There are many ways to miss such zooming targets as doves, teal, and
other fast-flying/running critters with a shotgun, but it is equally as
easy to miss a squirrel--especially at close range.
Worse yet, is hitting a squirrel, or other game birds or animals at
close range with a shotgun unless you know what the pattern of the gun
looks like at 10 to 25 feet. Often you have just succeeded in blowing up
your dinner. Worse yet, you have wasted good food.
And still worse, your misses--or your close-range hits--can be eliminated
by simply learning what the pattern of your shotgun looks like at
So how does one go about learning the secrets of a shotgun's pattern?
You shoot it, that's how. You shoot it with various loads of various sizes
of shot, and at various ranges.
This can be accomplished at many of the shooting ranges at state-owned
properties. The Division of Fish and Wildlife (317-232-4080) will tell
you the closest range in your area. But any dead tree will serve this purpose
just as well, if the shooter is cautious and safety-minded.
The big rub comes because when most hunters pattern their shotguns,
they are concerned with prints at 20, 30, 40, or 50 yards. This is fine
if all of your shots at game birds and animals will be taken at those ranges.
But how about this hypothetical (but fairly common) situation: You are
sitting with your back against a tree while waiting for a squirrel to come
to a hickory tree for lunch. You have seen nothing for some time, but suddenly
a fat squirrel (just right for the pan) comes down a tree to scold you
for being in the woods. Your dinner is 20 feet away, sure shot.
If you wait for the squirrel to go back up the tree for a 30-to-40-yard
shot, it may never happen. The squirrel hides and you have blown your opportunity.
But if you know how tight the pattern of your gun is at 20 feet, you merely
wait for the squirrel to turn sideways, put the bead on the head, pull
the gun left or right a bit, and squeeze off a shot that puts one or a
few pellets in the head while the remainder of the load flies off into
The positive effects of patterning a shotgun at both close range (10
to 25 feet, and out to 50 yards, about the maximum effective range of most
shotguns) will be seen in many ways. It serves me well by giving me a mental
picture of what the pattern looks like on almost every shot I take--be
it a sitting rabbit at 10 feet or a wood duck that is changing his address
very fast and is almost out of range.
Incidentally, I can make life miserable (even short) for that woodie
. .. if he is going away. On the other hand, if he is coming at me at any
angle, he is home free most of the time. I grew up shooting at birds and
rabbits going away; pass shooting is something I have never mastered.
Sure, you put the bead on a spot behind such birds and targets and you
swing the barrel until the bead passes the bird before you pull the trigger.
And you follow through with the swing. But it doesn't always work for me.
This, of course, gets into ballistics and lead.
I will not attempt to explain ballistics and lead in this column, but
I will tell you the best writing I have ever seen on these subjects was
turned in by the late Robert Ruark, a newspaper man and author. You will
find it (pages 30-32) in Ruark's book, The Old Man and the Boy.
This book, incidentally, is among the top five books I have read on the
outdoors. It could be the best.
As a teen-age boy, Ruark sets the stage by missing a pintail, and asking
his grandfather why: "Damn ballistics! I missed that duck, that duck as
big as a turkey, as big as a house, and I don't know why."
The old man's answer is classic. You need to read it--and the rest of
this book--even if you don't hunt.