vs. 2.5625) in gelatin at 30 yards, likely due to the higher muzzle velocity. The high-speed camera showed no statistical difference between the lengths of the shot strings, which averaged 55 inches for the 12-gauge and 57 for the 20 at 20 yards.

The Takeaway: I thought the 12 would win, but I hadn’t expected it to beat the 20 so badly. Out of curiosity we tested the 20-gauge with one size larger shot to see if we could improve its performance. With No. 6 shot the 20 delivered a huge 15 percent increase in pattern density. That gave us a bonus takeaway: If you want to tighten patterns (sometimes by a lot), shoot larger shot.

A 20-gauge is fun to handle and shoot, but when it comes to putting pellets on target efficiently, it loses out to the 12.

4. Is Steel Shot Suitable for Pheasants?

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A growing number of pheasant hunters have to shoot nontoxic ammunition. Pheasants are tough birds and elusive cripples, so choosing the right shell matters, especially when you go from dense lead to lighter steel. In the field I have had no trouble killing wild birds with steel shot, but while dead is dead, I wanted to quantify the differences between steel and lead loads.

Test Loads:
– 12-gauge 11⁄8-ounce loads of Federal Prairie Storm No. 3 steel at 1600 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge 11⁄8-ounce loads of Wing-Shok High Velocity No. 6 lead at 1500 fps (Modified choke)
Results: As expected, the hard steel pellets patterned tighter than lead (62.5 percent vs. 52.6 percent) inside a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. Nevertheless, the higher pellet count of the lead load meant more pellets in the circle: 128 hits, compared to 102 hits for the steel load. The lead pellets also penetrated 4.12 inches into the 30-yard gelatin, compared to steel’s 3.43 inches. The lead load had a shorter shot string (55 inches) at 20 yards than the steel load (61 inches).

The Takeaway: Even with advances in steel ammunition, lead is still superior. Usually hunters switching from lead to steel compensate for steel’s light weight by following the “rule of two” and going up two sizes in shot. Yet despite my choosing three sizes larger in steel and driving it 100 fps faster than the lead load, it didn’t perform as well as lead in the test. The “rule of two” should be the “rule of three or maybe four.” Steel 3s and 2s make the best pellet choice. Steel pellets, which remain round and fly true, patterned more efficiently than lead, resulting in tighter patterns. Given the lower pellet count and retained energy of steel, though, I would not go to a more open choke if switching from lead to steel. Still, modern steel loads are effective for pheasants.

5. Are Premium Buckshot Loads Worth the High Cost?

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One important lesson Brister learned was that hard shot loaded with ground plastic buffer protected the pellets from deforming in the barrel. Premium buffered magnum waterfowl loads clearly outperformed nonbuffered loads. But would this be true for the biggest pellets of all? Premium buck costs nearly $2 per shell, twice the cost of standard loads, so I wanted to see if it was worth the price.

Test Loads :
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 15-pellet loads of Federal Vital-Shok buffered, copper-plated 00 buckshot at 1100 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 15-pellet handloads of unbuffered, unplated 00 buck at 1210 fps (Modified choke)
Results: Premium buckshot averaged 12.4 pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards, whereas unbuffered buck averaged 11 hits. The pattern diameter of the buffered load at 40 yards was 31.65 inches; the unbuffered load spread out to 36.89 inches. The unbuffered buck penetrated deeper (16.84 inches vs. 14.62 inches) than the premium, probably due to its higher muzzle velocity.

The Takeaway: There was a dramatic difference in the shape of recovered buffered and unbuffered pellets. I had thought the deformed, unbuffered pellets would string out farther due to increased air resistance and pattern much worse. That didn’t happen. Unbuffered buckshot tore uneven holes in paper, yet it penetrated deeply into the gelatin.

We did notice an odd phenomenon during this test. Occasionally two pellets would fly through the same hole in the paper or into the gel. With only 15 pellets in the pattern, the odds against that happening are very high—unless there is a drafting effect where a trailing pellet falls in behind a pellet in front of it, the same way race cars draft one another. You can’t rely on that happening, but when it does, the second pellet into the hole will penetrate almost twice as deeply as the rest.

