Getting Started in Rough Shooting: Shotguns
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- Last updated: 27/09/2017
For some people ‘rough shooting’ means some form of game shooting other than a formal driven day, but for most of us it is mostly about controlling pigeons, corvids, rabbits or other vermin. The precise meaning will depend on what you enjoy doing, how much money and time you have to spend on it and the nature of your arrangement with the landowner or occupier, which should always be set down in writing.
Pest-control gets most people their shooting permission and makes for the most affordable sport. As shot gunners, our primary quarry are those avian agricultural pests, wood pigeons, crows, rooks and jackdaws. The way the land is used should determine the nature and scale of the shooting, so focus on the major pests, and leave any other permitted species alone, unless wanted for the pot.
There are three main approaches to tackling pigeons and crows: decoying, flight-lining and roost shooting. Any kit used for the first of these can be applied to the latter two, so we’ll focus on decoying. For this, you’ll need a gun and cartridges (obviously), eye and ear protection, and some decoys, plus a hide net and poles and a seat.
Make it a 12g: no other gauge offers as wide a choice of guns or loads, or a better chance of hitting what you’re shooting at! Reduce felt recoil if necessary by shooting lighter loads, or choosing a semi-auto. I reckon an over-and-under makes the best all-rounder. When decoying, however, I prefer a magazine-fed design, since I can load it with the gun held upright, letting me keep at least one eye on the sky and permitting a shallower and therefore less-obvious hide.
Before you buy, find a local shooting ground where you can try out different styles of gun and get tuition. If your budget is tight, buy a sound but inexpensive gun and spend the money you save on learning to shoot it properly. Anything else is a recipe for bad – and potentially dangerous – habits, frustration, wasted ammunition, and wounded quarry. Just a few lessons with a competent coach will make you a far better shot.
BASC, the Countryside Alliance and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation all provide thirdparty insurance, as well as defending shooting. Policy terms do differ, however, so check the small print. BASC also do a Safe Shot certification scheme, which covers the essentials and adds to the credentials you can present when seeking permission to shoot. You can do the 20-minute session at most country shows. It currently costs just £20. There’s lots of good practical information on these organisations’ websites too, and BASC’s free-todownload Shotgun safety code of practice is a must-read.
The further out you try and take your birds, the better your choice of cartridge needs to be. As distances increase, even patterns, retained energy (how much energy each pellet carries at the moment of impact), and consistent velocities matter more. Pick cartridges with fibre wads. Pattern any cartridge to check for evenness of pattern, and for point of impact. Many shooters miss or wound because they assume the pattern is centred on the bead, when it isn’t. Remember too that large shot travels a lot further than small shot, so pick the smallest viable size and orientate your hide and decoys to minimise the risk of spent shot causing a nuisance.
Choke is a constriction of the bore at the muzzle that acts to control the density of the pattern. Almost all modern shotguns feature screw-in choke tubes that permit the user to adjust pattern density to suit the shooting situation. I use open chokes for decoying (you’re trying to bring the birds to you, not stretch out to them), but tighter choke for flight-lining. Choke can affect the evenness of the pattern, so check for this with each choke you use. Evenness matters more than density and accurate shooting counts for more than any degree of choke.
Eye and ear protection are essential. Cheap polycarbonate safety glasses will protect your eyes from debris, but you will be spending a lot of time staring into the sky looking for birds; so, to protect your eyes from harmful UVA and UVB radiation, spend a bit more for tinted lenses with a UV400 rating. Likewise, cheap ear plugs provide good sound attenuation, but they also reduce your awareness of what is going on around you. The solution is a pair of electronic ear muffs. Howard Leight Impacts are a good place to start, Peltor Sport Tacs are even better and MSA Sordins are what you ask Santa for. Some swear by custom electronic plugs, which are even pricier, but I’ve yet to be converted.
Nothing beats a well-presented natural bird, but artificial decoys are more convenient. You can opt for full-body designs, stackable shells, foldable neoprene FUDs or fabric-bodied Sillosocks that billow in the breeze. A flocked finish prevents shine, but the latest ultra-matte paints – as used on the new Enforcer pigeon decoys from DJ Decoys – achieve the same effect and are more durable. Full-body and Sillosock decoys are available in both head-up and head-down variants, while FUDs are fully poseable. This avoids giving the impression of the whole ‘flock’ being on the alert. Crow decoys come in fewer varieties than pigeon ones, but the Sillosocks are excellent, as are Jack Pyke’s flocked shells. Look for decoy supports that let the decoys bounce, or rock in the breeze, to give life to your pattern.
