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Plus, at ranges under 40 yards the average shotgunner also isn't good enough to center a close-range pheasant in a tight full-choke pattern. He's more likely to hit the bird with the pattern fringe, resulting in the same inadequate number of pellet strikes.

Of course, "magnum" loads will make a difference. Or will they? Let's up the load to 1-1/2 ounces of shot, containing about 200 No. 4 pellets. Our typical hunter is too cheap to buy this ammo, but hey, maybe his rich uncle sprang for a box. This raises the pattern density at 40 yards (again from a full choke) to one pellet every 5 square inches. Now we're up to three hits on a rooster at 40 yards, still not enough to anchor a bird every time.

Nope, the real solution is to use smaller, harder shot. To average four hits on a rooster, at least 190 shot have to land inside a 30" circle. With a full choke this means we need to start with at least 270 shot in the shell. Not so coincidentally, a 1-1/4 ounce load of No. 6 lead shot contains about 280 pellets.

Even with a modified choke (60 percent at 40 yards) this means about 170 pellets will land inside the 30" circle. Up the load to 1-3/8 ounces (Fiocchi loads 12-gauge Golden Pheasants with this shot charge) and 187 shot should land inside the circle. This is close enough to our 190-pellet ideal — and in reality 40 yards is a long shot for most hunters. The wider spread of a modified pattern will also provide a little more leeway in pointing error. Combine a wider pattern with increased density and our average shooter will cleanly kill more pheasants than with the all-too-common full choke with No. 4 loads.

We can go a little lighter. Long experimentation with No. 7-1/2 shot proves it's too light for wild pheasants. However, the gap between No. 6 and No. 7-1/2 shot is the biggest in American shotshells, with No. 6 lead shot averaging 225 to the ounce and 7-1/2's 350. When it can be found, No. 7 shot plugs the gap, at around 300 shot per ounce. Not so coincidentally, No. 7 American shot is the same size as the British No. 6, the size they use to shoot driven pheasants, typically with a little more than 1 ounce of shot.

Going Small

A couple of years ago I decided to see what the 28-gauge would truly do on upland birds, both with factory loads and handloads. The agreement with myself was if the little gun started wounding, it would be put aside for more manly gauges. I ended up shooting the 28 the entire fall here in Montana, on upland birds from mourning doves to 5-pound sage grouse.

Many bigger birds were taken with Winchester's 1-ounce factory load featuring No. 6 shot, and even 3/4-ounce Premium load from Federal provided plenty of pattern density at 40 yards with a full choke. But I also worked up a 7/8-ounce load with high-antimony No. 7 shot, ordered from Ballistic Products Inc. These averaged around 265 pellets a shell, and from a modified

Lchoke killed wild roosters very well at ranges out to 40 yards.

Please note the emphas is on wild roosters. Pen-raised birds aren't the same thing. Though the majority of wild roosters are birds of the year, most are hatched in May and by November are six months old — and the rest of the birds are at least 1-1/2 years old. Pen-raised birds are all young birds, and by definition are raised in pens, where they don't develop the same muscles, so aren't nearly as tough to bring down as wild birds. They also hold much tighter, instead of running, so shots are typically short. In the hands of a good wingshot, a .410 with No. 7-1/2 shot will cleanly kill most pen-raised birds, but simply isn't enough for wild birds, especially toward the end of the season.

I've hunted wild pheasants with every gauge from 28 up to 12, and every type of shotgun from single-shots to drillings. I like pumps a lot, but to my mind, wild pheasants are the perfect match for a double-barreled shotgun with two triggers and two different chokes. Pheasants aren't covey birds, so we usually shoot them one at a time. A wild rooster may get up anywhere from a few feet to 30+ yards away, so it's very handy to have both an open-choked barrel for short shots, and a modified or full barrel for longer shots.

Like most firearms enthusiasts I have more shotguns than can be used at any one time, but if forced to pick one pheasant gun it would be my Merkel 47E side-by-side with two triggers. This weighs a trifle over 6-1/2 pounds and has .008" of choke in the right barrel, .018" in the left. In more common terms this means improved-cylinder and a "tight" modified. It's a 12-gauge, though could just as easily be a 20 or 16. (When hunting with a single-barrel shotgun, I prefer a looser modified choke, like the .010" constriction in my 16-gauge Model 12 Winchester.)

Aside from the right gun, a pheasant hunter needs a good vest, boots and dog. In recent years I've been wearing Filson's Tin Cloth Game Bag, one of the strap types. The waxed canvas has held up very well against all sorts of harsh vegetation. The skeleton design allows the bag to be worn over any sort of clothing from light shirts in mid-October to 3-layered combinations of miracle fibers in January. It has two big snap-top pockets for shells and other stuff, and the rear bag is more than large enough for a typical 3-rooster limit. The early-season boots are Red Wing Model 2233 work boots, single-layered leather to provide some breathability (try to find light

Eileen Clarke took this wild Montana rooster with a 28-gauge side-by-side and Winchester's 1-ounce load with copper-plated No. 6 shot.

hunting boots that don't include at least one layer of hot miracle fiber anymore), and the late-season boots Schnee's pacs with liners, keeping my feet warm and dry in snow.

My present dog is a half-breed Labrador/English setter, but I've hunted with a bunch of pheasant dogs, including Boykin and springer spaniels, Labrador and Golden retrievers, German shorthairs and English pointers, and even one basset hound. The thing all the good dogs had in common was an ability to pin or flush roosters within range of a load of No. 6 shot — and then retrieve felled birds, even those not hit so well. This sometimes happens, because even a perfect Merkel is operated by a fallible human. f?I7H

BALLISTIC PRODUCTS INC. 20015 75TH AVE. NORTH P.O. BOX 293, CORCORAN, MN 55340 (888) 273-5623 WWW.BALLISTICPRODUCTS.COM

FEDERAL CARTRIDGE COMPANY 900 EHLEN DRIVE, ANOKA, MN 55303 (612) 323-2300, WWW.FEDERALAMMO.COM

FIOCCHI OF AMERICA, INC. 6930 N. FREMONT RD., OZARK, MO 65721 (417) 725-4118, WWW.FIOCCHIUSA.COM

MERKEL USA 7661 COMMERCE LANE, TRUSSViLLE, AL 35173 (205) 655-8299, WWW.MERKEL-USA.COM

RED WING SHOE COMPANY 314 MAIN STREET, RED WING, MN 55066 (800) 733-9464, WWW.REDWINGSHOES.COM

SCHNEE'S

121 W. MAiN ST., BOZEMAN, MT 59715-4644 (406) 587-0981, WWW.SCHNEES.COM

WiNCHESTER AMMUNiTiON OLiN CORPORATiON 427 N. SHAMROCK, EAST ALTON, iL 62024 (618) 258-3566, WWW.WiNCHESTER.COM

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