Premium buckshot put roughly 13 percent more pellets on target. Whether that’s worth double the cost is a personal decision.

6. Which is Better for Turkeys: Lighter, Faster Loads or Heavier, Slower Loads?

shotshells6_cThe trend to lighter, faster turkey loads made me wonder if heavy and slow loads would perform better. Theoretically, a lower-velocity load will pattern tighter than a faster load because the lower launch speed deforms fewer pellets, leaving more of them round to fly true. But at the same time, a lighter load should pattern tighter than a heavier load for the same reason: the more lead pellets on top of one another in a shell, the more pellets deform when that shell is fired.

Test Loads:
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 13⁄4-ounce loads of Mag-Shok Lead High Velocity No. 5 shot at 1300 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 2-ounce loads of Mag-Shok Lead No. 5 shot at 1150 fps (Modified choke)
Results: The 13⁄4-ounce load patterned more efficiently, putting 70.2 percent of its charge in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards, compared to 61.4 percent for the 2-ounce load. It also outpenetrated the 2-ounce load in gelatin at 30 yards, 4 inches to 3.65 (though the latter is certainly adequate to kill a turkey). In number of hits, however, the 2-ounce load narrowly won, 216 pellets to 209. Recoil is about the same.

The Takeaway: Essentially the test resulted in a tie, although the heavier load snuck a few extra pellets into the target area. Recoil from both shells was almost identical. I would favor the lighter load because more penetration, while it may not help, can’t hurt, either.

Looking at these results, however, I can’t help but wonder if a slower 13⁄4-ounce load wouldn’t pattern better than either of these. Unfortunately, “slow” is a tough sell to the American public, so unless you handload your own turkey ammo, you may never find out. It’s a tie, so choose the one that patterns best in your gun.

BONUS: Does Shot String Length Matter?

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It matters some, but not for the reasons we think. During these tests, Federal engineers Erik Carlson and Adam Moser measured shot strings at 20 yards and extrapolated lengths for 40 yards. The longest shot string in our tests, the 66-inch .410 string, would be about 10 feet long at 40 yards. Match that against a bird flying 40 mph at 40 yards, as Brister simulated in his tests, and you will lose only a small percentage of pattern density, perhaps about 5 percent, not the 30 percent loss Brister saw with some 1976-era lead waterfowl magnums.

Brister believed long shot strings were more forgiving of error than short strings. If you were to overlead a target, he thought, the trailing pellets might still break it, so the longer the string, the greater the margin for error. In theory that is true, but practically speaking, the chance is very slim of a trailing pellet breaking a target. The disadvantage is that the longer the string, the slower the trailing pellets, and the less energy they’ll have on target.

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The Truth About Shotgun Ammo

Article by Phil Bourjaily

Our tests at a high-tech ballistic research laboratory may change the way you buy loads and guns…and even how you hunt.

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Shotgun columnist Bob Brister spent six months shooting at 16-foot-long homemade targets mounted on a trailer hitched to a station wagon that his wife drove past. Brister conducted this novel experiment to understand the effect of shot stringing at crossing game birds.

While it had long been known that a swarm of shot lengthened as it flew downrange, no one agreed on what it meant. Brister’s patterns, which sometimes splattered the length of his 16-foot-long targets, indicated that if you shot at a bluebill streaking past your decoys, up to 30 percent of the pattern might arrive too late to hit the bird.

A lot has changed since 1976. There are new questions about shot gunning to answer and, fortunately, new ways to answer them.

testrange
I don’t own an $80,000 high-speed camera, but Federal Cartridge Co. has one in its underground test range (above). They also have a computerized shotgun pattern analyzer, a walk-in cooler full of ballistic gelatin, and a factory full of shotshells to test. Federal granted my request to spend a couple of days there in April to test shotgun loads. I had countless questions, but was able to answer these six.

Some things I thought I knew turned out to be wrong. Others were right. And several changed the way I think about shotshells.

