By Chuck Nottingham
September first, opening day for upland game birds, wings closer. If you have someone new to bird hunting or are switching from lead to steel or bismuth loads, scatterguns need zero as much as guns firing one bullet or slug at a time. However, the process is somewhat different.
Coaching smaller shotgunners, its important to select manageable guns. Since shotgun sizes go by an ancient British gauge system based on how many lead balls the size of the guns bore make up a pound, the higher the gauge, the smaller the shot shell and lighter the kick.
The rare 28-gauge is smallest, easiest on shoulders. 20-gauge is most-purchased for beginners and smaller shooters. 16 is the middle gauge, more popular in Europe. Most full-size and experienced Montana hunters choose 12-gauge. 10-gauge is most powerful and punishing.
Exceptions to the gauge system are .410 shotguns. Their bores are 41 caliber. Although quite popular beginner guns due to low recoil, four-tens for bird hunting are for experts rather than beginners. In my opinion, their smaller shot charges and patterns and limited ranges present formidable challenges to even highly skilled wing shooters.
Beginners shooting auto-loading shotguns and double guns with single triggers need particularly close supervision, as the next round is instantly ready to go off and often does to everyones surprise. For that reason, many instructors prefer single-shot or pump-guns for teaching and first hunts. Or just load one shell at a time. As ever, safety basics need review. Always point muzzles in safe directions. Always keep chambers unloaded until ready to shoot. Always keep fingers off triggers until ready to shoot. Always be sure of the target and beyond.
Speaking of targets, dont pattern shotguns against pistol or rifle range backboards. Up-close shot shell charges are pretty destructive, so its best to shoot double-page sheets of newsprint (about 25 inches square) stapled to freestanding cardboard boxes or panels.
Never let shotgunners pattern from prone, bench, or sitting positions. Ouch! Shotguns are meant for standing, shooters leaning forward, shoulders firmly against butt-pads. Padded vests make for even more comfort.
Scatterguns dont have sights other than small front beads, but sketch the best alignment of barrel and target for first-timers.
Coach for smooth, quick trigger pulls, not slow squeezes like for rifles.
Be sure to pattern the same ammo to be used hunting. Look for a shot-pattern nearest the center of the paper. Confirm a good hold picture or sketch a better one before patterning again.
Clay pigeons thrown straight away from the shooter make excellent after-pattern practice. Work up to clays sailing diagonally across the shooters zone of fire. Patterning and practice are keys to shotgun hunting successes.
Remember this years big change in bird-hunting law. Permission is REQUIRED for ALL hunting on private land, not just big game hunting. Its only good manners and about time landowners have say about who hunts their lands.
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