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You and the 12-Yard Bird

by Bill Hanus

"Those methods, like the knowledge so derived, is arcane beyond belief." From THE IRON LANCE by Stephen R. Lawhead
Short range targets -- and pen raised quail, grouse, woodcock and skeet stations #1 low house, #7 high house and #8 high and low houses come immediately to mind -- present a different kind of challenge. They come closest to typifying the kind of hunting we get today with more preserve shooting and with better trained, closer working dogs. We are all seeing -- and taking -- more close range shots.

In a nutshell...
Your IMPROVED CYLINDER choke pattern (and all gauges throw the same size pattern, remember) is only about 17 or 18 inches in diameter at 12 yards. With 409 #8 pellets (or 585 #9’s) in an ounce of shot, the best you can hope for on game birds is a near miss; because if you are right on at 12 yards, sardines for dinner had better be Plan B.

At the dawn of shotgun history -- long before the invention of screw-in or adjustable chokes and plastic wads with hard shot or close working dogs -- everybody’s shotgun had long barrels and tight chokes optimistically designed for 50- or 60-yard targets. What was needed was a way in which to give these guns 25-yard capabilities.

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The knowledge so derived...
And so in 1892, a Parisian gunmaker named Galand, patented and manufactured a cartridge intended for short-range shooting. It consisted of a paper cartridge with a thin brass lining that was rifled so as to impart a spin to spread the shot when fired. It was made in two sizes. The first had a twist of about 12 inches and according to Gough Thomas in his book, SHOTGUN SHOOTING FACTS, published by Winchester Press, gave a spread of 50 inches at 22 yards. The second had a twist of 25 inches and gave a spread of 35 inches at 22 yards. The spin imparted by the twist was able to overcome the influence of tight chokes.

It is obvious that European experimenters have been onto something big with the idea of rifling in shotgun barrels for the purpose of increasing pattern size. Recently, a reader in Canada wrote to say that a French gunsmith was rifling barrels with one turn in 60" and claiming spread patterns "at 5 yards an 18" pattern, at 10 yards a 36" pattern, at 15 yards a 55" pattern and 20 yards a 74" pattern."

In this country, Briley is advertising a new Diffusion(TM) screw-in tube they are doing for some 12 gauge shooters and 20 gauge shooters. The way it was explained to me is that they take a Skeet choke and cut rifling grooves in it. They report that produces a pattern "about 5% wider than CYLINDER." This translates, if my calculations are right, into a 23 or 24" pattern instead of the 17 or 18" that IC throws at 12 yards.

FABARMS introduced the new Lion Paradox at the SHOT Show in 2002 -- an over/under with 12 or 20 gauge 24" barrels, the top barrel of which is a TriBore(TM) System barrel with screw-in chokes, while the bottom barrel has one-turn-in-14" rifling in the last six inches of the barrel at the muzzle. I have seen the 15-yard test patterns comparing this Paradox barrel to straight cylinder bore. It provides a dense, even pattern superior in every way to CYLINDER!. For short-range targets -- and grouse, woodcock, bobwhites plus some skeet and sporting clays targets come to mind -- this new Lion Paradox is going to be as popular in here as it already is in Europe. The suggested retail price of $1,199 guarantees it.

Arcane beyond belief
Time passes and parallel lines of inquiry and experimentation continue. A variety of scatter, spreader and brush loads ideas are created. Some involve intentionally deformed shot -- one disc-like (flattened shot); another cubic in shape. Another technique for shot dispersion involved roughening the choke area of the barrel walls near the muzzle to abrade the shot as it left the barrel.

Brush loads have a plain uncushioned piston-like wad that deforms shot pellets in the bottom 20% of the shot column at ignition, with additional pellets developing a flat side by passing down the length of the barrel, unprotected by the wad. Spreader loads usually feature a plastic fixture in, on or under the shot to encourage shot to spread as it exits the muzzle.

Mail order catalogue houses that cater to the shooting trade often offer spreader loads in 12 and 20 gauge and reloaders can have all sorts of fun experimenting with spreader or brush loads. Ballistic Products and Precision Reloading are reloading resources that can supply you with a wealth of experience and the specialized products needed to get the job done.

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As you can see, research on enlarging short-range patterns by influencing the behavior of shot pellets proceeds on several levels: (1) modifying the barrel; (2) modifying the choke; (3) deforming the shot pellets and (4) deflecting the shot -- all aimed at enhancing pattern size. The question isn’t, "Will some form of pattern enhancement make a FULL choke shoot like a MODIFIED choke?" It will. The question is: "How do we apply this technology for 12-yard targets?"

Rudy Etchen Jr., an All-American Champion trap and skeet shooter and longtime friend, told me once that when he was watching the Russian skeet team warming up for the Olympics, he noticed that every shell in the box was marked for the position it was to be shot at! Imagine that. A game where the maximum range is 21 yards -- shot with open skeet chokes -- and they still had special shells, presumably with different patterning characteristics, for each position on the skeet field. "Those methods, like the knowledge so derived, is arcane beyond belief." And the devil is, sure enough, as always, in the details.

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