1. Is a 3 1/2-Inch 12-Gauge More Effective Than a 3-Inch 12-Gauge?

 shotshells1

I’ve always believed the brutal recoil of a 31⁄2-inch 12-gauge magnum negates any ballistic advantage over the standard 3-inch magnum. I have always suspected, too, that cramming what amounts to a 10-gauge load into a 12-gauge barrel produced poor, ragged patterns and longer shot strings that made the extra pain even less worthwhile.

Test Loads:
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 11⁄4-ounce loads of Black Cloud steel BB shot at 1450 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge, 31⁄2-inch, 11⁄2-ounce loads of Black Cloud steel BB shot at 1500 fps (Modified choke)
Results: Both loads patterned almost identically on a 30-inch circle at 40 yards: The 31⁄2-inch load put 72.6 percent of its shot in the circle, with 77 pellet hits. The 3-inch placed 71.8 percent of its shot in the circle, with 63 hits.

There was no significant difference between the lengths of the shot strings, which averaged 42 inches for the 3-inch and 49 inches for the 31⁄2-inch midway between muzzle and target. Both loads exhibited equal penetration in ballistic gelatin at 30 yards—5 inches—despite the 31⁄2-inch shell’s 50 fps head start in muzzle velocity.

The Takeaway: I expected the 31⁄2 to string out longer and pattern worse than the 3-inch load, but it patterned just as well. The higher pellet count of the 31⁄2-inch resulted in significantly more hits in the circle, but both loads put enough hits on target to kill geese.

However, the improvement in performance comes at a cost of a whopping 50 percent increase in recoil. Even with a gun seated in a massive rest, I could feel the difference, and the muzzle blast was noticeably louder in the test tunnel, too. I shot some of those same 31⁄2-inch shells while trying to shoot a triple on a five-stand range. I could hit the first target always, but recovering from the shot to make the next two was almost impossible.

Is the 31⁄2-inch more effective than the 3-inch? Yes—if you can withstand the recoil. “More” is only better if you can put it on target.

2. Is the .410 a Suitable Gauge for Young, Beginning Hunters?

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The .410 is a ballistic disgrace, and a crippler of game birds. Just ask me and all the other gun writers who have repeated that “fact” over the years. I believe beginning hunters should shoot a 20-gauge, not a .410, despite the higher recoil and extra weight of the 20. A comparison between the two, I was sure, would dramatically show the 20’s superiority.

Test Loads:
– .410 11⁄16-ounce loads of Game-Shok Upland No. 6 shot at 1135 fps (Full choke)
– 20-gauge 7⁄8-ounce loads of Game-Shok Upland No. 6 shot at 1210 fps (Modified choke)
Results: Unlike other gauges, which are patterned at 40 yards, .410s are typically patterned at 25 yards. We picked 30 yards as a compromise distance and to reflect the shorter ranges at which beginners shoot. The Full choke .410 shot 87.8 percent patterns at 30 yards, while the Modified 20 shot 84.6 percent. The higher pellet count and higher velocity of the 20 combined to put more pellets in the 30-inch circle (173) than the .410 (139). Penetration was better, too—3.3 inches vs. 3 inches. The 46-inch-long shot string of the 20-gauge, which was measured at 20 yards, was a full 20 inches shorter than the .410’s shot string.

The Takeaway: The .410 surprised us with great patterns. However, the .410’s shot string, which was 50 percent longer than that of the 20-gauge, revealed a shortcoming: The longer the string, the slower the trailing pellets are traveling, and therefore the less energy they retain. The .410 not only puts fewer pellets on target than the 20-gauge, but the .410’s tail-end pellets won’t hit as hard. Even so, I will give the .410 more respect in the future. I waited until my kids were 11 and 12 and big enough to shoot 20-gauges, but if a child is too small to handle a 20, a .410 can work.

