Articles‎ > ‎

OF SMOKE AND FEATHERS: THE OFF SEASON

posted Jul 26, 2011, 5:57 AM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Aug 1, 2011, 12:46 PM ]

BY RICHARD NORTON

Note: A special thanks to Richard Norton for submitting this Article

 
   A major portion of my life is devoted to waterfowl hunting in one way or another. The end of one hunting season begins a series of rituals to make ready for the up coming season. From painting decoys, replacing lines and working on blinds/boats, to patterning and honing my skills as a wingshot. International Skeet is
my most frequent off season activity, as the faster targets are more waterfowl like than American Skeet, with an occasional round of sporting clays thrown in for some variation. By far the off season activity that offers me the most fun, the most varied shot presentation, and potentially highest volume, is shooting nuisance birds on the area farms.

 

Installing a Handguard for High Volume Shooting









 
Pigeons and starlings are the most common quarry, with pigeons being my favorite. For obvious reasons I have yet to experience a clay target game that offers more waterfowl like targets than this off season endeavor, as well as, giving data on non-toxic shot performance that can't be gained from mathematics, ballistic gel or extrapolated with a computer program. From what I hear, no matter how they are prepared clay targets taste pretty bad, on the other hand smoked pigeons are delicious. Our Thursday night shooting and BBQ at my local skeet range, marinated pigeon cutlets disappear faster than any other meat. I grew up shooting nuisance birds on local farms, it is something that my family has been doing for generations. I speak from experience when I say it is a lot more fun than watching a ball game on TV.

    Several years ago I received a phone call from one particular farmer that was losing over a ton of feed per week to pigeons and starlings. Dad and I started to make bi-weekly trips and over the first month and a half we had put a visible dent in the local pigeon population. The barrels of my 12ga Pedersoli would get too hot to touch and I actually burned my hand twice, each time, raising a big puffy blister on the base of my right thumb. To stop the barrels from burning my hand while shooting; I slid a short piece of 3/8" dowel cut flush with the forend, into the end of the forend and thimble under the barrel wedge to the base of the ram rod channel (to stop spilled shot from ending up in the locks) then I just snapped on a handguard from one of my english guns. The 12ga handguard was a little small, but, with a little creative bending I had a perfect fit.

    By the end the second month our daily bag had decreased to only 6 or 7 pigeons each, while still seeing several thousand pigeons a day, one flock alone numbered over 500 birds. Pigeons have a high capacity for learning and though not as smart as educated geese, educated pigeons are definitely smarter than mallards. I can pull a 5 man limit of Canada geese pretty much every time out, so I figured that I could keep this pigeon thing going by using some of my goose hunting tactics and exploit their gregarious disposition. First we restricted the number trips per farm to a maximum of once a week, and never, no matter what, go two days in a row. Generally only going to any one farm about twice a month, shooting locations in rotation. Next on the list was pigeon decoys. Not exactly something I can pick up at Walmart or the local Cabelas store. A short Internet search lead me to Knutsons for a dozen pigeon decoys.We set up a small two man blind, after waiting
two weeks to let the birds get used to the blind, we put out the pigeon decoys in small family groups. The pigeons worked into the decoy rig pretty much like Canada geese. These simple tactics worked for two more farm seasons, after that our daily bag began to dwindle, again, despite still seeing several thousand birds a day; time to try something new. I had been using reelwings UV decoy paint on my waterfowl decoys for a few years, so I figured that it would work on pigeons... and I was right. The addition of little trick brought our daily bag back up to over 20 pigeons each for dad and I. The next step in this progression will most likely be more decoys and electronic motion decoys of some kind.

MY STANDARD LEAD FARM LOADS

 1 ounce farm load 90gr FFG
1 - 1/8" 12ga nitro card or 2 home made nitro cards
1 - 1/4" 12ga vegetable fiber wad
1 oz magnum #7.5's or #9's
1 - 11ga or home made overshot card

Heavy 1&1/4 ounce farm load
100gr FFG
2 - 1/8" 12ga nitro card
1 - 1/4" 12ga vegetable fiber wad
1&1/4 oz magnum or plated #5's w/16.5gr mix#47
1 - 11ga or home made overshot card

Note: Federal Regulations now require non-toxic shot for hunting nuisance birds
    Since the early 1980's, on most of the farms, I had used a one ounce load of magnum lead #7.5's or #9's in my 12ga muzzleloading shotguns and black powder cartridge guns. Shot size depended on whether pigeons or starlings were the primary target. After getting the lead #9's to pattern well they would cleanly kill pigeons to just 40 yards, assuming I did my part. This load worked quite satisfactorily for over 25 years, cripple losses on pigeons were almost nonexistent (1 lost for every 40 or so home) and the pellets didnt travel overly far, usually falling within sight of the blind (about 250 yards). On the larger farms where we were shooting pigeons almost exclusively, it was really hard to beat a heavy load of buffered, plated lead #5's.

    The home made nitro cards are punched from 1/8" corrugated cardboard using a 3/4" punch, then waxed with paraffin to keep them ridged and waterproof. The #9's patterned best with the home made nitro cards. 1/4" fiber wads were simply made by splitting a standard 1/2" 12ga Circle Fly wad in half. Fiber wads are lubed with my standard lube of 1/3 crisco, 1/3 alox, 1/3 bees wax. Home made overshot cards are punched from a Redman Gold or Southern Pride chewing tobacco box using the same 3/4" punch.

