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Tuning up for Pheasant Season

posted Oct 3, 2012, 9:30 AM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Oct 4, 2012, 9:19 AM ]
    Each year in late September or early October we take a trip to Vallery's High Plains Game Ranch in western South Dakota as a tune up for the opening of pheasant season.  This pre-season excursion provides an opportunity to give the dogs a little work and make sure the hunting equipment is fully operational.   It is also a good time to take a close look at your hunting shotgun and loading flasks and other tools.
    With respect to the gun itself, check to make sure that the locks and triggers are functioning smoothly and that they are properly lubricated.   If you have not patterned the gun in a while, make a trip to the patterning board prior to hunting.   There are a number of prior articles which address load development, so I will not say too much on the subject here.  My only words of advice is to make sure that you maintain adequate velocities when hunting medium sized birds, such as pheasants.   Too many muzzleloaders sacrifice velocity for pattern density.  My rule of thumb is to keep the volume of powder at least equal to the volume of shot.    Within reasonable limits, equal volumes of shot and powder will produce a velocity of at least 1050 feet per second.  Velocities of 1050 feet per second and higher are more than adequate for pheasant hunting. (See Reference section for velocity testing.)

    An often over looked item are the nipples on the gun.  Repeated hammer falls will cause the top of some nipples to mushroom, making it difficult to get the percussion cap on properly.   If the nipples have started to mushroom, they can be easily cleaned up by chucking them into a drill or lathe and carefully taking off a small amount of metal with a file.  Dustin Parker recently gave me a simple tool which further simplified this process.  It is a small metal rod threaded to accept a nipple.  The the metal rod is chucked into a drill or vise and the nipple is then threaded into tool.   Using this method, you can clean up a handful of old nipples in a couple of minutes.  

   Finally  check the ramrod to make sure that it is still in good shape.  In my case, I generally use an unbreakable ramrod made from a delrin rod while in the field.  If you are using a wood ramrod, give it a couple of flexes to make sure that it has not cracked.  It is a good idea to mark the ramrod to indicate the depth of a properly loaded round.  Things can get pretty hectic while hunting.  It is easy to make a mistake when loading under these conditions.  Having a marked ramrod provides an easy way to make sure that you have properly loaded the gun. 

    Loading a muzzleloading shotgun in the field presents some issues which you do not have to face when shooting on the range.  The loading tools which I use on the the range are completely different from the equipment used in the field   On the range, powder and shot are dispensed from a "Davis Loader"  which is a bench mounted device.  In the field, you will need to carry both shot and powder flasks or pre-measured quantities shot and powder.  On the range, wads can be kept in open containers on the loading bench.  In the field  you will need some method of organizing your over shot and over powder wads which provides easy access.  Finally, on the range I use a dedicated brass range rod as apposed to the gun's wooden ramrod.  

    Prior to heading to the field. make a plan for how you are going to the gun and organize your equipment.  If you are hunting with shooters who are using modern guns, there will be on premium on loading quickly.   Modern shooters find muzzleloading shotguns interesting at first, however, they quickly tire of being constantly slowed down by someone who is taking a long time to reload their gun.  In my case, I use replica Eley Shot Cartridges to speed the loading process.  I also keep on the bare essentials in my loading pouch when hunting: (1) the powder flask, (2) a supply of shot cartridges and (3) a pair of small pliers for stuck caps.  This minimizes the amount of time spent fishing round in the loading pouch.  Keep the other loading paraphernalia in a separate box in the car.   Finally, make yourself a "belly fob" which will facilitate loading in the field.  

  With the gun and loading equipment in order, it was time to start hunting. 
Vallery's High Plains Game Ranch  is located on the extreme western side of South Dakota near the town of Nisland.  While South Dakota is the pheasant capital of the world, most of the pheasants are located in the eastern and central sections of the State. Few native birds are located in the western portion of South Dakota.

    The hunting at the High Plains Game Ranch is about as close as you can get to wild bird hunting on a game farm.  Several hundred, 16 week old birds are released prior to the start of the season and  the bird population is supplemented through out the season.  As a result, there is always a good number of strong flying birds in the fields.  Hunting takes place in a variety of row crops, which have been partially harvested  to provide strips of standing crops which are manageable size to hunt.  

    Our guides this year were Randy Vallery (the owner) and Lt. Colonel Fred Wells (retired).   Both Randy and Fred did a great job of keep our group of twelve hunters both organized and safe.  Randy and Fred also had several hard working labs to help with the retrieving duties when our dogs got tired. 

    A good time was had by all.  There is a slide show of pictures form the 2012 Tune Up in the Gallery Section.  Here is a sampling of pictures from the hunt.