3. Is a 20-gauge as Effective as a 12-Gauge for Doves?

 shotshells3

There’s a faction of smallbore shooters—including some people I hunt with—who condemn the 12-gauge as “unsporting.” As a 12-gauge shooter, I see it as being versatile and ballistically efficient. This test was my chance to crush my detractors with science. One area where 12s and 20s can be compared in an apples-to-apples format is the dove field, where many hunters shoot 1-ounce loads with either gauge, so that became the basis for the test.

Test Loads
:
– 20-gauge 1-ounce loads of Game-Shok Upland No. 71⁄2 shot at 1165 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge 1-ounce loads of Game-Shok Upland No. 71⁄2 shot at 1235 fps (Modified choke)
Results: The 12-gauge delivered a 50.7 percent pattern with 202 pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. The 20 did just 39.6 percent with 149 pellets inside the circle. The 12 achieved slightly deeper penetration (2.875 inches vs. 2.5625) in gelatin at 30 yards, likely due to the higher muzzle velocity. The high-speed camera showed no statistical difference between the lengths of the shot strings, which averaged 55 inches for the 12-gauge and 57 for the 20 at 20 yards.

The Takeaway: I thought the 12 would win, but I hadn’t expected it to beat the 20 so badly. Out of curiosity we tested the 20-gauge with one size larger shot to see if we could improve its performance. With No. 6 shot the 20 delivered a huge 15 percent increase in pattern density. That gave us a bonus takeaway: If you want to tighten patterns (sometimes by a lot), shoot larger shot.

A 20-gauge is fun to handle and shoot, but when it comes to putting pellets on target efficiently, it loses out to the 12.

4. Is Steel Shot Suitable for Pheasants?

 shotshells4

A growing number of pheasant hunters have to shoot nontoxic ammunition. Pheasants are tough birds and elusive cripples, so choosing the right shell matters, especially when you go from dense lead to lighter steel. In the field I have had no trouble killing wild birds with steel shot, but while dead is dead, I wanted to quantify the differences between steel and lead loads.

Test Loads:
– 12-gauge 11⁄8-ounce loads of Federal Prairie Storm No. 3 steel at 1600 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge 11⁄8-ounce loads of Wing-Shok High Velocity No. 6 lead at 1500 fps (Modified choke)
Results: As expected, the hard steel pellets patterned tighter than lead (62.5 percent vs. 52.6 percent) inside a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. Nevertheless, the higher pellet count of the lead load meant more pellets in the circle: 128 hits, compared to 102 hits for the steel load. The lead pellets also penetrated 4.12 inches into the 30-yard gelatin, compared to steel’s 3.43 inches. The lead load had a shorter shot string (55 inches) at 20 yards than the steel load (61 inches).

The Takeaway: Even with advances in steel ammunition, lead is still superior. Usually hunters switching from lead to steel compensate for steel’s light weight by following the “rule of two” and going up two sizes in shot. Yet despite my choosing three sizes larger in steel and driving it 100 fps faster than the lead load, it didn’t perform as well as lead in the test. The “rule of two” should be the “rule of three or maybe four.” Steel 3s and 2s make the best pellet choice. Steel pellets, which remain round and fly true, patterned more efficiently than lead, resulting in tighter patterns. Given the lower pellet count and retained energy of steel, though, I would not go to a more open choke if switching from lead to steel. Still, modern steel loads are effective for pheasants.

5. Are Premium Buckshot Loads Worth the High Cost?

 shotshell5

One important lesson Brister learned was that hard shot loaded with ground plastic buffer protected the pellets from deforming in the barrel. Premium buffered magnum waterfowl loads clearly outperformed nonbuffered loads. But would this be true for the biggest pellets of all? Premium buck costs nearly $2 per shell, twice the cost of standard loads, so I wanted to see if it was worth the price.

Test Loads :
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 15-pellet loads of Federal Vital-Shok buffered, copper-plated 00 buckshot at 1100 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 15-pellet handloads of unbuffered, unplated 00 buck at 1210 fps (Modified choke)
Results: Premium buckshot averaged 12.4 pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards, whereas unbuffered buck averaged 11 hits. The pattern diameter of the buffered load at 40 yards was 31.65 inches; the unbuffered load spread out to 36.89 inches. The unbuffered buck penetrated deeper (16.84 inches vs. 14.62 inches) than the premium, probably due to its higher muzzle velocity.