Get a few full-body decoys for positioning on fence posts or in trees (‘lofting’), plus a set of aluminium poles and a hook for each decoy. Lofting makes your decoys visible from a long way off, and adds an important confidence factor for wary birds. It can be very useful even without a ground array, too, as when flight-lining and roost shooting.
Bouncers (a.k.a. floaters) and whirligigs (a.k.a. magnets or carousels) simulate flying/ landing birds. The former are flexible, extendible rods with a ground spike at one end and a support for a dead bird or a winged decoy at the other. Set up right, a bouncer will bob and weave like a bird making its final corrections before landing. Highly visible, bouncers often prove deadly. They are also cheap, light and need no power. By contrast, whirligigs use a battery and a motor to spin the decoys mounted on their extendible arms. Some swear by them, but I usually leave mine at home!
Get a set of height-adjustable aluminium poles, preferably with sturdy kick-in or screw-in ground spikes, and a modern, lightweight ‘stealth’ net. Add a handful of elastic bungee straps, plus a folding brush saw, a pair of secateurs (and possibly a machete) for clearing the hide space, and for cutting and fixing branches to ‘dress’ the outside of the hide. (Check with the farmer is okay with this first).
You will need something to sit on. Choose a seat that is stable, comfortable, and that lets you stand up to shoot easily. Forget the stick-seats, 3-legged stools and folding camp chairs and go straight for the drum-type seats with cushioned swivel tops. These are much more comfortable, as well as giving you a nice dry place to store gear. Do make sure you ballast the seat before shooting (Sitting back down on a seat that is no longer there, while carrying a loaded shotgun, could go from slapstick to tragedy in a heartbeat.) For a more adjustable option, check out Bergara’s Stag seat. Its combination of four height-adjustable legs, broad feet, swivelling seat, rigid backrest and tough polymer construction ticks a lot of boxes. If a bigger, more padded, seat seems desirable treat yourself to an Idleback, the Gold Standard of shooting seats!
Other things you will need include a gun slip, a cartridge bag or belt, some camo gear, wellies, waterproofs, a bag to carry your decoys and another for your dead birds.
For what it’s worth, I use a Jack Pyke roll-up gun slip, pack all my gear into a Kammo stalker’s roe sack, wear a turkey hunter’s vest from Cabelas into which I can empty a couple of cartridge boxes at a time (it’ll also take up to 20 pigeons), cover my head and face with a Jack Pyke 3D camo LLCS cap and head net, protect my hands with MacWet short-cuff gloves, stuff my feet into a pair of tough and cosy Grubbs boots, keep a lightweight poncho from Military1st to hand in case of showers, put dead birds in a roll-up carcase tray from Farm-Land in Germany, and fish around for cartridges with a telescopic magnet from eBay. For crow decoying, I also take a Nordikpredator crow call: far and away the best I’ve ever used, though with practice you can get quite a good jackdaw sound out of the little Acme ones.
If you plan to roam the woods and hedgerows with your gun you’ll want a classic canvas game bag with a generous net front for cooling just-shot game (Ogdens); head and gunmounted lights for going after rabbits and hares at night; plus, a hands-free predator call, and some dedicated cartridges (a heavier charge of larger shot) if foxes are to be squeaked in.
Of course, the gun has to be cleaned too, which requires a cleaning rod (a pull-through is not enough), a jag, brush and mop, flannelette patches, solvent and oil, and then it needs a cabinet to be put away in. And don’t forget the odd bottle of goodwill for the farmer! And we haven’t even mentioned dogs!
A1 Decoy. www.a1decoy.co.uk
Hunting Solutions. www.huntingsolutions.co.uk
UK Shoot Warehouse. www.ukshootwarehouse.com
BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation). www.basc.org.uk
Countryside Alliance. www.countryside-alliance.org www.nationalgamekeepers.org.uk
3M Peltor. www.peltorcomms.3m.com
ACME Whistles. www.acmewhistles.co.uk
Bergara Rifles (Stag chair). www.bergararifles.com (UK: RUAG)
DJ Decoys. www.djdecoys
Edgar Brothers. www.edgarbrothers.com
FUD Technology. www.fud.com.au
Howard Leight. www.howardleight.com (UK: Edgar Brothers)
Idleback Shooting Chairs. www.idleback.co.uk
Jack Pyke. www.jackpyke.co.uk / http://www.jackpykeshop.co.uk
MacWet Gloves. www.macwet.com
MSA Safety. us.msasafety.com
Nordikpredator. nordikpredator.se (UK: Casstrom)
Ogden’s Shooting Supplies. www.ogdensshootingsupplies.co.uk
RUAG Ammotec UK. (Trade) www.ruag.co.uk