Three Keys to Good Scattergun Shooting for Fall Pheasants
It's a good thing I don't live in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas or even eastern Montana. Or for that matter, in the Texas Panhandle either.
Why? Because pheasant seasons are opening up all throughout the Midwest, the Great Plains and the rolling foothills of the Rocky Mountain west.
Truth be told, if I lived in such spots, places where I could be a full-time pheasant hunter rather than the part-time wannabe that I am, well, I'd probably be ruined to the point of being a wing-shooting nimrod in danger of his wife finally deciding that it’s high time to change the locks on the doors once and for all.
For a shotgun hunting enthusiast like me, pheasant season is an incredible time on the calendar to be afield, perhaps the year’s best time of all. How else can you describe a wingshooting season when autumn's cool, crisp and clean air gives Creation's vividly splashed canvas its most vibrant annual hues, colors that are nothing short of breathtaking?
If you have done your pre-season homework and have the dog ready to go, pheasant season is a can’t-miss occasion that results in the cackle of ring-necked roosters erupting from cover, the satisfying thump of the scattergun against the shoulder and a familiar heft in the game bag due in great measure to the hard work of a treasured canine companion.
Sound like something you’d like to enjoy this fall? Then follow these three shotgun shooting tips, all designed to help increase your wingshooting efficiency, along with the need for some good pheasant recipes back home in the kitchen.
The first step to successful shooting at ring-necked roosters this fall is to get out to the shooting range for a session or two of firing at clay pigeons, knocking the rust from scattergunning skills that have been dormant for a few months.
"If you'll sharpen your shooting skills before you ever step foot into the field, you will cripple less birds," agrees Bob St. Pierre, an avid upland wingshooter and the vice-president for marketing with Pheasants Forever (www.pheasantsforever.org).
"By knocking off some of that rust before you set out into the field, which is obviously very important, you'll be able to make good, clean kills and not leave them out there."
Keep in mind that you need to practice on realistic shot situations, however. Situations like a rooster noisily boiling up through hideously thick cover in a thorn-infested creek bottom, the exact kind of shooting that you are likely to find out in the field.
In other words, sure, go ahead and shoot a few cream puff clay pigeons to get your confidence up. But then don’t make a steady diet of such shots on the trap or sporting clays range, instead concentrate on the more difficult and vexing scenarios that you’re likely to find at the end of a gnarly thicket, driving and blocking in a corn field or busting your way through a thick CRP field.
Do keep in mind, however, that clay pigeon shooting practice can only carry your scattergun technique so far according to Rick Young, vice-president of field operations for Pheasants Forever. Because a second key to wingshooting success on pheasants this fall is to give some extra close attention to what you're actually shooting through that shotgun.
"I use the same stuff all season long – open chokes and 7½ shot," said Young.
Why does this veteran pheasant hunter who has chased ringnecks for more than 30 years across a dozen states stick with the same stuff again and again? In a word, velocity.
"Most people tend to miss when they shoot shells at different velocities," he continued. "People go to trap loads (for pre-hunt practice) and shoot those loads with one velocity."
Young says that when pheasant hunters then go afield, however, they'll oftentimes switch up their shotshells to magnum loads that are often traveling up to 20 percent slower. The result being they'll miss a sure shot by shooting behind the pheasant or, worse yet, only wounding the bird as it escapes.
"The reason for this is that you're not going to have the same lead then (with magnum loads) that you (had while you) were shooting all summer long (with the faster trap loads)," said Young.
Which is exactly why you’ll see Young steadily stay with the same shotshell loads through his yearly pre-season practice and on into the fall months as he begins to go afield to chase pheasants and other upland game birds.
"I focus on velocity and I'm very conscious about it," he said.
While the velocity numbers on the side of Young's shotgun shell boxes often read 1,280-feet per second, what that number actually is isn't nearly as important as that same number consistently staying the same.
"(The key) is to shoot the same velocity every time you pull the trigger at the range and when you're shooting at pheasant, quail or grouse," said Young.
"I'm shooting basically the same load and 7 ½s work for all of those birds,” he continued. “This way, I have the same lead every single time and I don't have to compensate. If there's a bird out there, I know what the lead is and don't have to adjust."
If a hunter feels the need to go up in shot sizes, Young says that is certainly acceptable as long as one thing stays the same.
"You can bump (shot size) up to (number) sixes if need be, just be sure that you're shooting the same velocity."
For those of you who might think that 7 ½s are a bit too light for pheasants, St. Pierre, himself a veteran pheasant hunter who has chased roosters for more than a decade in several different states, has seen firsthand proof of this from his own upland hunting adventures with Young.
"I can confirm that Rick is successful with this at skeet, grouse and pheasants," laughed St. Pierre. "He knows where he's leading them, knocks them in the head and it works."
While consistent velocity numbers makes up a second key to fall pheasant-hunting success, there is a third and final one too. And that’s to get the shotgun’s front bead in the right spot as you mount the gun, swing smoothly through the target and let loose a load of pellets heading downrange towards a cackling cock bird.
"If you put the bead in the middle of the bird, you're really going to be shooting at his tail-feather," said Young.
"You've got to lead them. I like Mel Gibson's line from The Patriot – aim small and miss small,” he added.
And hitting a few roosters is all that it takes to increase your enjoyment in the field this fall while being out and about while chasing pheasants.
Put these three tips into practice this fall and odds are that you’ll do just that. All the while, you’ll feel a growing heft in the game vest, a satisfying weight that promises some of the year’s best eating at the dinner table.
Even if you’re a part-time wingshooting wannabe, like me.