Shooting ranges should be used to hone skills

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 10, 2001

In these fast-paced, ever-changing times, everyone seems to have too little time. Many of us do not make the time to go to the shooting range prior to hunting season to check equipment and hone our skills. We tend to rely on our best memories of past seasons and hunting successes to give us the confidence to go afield knowing we will succeed again.

Then, as it breaks early dawn on a cool December morning and ducks begin to work the decoys for the first time in almost a year, we rarely think about how well our shotgun is going to shoot that new box of steel we bought. We always expect our gun to shoot great! When it doesn’t, we tend to blame ourselves for being poor shots.

The same thing holds true with the same shotgun in early April during turkey season. However, in spring it’s number 4 lead shot instead of number two steel shot. And of course, we know when we’re successful it’s our proficiency with a shotgun that makes the difference. After all the shotgun performed perfectly last September in a dove field. Why, it only took three boxes of shells to get our limit of doves!

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This is a common pattern today among hunters with busy lifestyles. The fact is, it only takes a few minutes, some cardboard and butcher paper, and a pocket full of shells to figure out the optimal ammunition for a shotgun. In just a few minutes, a hunter can get an idea of how well a shotgun shoots different loads at different distances.

When visiting a range to pattern your shotgun, remember to take targets and the proper safety equipment. Protective shooting glasses can help prevent eye damage from ejected shells or an accident. Earplugs, muffs or the newer electronic suppression earmuffs can reduce harmful and irreversible damage to hearing.

Proper patterning a shotgun requires you to set up at different yardages within your acceptable range for whatever game you are hunting. Start at 20 yards and move back to 50 yards, shooting different loads and brands of ammunition at a 30-inch circle. By doing this and using a new target for each different load or brand, you can tell by the number of pellet holes in the circle which one shoots best with your gun and barrel choke.

The number of pellets and pattern the shot makes in the target will also give you a visual idea of how you and your shotgun perform. Maybe the gun shoots left or right, or high or low. If a problem like this is easily visible and not correctable with- a different stance or ammunition, a trip to a reputable gunsmith for assistance m.ght be needed.

Does patterning your shotgun matter? Of course it does. A responsible hunter should be familiar with his equipment and have the confidence to take an animal with one shot. We all want to be successful hunters, and with success comes confidence. When we slow down and pay attention to smaller details, the big picture tends to get a lot clearer.