The Takeaway: There was a dramatic difference in the shape of recovered buffered and unbuffered pellets. I had thought the deformed, unbuffered pellets would string out farther due to increased air resistance and pattern much worse. That didn’t happen. Unbuffered buckshot tore uneven holes in paper, yet it penetrated deeply into the gelatin.

We did notice an odd phenomenon during this test. Occasionally two pellets would fly through the same hole in the paper or into the gel. With only 15 pellets in the pattern, the odds against that happening are very high—unless there is a drafting effect where a trailing pellet falls in behind a pellet in front of it, the same way race cars draft one another. You can’t rely on that happening, but when it does, the second pellet into the hole will penetrate almost twice as deeply as the rest.

Premium buckshot put roughly 13 percent more pellets on target. Whether that’s worth double the cost is a personal decision.

6. Which is Better for Turkeys: Lighter, Faster Loads or Heavier, Slower Loads?

shotshells6_cThe trend to lighter, faster turkey loads made me wonder if heavy and slow loads would perform better. Theoretically, a lower-velocity load will pattern tighter than a faster load because the lower launch speed deforms fewer pellets, leaving more of them round to fly true. But at the same time, a lighter load should pattern tighter than a heavier load for the same reason: the more lead pellets on top of one another in a shell, the more pellets deform when that shell is fired.

Test Loads:
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 13⁄4-ounce loads of Mag-Shok Lead High Velocity No. 5 shot at 1300 fps (Modified choke)
– 12-gauge, 3-inch, 2-ounce loads of Mag-Shok Lead No. 5 shot at 1150 fps (Modified choke)
Results: The 13⁄4-ounce load patterned more efficiently, putting 70.2 percent of its charge in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards, compared to 61.4 percent for the 2-ounce load. It also outpenetrated the 2-ounce load in gelatin at 30 yards, 4 inches to 3.65 (though the latter is certainly adequate to kill a turkey). In number of hits, however, the 2-ounce load narrowly won, 216 pellets to 209. Recoil is about the same.

The Takeaway: Essentially the test resulted in a tie, although the heavier load snuck a few extra pellets into the target area. Recoil from both shells was almost identical. I would favor the lighter load because more penetration, while it may not help, can’t hurt, either.

Looking at these results, however, I can’t help but wonder if a slower 13⁄4-ounce load wouldn’t pattern better than either of these. Unfortunately, “slow” is a tough sell to the American public, so unless you handload your own turkey ammo, you may never find out. It’s a tie, so choose the one that patterns best in your gun.

BONUS: Does Shot String Length Matter?

 stringtheory 

It matters some, but not for the reasons we think. During these tests, Federal engineers Erik Carlson and Adam Moser measured shot strings at 20 yards and extrapolated lengths for 40 yards. The longest shot string in our tests, the 66-inch .410 string, would be about 10 feet long at 40 yards. Match that against a bird flying 40 mph at 40 yards, as Brister simulated in his tests, and you will lose only a small percentage of pattern density, perhaps about 5 percent, not the 30 percent loss Brister saw with some 1976-era lead waterfowl magnums.

Brister believed long shot strings were more forgiving of error than short strings. If you were to overlead a target, he thought, the trailing pellets might still break it, so the longer the string, the greater the margin for error. In theory that is true, but practically speaking, the chance is very slim of a trailing pellet breaking a target. The disadvantage is that the longer the string, the slower the trailing pellets, and the less energy they’ll have on target.

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Firearm Safety

by Marti Davis

Marti-Davis

Safety, safety, safety

Firearm safety must always be our number one priority. Always remember to treat every gun as if it is loaded. That means always pointing the gun in a safe direction. Make sure you’re using the proper ammunition for the firearm. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire.

When you’re hunting from an elevated stand, never climb with the firearm. Use a rope to raise and lower the unloaded gun after you’re safely strapped in to your stand. You can never be too careful or safe when it comes to handling and hunting with firearms.

