By John Simeone
“Shotgun knowledge can be a rule of thumb or very scientific, all there to make you a better wing shot.”
The kid argued with me that all the hunters he knew used #6 shot on gray squirrels. “Not a good idea but go ahead. I have some #4, 20 gauge high brass for you here after you get through making a fool out of yourself,” I said. A few minutes later I saw the first squirrel and shot him at about 40 yards with the full choke Model 1100. He fell limply out of the tree and I immediately caught flak from the kid, “Hey no fair you got a 12 gauge.” I got on the squirrel call and a little while later a big fox squirrel started cussing out the kid and was instantly set upon by a barrage of #6s and the little Browning light 20 gauge. He hit that squirrel every time but he didn't go down until the third shot.
“You done showing off now?” “Now take these 20 gauge #4s off me before I accidentally load one and blow my stuff away, and kill the next squirrel with one shot.” He reluctantly agreed and I called him up another one, this time a fast little Grey squirrel. It was a good shot, about 30 yards and the squirrel just tumbled out of the tall oak tree stone dead just like mine.
I explained later after we both limited out, it wasn't a matter of 12 vs 20 gauge in this case. The things you need to know about this is you need a clean barrel, the right choke and the right shell. The Kid had a clean barrel and a full choke but the the shell was wrong as far as shot size in this case.
Going back in time to 1966 my dad layed out $186 for the Remington 1100. He wanted to get me a Browning A-5 but they were $315 and that was all he had. Fine with me, I got the gun on December 1st even though my 13th birthday was Christmas Day. It was early because the quail season in Arkansas opened on the first and daddy Frank had a hankering for quail for supper.
Old Duke, the English Setter locked up at the end of the field pretty as a picture. I can still see it in my minds eye. Duke held tight and the birds got up in a wad. The Remington snapped up and rapped off 3 Remington Sure-Shot 1 1/8 oz, number 8s and five bobwhites hit the cut hay field as Duke tried to retrieve three at once. I reloaded and kicked up a pair by myself while Duke was still hunting dead. They both fell at the shot, somewhat to my amazement as I had been previously trying to hunt quail with a full choke 20 gauge. I turned around and Duke was locked up on a single, good thing to, it was the last bird of the limit, 8 birds with five shots.
Well daddy Frank got his quail dinner that evening and decided to himself the Remington was a good purchase. That night he had a little home made elderberry wine and played Rhapsody in Blue just like he did when he made the original recording with Paul Whitman. He looked up at the full moon and spoke in Italian, “Laluna Catchitorri, The Hunters Moon.” His passion was the Clarinet and Saxophone while mine became the shotgun and the rifle. He lectured at Julliard, and well, I lecture to you on guns and ammo.
To this day the Remington throws perfect patterns if you use the right shell, keep the bore clean and use the right shot size for the game. I believe the Sure-Shot shell with the Power Piston gave about the best most even patterns out of the improved cylinder choke, at that particular time period in gun history. Now I have a whole set of barrels and interchangeable chokes for my two Remington shotguns, which includes a scope sighted slug barrel with paradox rifling for deer hunting.
With quail and dove hunting you need a shell with 7 ½, 8s or 9 shot depending on how wild the birds are. Back in the day they made shotgun shells to perform at their best, but now you can mistakenly buy an economy load that will have big gaps in the the payload causing blown patterns. This might be good on bobwhites over the dogs on an improved cylinder, but screw in the full choke on doves at 40 to 50 yards and those gaps get pretty big. Therefore I recommend premium loads when the going gets a little tough.
Knowing something about standard barrels vs. back bored barrels helps. As an example, the back bored barrels are about .010 inch larger in diameter making a standard full choke .700 while a back bore full choke is .710. Then we have what I have been swearing by for several years until just recently. The Hastings Wadlock barrels have been the cat's meow for full choke and turkey choke patterns. This one has straight lands and grooves like a rifle barrel that does not spin, but aids in stabilization of wad during firing. I know this works.
There are other little gimmicks that work to a certain extent such as custom forcing cones and chokes that grab the wad as in exits the muzzle separating the wad from the shot string before it collides with the pattern causing the unwanted blown pattern. They work to some extent depending on what shotgun game you are playing.
Probably the most important and ignored factor of shotgun patterning is the clean slick barrel. Now this can be achieved several way from scrubbing the barrel with something like Brasso to slicking it up with Silicon spray or even STP. This all has some merit, but the best way to prepare your shotgun barrel to maintain a clean slickness is to have it cryogenically treated. That is you freeze your whole shotgun, lock, stock, barrel and chokes, to about 315 degrees below zero and when you get your gun back it will do all the things you want it to.
Cryogenics, right now, is the cutting edge of firearms technology and I've been privileged to be one of the testers and writers on the subject for David Minchew of Baton Rouge Louisiana, one of the top men in the country on the subject. So now when I take out that old Remington 1100 it has a new lease on life, with Premium shotgun shells, an array of chokes, and a cryogenically treated barrel.
Traditionally the way to pattern a shotgun is to fire a given load on a sheet of paper within a 30 inch circle. Depending on the choke dimensions, the percentage of pellets in the 30 inch circle are calculated. For example a Modified choke should deliver a 60% pattern at 30 yards. This may vary however with the type of shell and brand, making this an interesting endeavor.
Turkey patterns should be conducted at 40 yards with a life size turkey head target with the center concentration marked for the rifle like zero of the shotgun. Subsequent misses mean little as to general patterning, as the turkey is stationary and not running or flying through a shot patten. Only direct lethal hits count. For example my test showed a Winchester Supreme 3.5 inch shell registered an average of 12 lethal #4 hits, while the Nitro Company Shotgun shell of the same type rated 24 hits. Both shells, beat out other brands by a good margin. I determined three number 4 hits to be the standard ethical pellet count to kill a turkey at 40 yards.
Because flying targets are moving, a proper hit may mean more lethal hits as the quarry moves through the shot string, something not widely publicized. A point, for example, I once train-wrecked a deer running flat out scoring 4 lethal 000 buckshot hits at an amazing 90 yards. Later I could not reproduce the shot on paper at the range. I deduced the deer ran through the shot string and picked up the pattern as it ran. At the time I was not use to having a scope on a shotgun as the shot appeared closer due to an optical illusion.
The most common variable in shotgun patterns is the wind. So don't pattern your gun on a windy day if you want to test its performance. In the field on a windy day all bets are off, so you do the best you can hit or miss and Pass it on.