Good practice for successful shotgun shooting

For sporting shooting to continue to be acceptable we must practise it in ways that are both wise and sustainable. This means it must also be humane.

The sportsman’s aim is to achieve the instantaneous kill of each bird or animal that he or she shoots at, and then its speedy retrieval so that it is put to good use and not wasted.

Every bird and animal (including so-called ‘pest’ species) is a sentient creature and should not suffer unnecessarily as a result of our sporting shooting or pest control activities.

These principles are not new – they are embodied in long-established practice among responsible shooters, including:

  • using appropriate pellet sizes for different quarry types
  • ‘patterning’ the gun plus cartridge to ensure cartridge effectiveness
  • using practical  aids to range judging
  • shooting ‘within range’
  • using gundogs for picking up shot quarry
  • care with dead quarry so it can be enjoyed as food

Shooting skills

1.  Gun fit

If our gun does not fit us well (i.e. its stock is not suited to our shape or the clothing we wear) we are unlikely to shoot accurately and consistently.

A good shooting coach will soon determine how well a gun fits and what adjustments may be needed (contact BASC or see our website for list of BASC coaches.

2.  Gun mount

Similarly, if we are not mounting our gun correctly (i.e. bringing it into the shoulder) and consistently, our shooting accuracy will suffer.

Check your gun mounting when checking your gun fit. Practise regularly.

3. Appropriate cartridge/choke

A clean kill is caused by sufficient pellet strikes on the quarry’s body, with each pellet being large enough (i.e. having enough energy) to penetrate and damage the well-protected and deep-lying vital organs.  The size of pellet, in relation to the size and range of the quarry, is critical – the larger and/or farther away the quarry the larger the pellets need to be.

The number of pellets striking is mainly dependent on the cartridge and, to some extent only, the degree of choke (i.e. the constriction in a barrel to concentrate the pellets on the target) being used.

  • Large pellets (with ‘large’ energy) are needed to penetrate vital organs. Damage to vital organs is what kills – lots of small pellets (with insufficient energy to reach those organs) do not kill, as is widely believed, by ‘shock effect’.
  • Concentration of pellets in the pattern generally increases with choke from cylinder to half choke – but is often unpredictable thereafter.  [‘Pattern’ describes the spread of  pellets downrange of the gun.]

Guidance on which cartridge/choke combination to use for each type of quarry pursued is available from BASC.

4.  Patterning for lethality

In addition to using the appropriate size of pellet for the intended quarry (to ensure enough penetrative energy), it is essential to ensure enough of those pellets strike the quarry bird or animal overall so that at least one actually damages the (often very small) vital organs. Patterning each suitable cartridge type is needed to determine which one in your gun will consistently deliver the minimum number of pellets on the body to achieve that.

Patterning must be done correctly to be of any value – refer to BASC’s Patterning information paper.

Guidance on the minimum number of pellets required to ensure lethality for each type of quarry is also available from BASC.

5.  Range judging

It is notoriously difficult to judge range well, especially for birds against an open sky. We tend to under-estimate range, especially as it gets longer.  We need to know the range to each bird or animal we intend to shoot a) to be sure we are capable of hitting it and b) to make sure the cartridge/choke combination being used at that range will be lethal.

Practise with objects at known range and with a rangefinder.  Shoot clays at known distances.  Use methods which relate the width of your muzzles to the size of a bird  in the sky to indicate whether it is within your personal range limit. Use trees or   other features of known height to judge quarry range.

6.  Shooting accuracy

If we cannot place the ‘pattern’ accurately and consistently on our quarry then (if we do not miss it completely) it is likely to be wounded rather than killed.

Practise on clays on a variety of targets at, say, 20 yards, then  30 and 40 yards once you are consistently ‘killing’ them. Practise on clays, not live quarry.

7.  Shooting within our personal  shooting skill limits

If we shoot beyond the range at which we can consistently hit (ie kill) our quarry our shooting success will suffer, as will any birds (or animals) caught in the less effective fringe pellets of the pattern. Each of us has a maximum personal range limit within which we can consistently hit our quarry  – we should not shoot beyond it.

The “might just hit it…” approach is irresponsible and does not show respect for our quarry.

Determine your own range limits for consistently hitting your target – and shoot within them. Practise on clays.

At a peg, flight pond or on the marsh, note features around you which define your personal shooting range capability, and do not shoot beyond them.

8.  Shooting within the capability of our gun/cartridge combination to ensure lethality

[This paragraph may seem to duplicate previous points – but it does bring several of them together]

For each type (i.e. size) of quarry there is a minimum number of the appropriate-sized pellets needed to hit it and ensure a clean kill (see para no. 3).  If we shoot with the wrong gun/ cartridge combination (which cannot deliver that minimum number – see para no. 4), or if we shoot at a range where the required pattern density fails (see para no. 5), we are likely to wound and lose, rather than kill and retrieve, our quarry.

Select an appropriate cartridge for your intended quarry, pattern it (properly) in your gun to make sure it delivers the minimum number of pellets at the likely range of your intended quarry, and do not shoot beyond the range at which it can deliver a clean kill.

Lähde: BASC | Respect for quarry

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