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John Barsness

Rooster pheasants have the reputation of being the upland equivalent of Cape buffalo, not because they might stomp an unfortunate hunter into the fertile earth of a Kansas cornfield, but because they're tough to bring down. There's a certain amount of truth to this, but a large part of the "toughness" of both pheasants and buffalo is due to bad shooting and the wrong ammunition.

Pheasants are very long — but up to 2' of their length is tail. Many hunters shoot at the whole bird, putting the center of their shotgun's pattern too far back. Feathers fly — but so does the bird, often beyond the reach of even a good Labrador retriever.

Instead, concentrate on the "leading edge" of a rooster. This is the same suggestion every shotgunning instructor pounds into students, because the students will hit more clays if they focus sharply on the leading edge, instead of the entire target. The difference between the front and rear of a 4-1/4" clay pigeon obviously isn't nearly as much as between the beak and the tail-tip of a pheasant, but the principle is the same: When we concentrate on the front of a flying target, we're far less likely to shoot behind.

Pheasants get shot with the wrong ammunition because the average shotgunner is cheap. This first shows up before hunting season, when the hunter doesn't practice much m HI Ft

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The pheasant gun doesn't have to be a 12. Two of John's favorites are a 28-gauge Remington 870 (top) and a 16-gauge Winchester Model 12.

because ammunition and clay birds cost money. It kicks in again the day before the season — or maybe even the morning of opening day, because some pheasant states (such as South Dakota) don't allow hunting until midday. (The reason is supposedly to allow farmers to sleep in until a reasonable hour, rather than get rousted before dawn by aspiring hunters pounding on their doors.)

Our aspiring hunter has already filled up his gas tank, and may have driven a day or two and spent the night in a motel. He may have bought a steak dinner at a restaurant and, to make sure the steak rested easily on his stomach, poured a few quarts of some sort of liquid on top. His wallet is a little thin, so when he finds stacks of "SALE! SALE! SALE!" shotgun shells at Wally World, he buys a box.

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He should have bought the SALE! ammunition earlier and shot it at clay birds, because it really doesn't matter much what kind of shot hits a clay. Cheap ammunition is normally loaded with softer shot, because softer shot is cheaper. This isn't an entirely bad thing. Softer shot will normally pattern a little wider from the over-choked barrel of the average pheasant shotgun, because some of the shot deforms during its trip down the barrel, and the deformed shot tends to veer away from the main pattern.

However, softer shot also doesn't penetrate all that well, because it flattens upon hitting the target. Yeah, your grandfather said if shot expands like a .30-30 bullet it kills better. That might be true on a small bird like a dove or quail, but not on a pheasant. Like a bullet blowing up on a Cape

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