How to Be Lucky

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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How to Be Lucky

by Bill Hanus

As soon as the dogs hit the ground, the subject of luck naturally arises. Napoleon was no man's fool. He knew "lucky" generals had a way of making their own luck.

Making your own luck -- The knowledge which follows has been artfully concealed from you by a generation of rifle-shooting writers who would have you believe that rifle marksmanship technology is transferable to shotgun use. It is not. These guys think that the sun rises and sets with windage and elevation -- which limits their perceptions to pretending that by staring at shotgun patterning boards and imagining they are performing some useful function. Drawing conclusions from a stationary target with both heels dug in is ridiculous on the face of it. Mary Russell sums it up nicely in A Letter to Mary by Laurie R. King, when she says: "My dear Holmes, this verges on deductio ad absurdum."

All a shotgun patterning board does is confirm what you already know: a load of shot passed through it and that some chokes have tighter patterns than others. Big deal. Worse yet, it's misleading because it reduces a three dimension event to two dimensions, thus concealing from you the single, most important dynamic of shotgun usage -- the shot string.

Luck starts with know-how. If you want to be lucky, then you need to learn how to use the shot string to your target's disadvantage. If you think of your shot string as a projectile (Gough Thomas refers to it as a "stumpy sausage"), it might help you visualize what happens when a dove comes whistling across an alfalfa field, heading toward the stock tank. What you are fixing to do is throw that projectile in front of the dove. Your plan is, more or less, to have the dove fly into the shot string and commit suicide.

Nowhere is this demonstrated better than in the accompanying illustration from SHOTGUN SHOOTING FACTS by Gough Thomas and Published by Winchester Press. It captures that drama of the instant. Note that the first 3 or 4 feet of this 12-foot-long shot string contain more than half the pellets and an even greater percentage of the energy, which determines the penetration and killing power of the charge. In this unusual drawing -- in which the shooter has over-lead the target -- the bird is going to fly into the tail (and weakest part) of the shot string. He will be exposed to only those pellets contained between the parallel lines. And maybe keep right on going.

Shot string smarts. You can go to school on this illustration. Long shot strings are bad. Short shot strings are good. Cheap shotgun shells, which are made with soft (chilled) shot deforms easily and is often irregular in size and weight. If you cut open a "promotional" load of, for example, No. 8's -- do not be surprised to find a mixture of shot sizes that range from Nos. 7-1/2 to 9. Those that are deformed upon ignition (maybe as high as 20%) may leave the pattern altogether and go cart-wheeling off into space (a greater danger to your dog than the bird). The heavier pellets will elbow their way to the head of the shot string. The lighter pellets will bring up the rear -- trailing maybe 15 feet behind the leaders and probably lacking in energy to get their job done. An "unlucky" set of circumstances for a wing-shooter.
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