MY STEEL SHOT FARM LOADS

1 OUNCE(ish) of STEEL #6's
110gr FFG
2- 1/8" 12ga nitro card or 2 home made nitro cards
1 - 1/4" 12ga vegetable fiber wad
1 - over shot card on top of fiber wad
1- BP12 with a 1/8" 20ga cork wad in base 408gr steel #6's w/6gr PR buffer
1 - 11ga or home made overshot card

1 OUNCE of STEEL #4's
110gr FFG
2 - 1/8" 12ga nitro cards
1 - 1/4" 12ga vegetable fiber wad
1 - over shot card on top of fiber wad
1- BP12 with a 1/8" 20ga cork wad in base
1oz steel #4's w/8.5gr PR buffer
1 - 11ga or home made overshot card


See the patterning results at the bottom of this Article

    The new Federal non-toxic shot mandate for nuisance birds added a whole new dimension (and price tag) to my summertime activities. Steel shot is the non-toxic shot of choice here, simply because of price, performance wise NiceShot or Bismuth #7.5's would be my first choice but I simply do not have that kind on money. Even making Bismuth 7.5's with my Littleton Shot Maker, after alloying and power, Bismuth still costs just about $20 per pound. Steel #7's proved disastrous, we spent almost as much time chasing down cripples as shooting. Steel #6's were the next up, under 30 yards they didn't work bad at all on pigeons and worked surprising well on starlings out to just over 40 yards. However, between 30 and 40 yards our cripple losses with the steel #6's on pigeons sharply rose to an unacceptable; one lost for every four home ( 1 in 5). Forcing us to decrease our shooting distance and our overall bag for the day by more than 25%. Remembering why we are there, that means 25% more feed/crop loss. Cripple losses, on pigeons, aren't quite so bad when we shoot a full ounce of buffered, steel #4's on the larger farms. Using the steel #4's drops our cripple losses to a more acceptable 1 lost for every 18 home (1 in 19). In the future when we are forced to shoot non-toxic shot during their regular season also, this load of steel #4's will likely work well on crows. I would be willing to bet that this load of steel #6's will work well on doves when the vile non-toxic shot mandate gets around to doves.

    Again with the smaller shot (steel #6's & #7's) my home made nitro cards patterned better than the store bought 1/8" nitro card. As you can see my standard one ounce lead load was severely modified for the steel #4's and steel #6's, by more than just increasing their velocity and poking down a plastic wad. A Ballistic Products BP12 shotcup with 4 slits (to the base) with a 20ga 1/8"cork filler wad inside the base of the BP12 shotcup under the shot were also incorporated into these loads. Filling the wad to the top gave me 408gr of steel #6's, I filled the spaces between the pellets with 6gr Precision Reloading (PR) spherical buffer. The hardest part of getting these loads to pattern wasn't getting decent percentages, but getting an even pellet distribution with at least a little central density and an even fringe. Steel shot and the other hard non-toxic shot types are known for patterns with high percentages, not, even patterns with high percentages. More on this another time.

    So shut off the TV, get off the couch, do some patterning, bring the kids and/or the wife if you like. Then go talk to the farmer where you hunt during the regular hunting season, get out there and make some smoke. Check your local game laws before you head out, as some states may require special permits for nuisance bird shooting and may or may not require the use of non-toxic shot or allow the use of decoys/calls depending on the species of birds that you will be pursuing.

    Do not forget to check to make sure that your gun is steel shot approved if there is any doubt don't use steel shot. Bismuth and Nice Shot #7 1/2's do work very well they are just a little pricey. Remember to always follow standard safety procedures and never exceed firearm manufacturers maximum loads.

 
Carlson Choke Tube: Skeet

110 gr FFg

406 gr steel No. 6

30 yards

242 hits
81% Pattern Density


 
 
 
Carlson Choke Tube: Improved Cylinder

110 gr FFg

406 gr steel No. 6

30 yards

201 hits
67% Pattern Density

 
Pedersolii Choke Tube: Improved Cylinder

110 gr FFg

406 gr steel No. 6

30 yards

239 hits
80% Pattern Density

 
 Carlson Choke Tube: Modified

110 gr FFg

406 gr steel No. 6

40 yards

201 hits
70% Pattern Density

 
 Pedersolii Choke Tube: Modified

110 gr FFg

406 gr steel No. 6

40 yards

239 hits
80% Pattern Density

 
 Carlson Choke Tube: Improved Modified

110 gr FFg

406 gr steel No. 6

40 yards

253 hits
85% Pattern Density

 
 Pedersolii Choke Tube: Modified

110 gr FFg

406 gr steel No. 4
40 yards

180 hits
91% Pattern Density

 
 Carlson Choke Tube: Full

110 gr FFg

406 gr steel No. 6

40 yards

243 hits
81% Pattern Density

 
 
 Carlson Choke Tube: Modified

110 gr FFg

406 gr steel No. 4

40 yards

181 hits
91% Pattern Densit
  
 
 Carlson Choke Tube: Improved Modified

181 gr FFg

406 gr steel No. 4

40 yards

18 hits
91% Pattern Density
  
 
 Carlson Choke Tube: Full

110 gr FFg

406 gr steel No. 4

40 yards

173 hits
87% Pattern Density
  



Comments