Marti-Davis-rifle

Know right from wrong

Before you do any kind of hunting with a gun, you must familiarize yourself with the state’s game laws and regulations. Even if you’re a seasoned hunter, you need to refresh your memory and check for any changes in the regulations that might affect your hunt. If you know and follow the regulations, when you do have an encounter with a conservation agent, you won’t have anything to worry about.

And while we’re on the subject of conservation agents, if you happen to get stopped by an agent, be courteous. It will take only a few minutes for the agent to check and see if you have the proper licenses and tags. Conservation agents have a job to do, and this is just a small part of it.

Cleaning and Maintenance

While some firearms take more cleaning and maintenance than others, you should take proper care of all firearms. If you do, they will last for many years, with the possibility of being handed down from generation to generation.

I like to use a combination cleaner-lubricant-protectant, such as Break Free CLP. A quick wipe-down at the end of a day afield is sufficient, unless you’ve been out hunting in rain or snow, or in extremely dusty or brushy conditions. In that case you probably need to break down the firearm to a certain extent. Remember to follow all manufacturer’s instructions on breakdown and reassembly. Never skip any steps the manufacturer recommends.

I also like to use a bore snake for a quick pass-through on my barrels. I use a little of the Break Free CLP on the snake and pull it through two or three times. It’s a great time saver for those quick, after-hunt wipe-downs between the thorough cleanings that require breaking down the gun.

And don’t forget that new guns need thorough cleaning when you first get them. Most come packed with a coating of heavy grease.

When it comes to maintenance on your firearms, I highly recommend that you find a reputable gunsmith in your area to take care of any malfunctioning firearms. For safety’s sake, never shoot any gun that is not in perfect working order. When in doubt, consult your gunsmith.

Sighting in or Patterning

Before going afield, you must take the time to sight in your rifle or pattern your shotgun. Even if you’re going out with the same deer rifle you’ve used for several years, take the time to make sure your gun is still zeroed in. Even the smallest of bumps can sometimes knock sights or scopes off zero.

With shotguns, make sure to pattern them to see which load works best with which choke. Once you get that figured out, make sure to use the same load each time you hunt with that shotgun and choke.

To be an ethical and responsible hunter, you have to know your own and your firearm’s limitations before you step out in the field. As ethical hunters, we always want to make the quickest and most humane kill shots we can.

Marti-patterning

Transporting your firearms

Transporting can be as simple as using a sling to throw the gun over your shoulder, making it easier to carry in the field.

In a vehicle, I highly recommend a case of some sort when transporting firearms, whether it’s a simple zip-up, soft-sided case or a padded, hard-shell transport case. For one thing, a case protects the gun—for another, in some states it is the law. This is another area where it’s necessary to know the regulations and laws in the state you are hunting—or even just traveling through. Some states also require firearms to be cased when transporting them on all-terrain vehicles in the field.

Marti-Davis-truck-copy-2

Follow-through

When throwing a ball, you must follow through to complete the action. The same applies to shooting a rifle or shotgun. Once you make the shot, you must follow through. If you’re shooting a bolt-action or pump-style rifle, follow-through includes working the action and chambering a fresh round. Be ready to make a follow-up shot if necessary. The same goes for shotguns. After you complete the shot, get another shot shell into the chamber and be prepared to make a quick follow-up shot. Of course if you’re using an autoloader, the gun does this for you. Just stay on the gun and be ready in case you need to take another shot.

Storage

After the hunt, be sure to unload and store your firearms properly. As I mentioned when discussing cleaning and maintenance, wipe down or clean your firearms prior to storage. Always make sure to store all guns beyond the reach of children or anyone else you don’t want having access to them. Always store ammunition separately from all firearms.

Marti-and-Barb-afield-copy

These safety rules need to become second nature, yet always in the forefront while you are working with firearms, especially while hunting.

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Marti Davis

Marti Davis is a staff member for Browning Trail Cameras, WoolX and Mossy Oak.
She is an authority on most types of hunting in North America, and very active in
mentoring the next generation of young hunters.

 

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