This is the hunters' season, the time of year when man seeks the roots of his past and the meaning of his present in the forests and the fields. It is the time of cackling, fat pheasants, fast-flying ducks, elusive grouse and evasive quail. And it is the time of shotguns. There is no firearm more versatile, more widely used or more popular among outdoor sportsmen. Of the 20 million Americans who will go hunting this season, more than 15 million will take along shotguns—some for upland game, some for waterfowl and some simply as an excuse for the pleasure and the exhilaration of being outdoors on a crisp fall day. On the following pages Dan Orlich and William Bonnette Jr., two of the nation's most experienced shooters, demonstrate the pleasures of a shotgun in the field.
WAITING OUT PHEASANTS
The Chinese ringneck pheasant is a tough and tricky target that would rather run than fly—and does so at the slightest disturbance. It generally flushes with a noisy and disconcerting cackle and often tries clumsily for altitude before leveling off at deceptive speeds. Large-boned, thickly feathered and heavily padded, pheasants are hard to bring down, and difficult to keep down. For these reasons former Green Bay Packer Dan Orlich (right), four times All-America trap team captain and the winner of some 1,000 shooting trophies, prefers a 12-gauge, 3¾-dram, 1-ounce load of No. 6 shot for pheasants. He uses a Remington Model 32 over-and-under with improved and full-choke barrels six inches longer than the average 26-inch field length. "Game rarely goes so fast that you do not have time to get on it before firing," Orlich says. "The temptation on pheasants, especially when they flush under your feet, is to shoot too quickly. Long barrels prevent snap shots. The few added feet the bird moves are more than compensated for in greater accuracy." With long barrels or short, Orlich's pheasant-shooting rules are the same: "Control the gun at all times. A bird may flush anywhere. When one does, bring the gun firmly to your cheek and shoulder, position feet and body. Take a few seconds after the bird gets up to determine its flight path. Track it exactly as you would a clay target, then swing past it, move ahead of it and fire. If its head stays up—even if the bird goes down—fire again. Hunt with a dog and keep your eyes on the bird until it is in the bag."
WALKING UP QUAIL AND GROUSE
The bobwhite is known as a quail in the North, as a partridge in the South and as the No. 1 upland game bird in the field and on the table. Small, fast and difficult to hit, it sits tight to dogs, flushes with sudden and startling speed and takes off with remarkable maneuverability. "Quail usually lift straight up before leveling off," says William Bonnette Jr., who owns and operates the South's largest quail-hunting preserve near Palm Beach, Fla. (SI, March 4, 1963), "but unlike the pheasant, when a quail 'towers' this almost always means that it is mortally wounded. The bobwhite requires little powder," he adds, "but a lot of precision to bring it down." Bonnette's favorite quail combination is a Remington Model 58 autoloader in 20 gauge with 2-dram, ‚Öû-ounce No. 8 or 9 shot. He, too, prefers a longer-than-average (30 inches) barrel. Bonnette (shown at right, wearing hat, with young Byron Ramsing Jr. of Palm Beach) starts out novice quail hunters with the smallest of all shotguns, the .410, to emphasize skill over shell size. "Hunt into the wind to prevent your dog flushing birds before he scents them," he says, "and walk abreast. Never get ahead of or behind your partner. When flushing birds, try not to approach between them and their probable escape route to avoid overhead shots. Stop with one foot forward so that you are in position to swing your gun, and keep your eyes on the horizon, not on the ground. When the birds get up, count to three. This gives you time to pick the bird nearest you and to determine its flight. It gives the bird time to get out into reasonable range—30 to 50 feet. Swing at least 2 to 3 feet ahead and continue swinging as you fire. Most beginners shoot into a covey rather than at a single bird, and they usually shoot too soon." About the only time the fastest gun gets the game is in grouse hunting. Here the novice seldom shoots at all. He is either hung up in a thicket when the bird flushes or is paralyzed by its explosive takeoff. "Ruffed grouse take strong legs and thick skin to hunt," says Orlich, "and cool nerves, cat reflexes and good ears and eyes to hit. Usually you hear a roar of wings first. By the time you see the grouse, it is disappearing behind a bush. You have one fleeting second to get the gun up, guess the angle and the lead and fire. The gun you can get in position fastest is more important than the gauge shell it fires. Field or trap loads in No. 7½ shot are fine. The trick is locating the target."
PATIENCE PAYS OFF ON WATERFOWL
Ducks and geese are shot from boats and sunken barrels, over grain fields and in stubble, along rivers and at potholes, but they are most often shot from a blind over decoys. For the best shots, hunters should position themselves with wind at their backs, since wildfowl land and take off into the wind. The blind, whether of hastily cut branches or prebuilt, should hide hunters from birds but afford some view of the horizon. Sit so that you can wait out birds in comfort, for hours if necessary, and still get into shooting position with minimum movement. "If you have to stretch your legs every five minutes, you'll never see a bird," Bonnette says, "and if you get so stiff you can't move, you'll never hit one. A few extra minutes getting comfortable at the start are well spent." Bonnette uses a combination swivel seat-shellbox in the blind (upper left), while Ramsing squats. Both keep bodies still, faces down and heads low as birds approach. To shoot (below left) they move forward onto knees in single, swift motion. Each can swing his gun freely, follow through smoothly in this position. "When to fire and how far to lead are the critical decisions in waterfowl shooting," says Bonnette. "The birds are almost always farther away, and moving faster, than you think. Very few are downed at 60 yards in spite of boasts otherwise, but many are crippled with one or two pellets at that distance. The same shots at 30 to 40 yards would be clean hits. Judging range takes practice. Some hunters decide a duck is close enough when it looks the size of a silver dollar on the end of their barrel. Others wait until they can see its eye or make out its colors. Some set a large decoy 40 yards away as a range finder. These all help, but the real key to shooting over decoys is patience. Wait until you are sure the birds are in range, then wait a 10-count longer."
LEAD OUTWEIGHS LOAD
Many upland gunners discover the hard way that leads which work on quail and pheasants seldom ruffle the tail feathers of ducks and geese. "Upland birds are usually shot on the rise or shortly after—before they reach top speeds—at ranges of 30 to 60 feet," says Bonnette. "When waterfowl are shot in full flight, the range may be three times that distance. Hitting them is less a matter of how much gun you use than of how well you use it. A regular 12-gauge gun with 4-dram, 1¾-ounce loads of No. 6 shot for ducks and No. 4 shot for geese will bring down more birds than a Magnum that reaches out a little farther but is awkward to swing and punishing to shoot. With any gun the right lead depends upon how far the birds are from it, how fast they are flying and at what angle. Shot travels at known speeds. In the time an average duck load takes to reach a point 40 yards away, a duck flying 50 mph travels 10 feet beyond that point. The same shot takes almost twice as long to travel 60 yards, so you must lead by at least 20 feet. At any range exact leads are arguable since each hunter measures them in terms of his own eye, judgment, reflexes and coordination. A 10-foot lead to one gunner may look like two duck lengths to another. A general rule is: figure your lead, then double it, allowing for angles of flight. Birds crossing at right angles to the gun require maximum lead, less as the angle decreases. Shoot above as well as ahead of rising birds, just under birds that are setting down and right on straightaways at gun level. Where birds are passing directly overhead, stay down until they are in range. Stand up and fire (below) until birds reach one o'clock. Lower gun, keeping muzzle up, and pivot 180° to new shooting position. Only novices and gymnasts try overhead shots while doing a backbend."